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Delegates agree performance management principles

Delegates agree performance management principles

The announcement in December 2016 that mandatory performance quotas for the civil service were to be abandoned for future years was a victory for the union, said Heather Phillips, speaking on behalf of the executive.



Civil Service Conference 2017

Phillips applauded Prospect’s officers and lay representatives who forced this decision by highlighting the deficiencies of a system that many members saw as toxic and potentially discriminatory.

The executive’s motion said that effective performance management systems must have the confidence of staff.

The way to achieve this is to ensure that Prospect is involved in negotiating and designing these systems; providing advice and support to branches and encouraging them to share information, said Phillips.

“Performance management is still far from perfect but there are several key principles that should apply. Prospect will continue to press the Cabinet Office to ensure these principles are followed,” she said.

The key principles are:

  • Prospect should be fully engaged in designing and developing performance management systems to ensure they have the confidence of staff.
  • Openness and transparency: staff should be able to easily and clearly understand how their contribution is evaluated and how decisions about performance are measured.
  • A focus on development, coaching and support: performance management should not be an annual transactional event or box ticking exercise, but part of an ongoing dialogue.
  • No surprises: the performance management process should be an ongoing dialogue. The principle of no surprises should operate as part of any final review and evaluation.
  • Objective setting needs to reflect the nature of the work being undertaken: simpler tasks may lend themselves to a SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and timely) format, but more complex areas of work need a more sophisticated approach.
  • If behavioural and competency frameworks are used these should be agreed with Prospect and be relevant to the professions and functions they are applied to. Behavioural frameworks should be relevant and operate in a way that does not discriminate against staff.
  • Systems need to provide for reasonable adjustments to ensure that staff with disabilities are treated fairly.
  • Systems need to be auditable in order to allow effective equality monitoring to ensure that they operate fairly and are non-discriminatory.
  • Systems need to have a robust appeals mechanism for individuals who do not believe that their appraisal is an accurate or fair reflection of their contribution.
  • Systems should encourage managers to “check in” with their staff after appraisals to see how they are responding and whether they believe the process was fair and useful.
  • Performance management systems that distinguish between administrative purposes and development purposes are more effective. There should be a clear distinction between assessments that inform administrative (eg promotion) decisions and those that aid learning and development.
  • Mandatory training should be provided to staff and managers to ensure there is a clear understanding as to how the system should operate.

Bob Akroyd (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said that it doesn’t matter what a system is called – it just needs to be fit for purpose.

He pointed to research in the United States which found that 90% of appraisal systems failed at least in part and likened them to having “root canal surgery”.

Akroyd said a good system should include:

  • mutual trust
  • clear objectives
  • standardisation for reasonable adjustments
  • training for everyone
  • versatility
  • relevance
  • partnership when developing new systems.

He said that it should be possible to adapt or change a system if it isn’t working and to challenge the mindset among senior managers that they are the only ones who should decide these things.

He urged delegates to get buy-in from colleagues and adopt the KISS principle – Keep it Simple, Stupid.

Damian King (Fusion Energy) said performance management had become a big issue in his area since a guided distribution system had been imposed – at the point when the civil service was moving away from this approach.

He urged delegates to keep on pushing to improve the situation.

Alison Clark (Health and Safety Executive) suggested that there was still work to do. In their pay discussions, HSE had signalled its intention to recognise “high contributors” who would be nominated by managers.

Delegates also backed another performance management motion from the EFRA branch.

The motion called for systems that follow the new guiding principles of no quotas, no requirement of a link to pay and a focus on staff development. Managers and staff must also be given new training that significantly changes the existing negative management culture.

The motion called on the executive to press civil service employers to:

  • engage in meaningful consultation with Prospect in order to deliver on the new principles
  • produce new training for managers and staff that creates a positive and supportive working culture, and
  • create a mechanism that measures the success of the new approach in terms of staff development.