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Performance Management Reference Materials

Merit System Principles and Performance Management

A common conception of the Federal Government's merit system principles is that they are designed to ensure fair and open recruitment and competition and employment practices free of political influence or other nonmerit factors. Although that is certainly true, a closer reading of those principles suggests a much broader policy objective that relates directly to managing the ongoing performance of the Federal workforce.

In fact, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which incorporated the merit system principles into the law at section 2301 of title 5, United States Code, stated as national policy that:

...to provide the people of the United States with a competent, honest, and productive workforce...and to improve the quality of public service, Federal personnel management should be implemented consistent with merit system principles.

The Congress intended those principles, stated expressly in statute, to guide Federal agencies in carrying out their responsibilities to administer the public business.

Merit System Principles

With the deregulation of performance appraisal and awards, agencies have been given authority and freedom to manage performance effectively. But delegation, deregulation, and simplification also mean increased accountability. The merit system principles provide a framework for responsible behavior and are key to mission success. The five component processes of effective performance management — planning, monitoring, developing, appraising, and rewarding — reinforce and are directly supported by some key merit system principles highlighted below.

Concern for the Public Interest

Planning and establishing clear performance goals is a fundamental performance management process for managers and employees. Acknowledging and including customers as stakeholders in establishing those performance plans and goals can keep the public interest in the forefront. By planning and communicating the performance outcomes and results that will meet that public interest, agencies can properly focus employee effort and performance. Whether those plans and goals will be used to establish individual appraisal standards or agencywide strategic objectives, they should demonstrate a concern for the public interest.

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Ensuring the efficient and effective use of the workforce is not an annual or even occasional event. It requires continuous monitoring and improvement of financial and program performance against plans and standards. Leaving inefficient or ineffective performance unexamined and uncorrected is not consistent with basic merit system principles. Continuous assessment and improvement characterize an organization driven by merit.

Performance Management Process - Merit System Principle

Planning"All employees should maintain high standards of integrity, conduct, and concern for the public interest."

Monitoring"The Federal work force should be used efficiently and effectively."

Developing"Employees should be provided effective education and training in cases in which such education and training would result in better organizational and individual performance."

Appraising"Employees should be retained on the basis of the adequacy of their performance, inadequate performance should be corrected, and employees should be separated who cannot or will not improve their performance to meet required standards."

Rewarding"Appropriate incentives and recognition should be provided for excellence in performance."

1excerpted from 5 U.S.C. 2302

Education and Training

The capacity to perform was not taken for granted by the framers of the merit system principles. Providing appropriate development and training aimed at improving individual and organizational performance is considered a fundamental aspect of conducting the public's business under a merit system. Agencies should use their broad authorities to give their employees a wide variety of training and educational experiences, particularly when a work process or technology has been re-engineered to enhance public service delivery.

Retention or Separation

An organization under a merit system does not tolerate poor performance. The individual opportunity that the merit system protects must be matched by maintaining individual accountability. The appraisal requirements established in law and regulation for all employees create the foundation for that accountability. Employees must be told what is expected, be given an opportunity to perform, be appraised periodically and be held accountable when they fail to perform. Presuming performance to be adequate is inconsistent with the notion of vigilant attention to assuring merit among the workforce.

Incentives and Recognition

A merit system's underlying values include a strong sense of fairness. That sense of fairness is realized not only through due process protections and open competition, but also by establishing that better performance deserves greater reward and recognition. Agencies can use their broad, deregulated incentive awards authorities to establish a wide variety of incentive and recognition programs. When rewards are to be distributed, a merit system calls for differences in performance to be the basis for making reward distinctions, rather than other non-merit factors.

The themes of performance management pervade all good management practices. The most basic foundation for good management practice and accountability in the Federal Government its — merit system — reinforces and sets standards for the effective use of performance management processes. As agencies examine their values and practices to determine how well they have realized merit system principles, they will need to include a thorough look at how well the performance management processes are carried out.

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