Task force to align feds' performance with agency goals

Tuesday - 9/27/2011, 6:02am EDT

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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A task force sponsored by the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations is pitching recommendations for the age-old problem of supervision in the federal workforce. It's hoping to reassure employees that they're being treated fairly, while showing the public that the federal government is working efficiently.

"It gives government employees a way to understand their day-to-day requirements and how they relate to the agency's mission," said Mike Kane, the Energy Department's chief human capital officer. "Almost every single federal employee is here because of the mission, but they don't always see their performance rating, their performance appraisal, their performance elements, their performance agreement as being directly aligned with the key points of the mission. So one of the things that the framework does is say 'hey, performance of employees has to be aligned with the organizational performance, it has to be tied back to that key mission point.'"

Kane helped lead the task force of agency human resources officials, union representatives and employee association leaders working under the presidentially appointed council.

"This proposal says we're going to place this inside the West Wing of the White House, through the President's Management Council, down to secretarial officers, that the health and well-being of federal employee performance is a key accountability factor for the key cabinet appointee, and that's what is going to make the difference," he said.

The framework consists of five key recommendations.

The first would require agencies to define their priorities and expectations for employees. The Employee Viewpoint Survey released by the Office of Personnel Management last week showed about half of federal workers doubted pay raises and promotions are linked to good performance. Four out of 10 survey respondents thought supervisors did not even deal with bad performance.

"We believed systems failed in the past because they dealt with the system and not with the true problem, which is a human problem," said Federal Managers Association government affairs director Jessica Klement, who was on the taskforce. "You can write the best performance management system in the world but if you don't have an agency culture where managers are held accountable for their employees' performance, that system is going to fail."

The plan also would require managers to review workers' performance four times a year.

OPM Deputy Chief of Staff Justin Johnson said that would "essentially stimulate more frequent formal feedback and encourage almost constant informal feedback between and among supervisors and employees, to get to a point where everyone knows what's expected of them and that there are no surprises when it does come time for the formal appraisals."

OPM is implementing the quarterly reviews beginning next week. In the long term, Johnson said, agencies would promote, train and evaluate supervisors based on their leadership and managerial skills, rather than on technical expertise.

"We would send a message through the way we structure duties, even taking some things off your plate, so that leading your team, leading people is a primary duty and not something you do if you have time," he added.

The taskforce also recommended agencies align each employee's work goals with the agency's performance and make all levels of managers from the line supervisor to the secretary accountable for employee performance.

The Labor-Management Council is reviewing the plan. Meanwhile, Energy already has implemented some of the ideas and will talk to its employee unions about others.

Except for supervisor training, the recommendations do not require funding.

"I think you can separate the money out from performance management. You should have well trained managers regardless of money for compensation for how well they do their job," Klement said, adding that with tight budget constraints and many calls for smaller government, "It is more important to make sure your employees stay engaged and to keep their morale up."

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