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Performance Management Reference Materials

Effective Performance Management: Doing What Comes Naturally

There is a famous story about a naive student in his first English literature course who was worried because he didn't know what prose was. When he found out that prose was ordinary speech, he exclaimed, " Wow! I've been speaking prose all my life!" Managing performance well is like speaking prose. Many managers have been "speaking" and practicing effective performance management naturally all their supervisory lives, but don't know it!

Some people mistakenly assume that performance management is concerned only with following regulatory requirements to appraise and rate performance. Actually, assigning ratings of record is only one part of the overall process (and perhaps the least important part). Performance management is the systematic process of:

  • planning work and setting expectations,
  • continually monitoring performance,
  • developing the capacity to perform,
  • periodically rating performance in a summary fashion, and
  • rewarding good performance.

The revisions made in 1995 to the Governmentwide performance appraisal and awards regulations support "natural" performance management. Great care was taken to ensure that the requirements those regulations establish would complement and not conflict with the kinds of activities and actions effective managers are practicing as a matter of course.

Planning

Effective managers plan their work. Planning means setting performance expectations and goals for groups and individuals to channel their efforts toward achieving organizational objectives. Getting employees involved in the planning process will help them understand the goals of the organization, what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and how well it should be done.

The regulatory requirements for planning employees' performance include establishing the elements and standards of their performance appraisal plans. Performance elements and standards should be measurable, understandable, verifiable, equitable, and achievable. Through critical elements, employees are held accountable as individuals for work assignments or responsibilities. Employee performance plans should be flexible so that they can be adjusted for changing program objectives and work requirements. When used effectively, these plans can be beneficial working documents that are discussed often, and not merely paperwork that is filed in a drawer and seen only when ratings of record are required.

Monitoring

Effective managers see to it that assignments and projects are monitored continually. Monitoring well means consistently measuring performance and providing ongoing feedback to employees and work groups on their progress toward reaching their goals.

Regulatory requirements for monitoring performance include conducting progress reviews with employees where their performance is compared against their elements and standards. Ongoing monitoring provides the supervisor the opportunity to check how well employees are meeting predetermined standards and to make changes to unrealistic or problematic standards. And by monitoring continually, supervisors can identify unacceptable performance at any time during the appraisal period and provide assistance to address such performance rather than wait until the end of the period when summary rating levels are assigned.

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Developing

Effective managers evaluate and address the developmental needs of their employees. Developing in this instance means increasing the capacity to perform through training, giving assignments that introduce new skills or higher levels of responsibility, improving work processes, or other methods. Providing employees with training and developmental opportunities encourages good performance, strengthens job-related skills and competencies, and helps employees keep up with changes in the workplace, such as the introduction of new technology.

Carrying out the processes of performance management provides an excellent opportunity for supervisors and employees to identify developmental needs. While planning and monitoring work, deficiencies in performance become evident and should be addressed. Areas for improving good performance also stand out, and action can be taken to help successful employees improve even further.

Rating

An effective manager will, from time to time, find it useful to summarize employee performance. This helps the manager look at and compare performance over time or across a set of employees. Organizations need to know who their best performers are.

Within the context of formal performance appraisal requirements, rating means evaluating employee or group performance against the elements and standards in an employee's performance plan and assigning a summary rating of record. The rating of record is assigned according to procedures included in the organization's appraisal program. It is based on work performed during an entire appraisal period. The rating of record has a bearing on various other personnel actions, such as granting within-grade pay increases and determining additional retention service credit in a reduction in force.

Rewarding

Effective managers understand the importance of using rewards well. Rewarding means recognizing employees, individually and as members of groups, for their performance and acknowledging their contributions to the agency's mission. A basic principle of effective management is that all behavior is controlled by its consequences. Those consequences can and should be both formal and informal and both positive and negative.

Good managers don't wait for their organization to solicit nominations for formal awards before recognizing good performance. Recognition is an ongoing, natural part of day-to-day experience. A lot of the actions that reward good performance like saying "Thank you" don't require a specific regulatory authority. Nonetheless, awards regulations provide a broad range of forms that more formal rewards can take, such as cash, time off, and many nonmonetary items. The regulations also cover a variety of contributions that can be rewarded, from suggestions to group accomplishments.

Performance Management as Prose

Good managers have been speaking and practicing effective performance management all their lives, executing each key component process well. They not only set goals and plan work routinely, they measure progress toward those goals and give feedback to employees. They set high standards, but they also take care to develop the skills needed to reach them. And they use formal and informal rewards to recognize the behavior and results that accomplish their mission. All five components working together and supporting each other achieve natural, effective performance management.

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