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A look at the Performance Management system

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Reform

My most recent blog post – Civil Service of the Future – recently went out to every civil servant via the new all-staff e-mail. I was really pleased with the response that it received. I read all of your comments with interest, and it was great to have the opportunity to hear from so many of you. My only regret is that I don’t have the time to respond to each comment individually.

I was encouraged by the number of positive comments – your endorsement of our approach to diversity and the need for a more positive promotion of the Civil Service were great to hear. On those issues, I feel that we are on the right track and making real progress.

However you also had some concerns, perhaps the strongest of which was the new performance management system. I will come back to the specific points raised later in this blog, but first I would like to set out my stall as far as performance management is concerned.

For me, improving our approach to performance management is about being the best that we can be, both as an organisation and as individuals. Strong staff performance is crucial to the creation of a more efficient and effective civil service with the capability to deliver more for less, and ensuring that we are all delivering to the best of our ability is a big part of that. Achieving the Civil Service Reform Plan’s goals relies on a workforce that is constantly seeking to improve, at each and every grade or level.

The most important part of improving performance is to receive honest feedback from our managers, our colleagues, our partners and our customers. Without this it is hard to focus our efforts on the right areas to improve. The new performance system rightly focuses on both ‘what’ we do and ‘how’ we do it. As with all new systems, we are taking stock of how it has worked and where it can be strengthened.

When reading the blog comments from last week, one of the most widespread concerns related to distribution ratings. It is clear that many colleagues are worried about distribution around the performance review process and, specifically, that individual ratings are being changed purely to meet the distribution rating set by the department. This is something I’d like to take the opportunity to address.

When it comes to distribution ratings, no individual’s performance rating should simply change to meet the guided distribution total and if there is any evidence of this, colleagues should raise this within their department. A really important point is that these ratings are guided and not forced – it’s key for departments to know where they need to strengthen, but I want this to also be an opportunity for colleagues to come to better understand their areas of development.

These changes mean that accountability for managing performance is placed in the hands of the line manager – it is the responsibility of all line managers to deliver the final rating at year end and there is a requirement to explain differentiation of performance both in the case of top performers and those who must improve.

On a related note, some colleagues expressed concern about the fact that accountability for performance management now lies with line managers and individual members of staff. This is a step change in culture and, as with any significant shift, I fully understand that it can take time for new processes to embed. If we are going to maximise the benefits of this approach, it is really important that staff are able to participate in the objective-setting process to ensure that expectations are agreed mutually. All colleagues have a right to know what is expected through specific, measurable objectives, and it is vital that line managers across the organisation take this responsibility seriously.

A final concern, and one I am eager to address, relates to the ‘must improve’ performance rating for reviews.  I want to create an environment in which all staff are able to achieve their full potential, and being open about the need for improvement where it is required is a big part of that. This performane rating is designed to identify those members of staff whose performance needs to improve and to provide the tools that enable this to happen. It’s certainly not just about dismissal – I want the performance management framework to highlight to us how and where we can become even stronger as an organisation.

I hope that, in the limited space I have here, I have been able to ease colleagues’ concerns around performance management. Above all else, I want to make sure that all civil servants have the right support to deliver consistently. It’s good for the organisation and it’s good for our own sense of achievement. There is no escaping from the fact that good performance is important, and I firmly believe that a guided approach which places the onus on line managers and individuals, is the right one.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.

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  1. Comment by Andrew posted on

    thank you for addressing this, but I seriously doubt that any department will not have placed people in boxes to "fulfil a need for a distribution". Mine did.
    And after all of this I have no idea what happened in a year, where I have gone from a close to top performer to the bottom - no examples, no explaination, other than being told "it's a game and you need to play it".

    Sadly, I doubt I will be the only one.

  2. Comment by Michael posted on

    In my experience, the new system has some good points. But as Andrew says, there are real issues around forced distributions, particularly when some departments have decided that they should have a much higher proportion of Category 3s than others (why would anyone chose to work there ?). Some of language in the central guidance is really poor (e.g. "Behaviour must improve" comes across as more of a threat than a positive developmental comment). And if at any point the difference between a 2 and a 3 becomes material for anything like pay it will be the death of those honest conversations that the system is supposed to support. We've been told that won't happen, but no-one really believes that.

  3. Comment by zeena posted on

    Bureaucracy and bureaucrats are the same all over the world with more or less "corruption" flavour added to some more than others. Civil service will always have the big fat cats and the little mice running around these big fat cats! It is also all about knowing how to "network &" better to get promoted. This evaluation system is a more added bureaucracy and paper work to a system which needs and primarily reform more than austerity and freeze.
    Sad but this the truth!

  4. Comment by Martin posted on

    I agree that the performance management system does need to be improved, but I don't understand the need for guidance for distribution ratings. This guidance will inevitably be looked upon as something managers need to achieve. From the stories I have read this does seem to be the case. If somebody is given a need to improve rating, then they should be given a clear description of the issue and agree a plan to move forward.

    My biggest concern with the performance rating is that it becomes more of a popularity contest. Line managers are far more likely to give a higher rating to the people they are closest to on the team, and if they feel they have to fill the 10% quota for underperforming staff, then they are going to do this to the people they like the least.

    • Replies to Martin>

      Comment by Dave posted on

      Mr Kerslake,

      While I admire the thought behind your words on performance management, I have to question your grasp on operational realities.

      I think there are few Civil Servants that would have disagreed with the need to reform performaance management systems, and the idea of a central set of core policies is one that has been argued for for a while.

      However, I think you may be a little naive in your response to concerns over "forcing" the distribution (or, if you believe some commentators here, could it be sinister collusion rather than naivity?!) While the words "no individual’s performance rating should simply change to meet the guided distribution total and if there is any evidence of this, colleagues should raise this within their department" sound reassuring on the surface, when you consider that Departments, Agencies and entire line management chains have been given objectives to fully implement the system, including compliance with the distribution, you start to see why for many these words may not offer much comfort.

      Indeed, in the Agency where I work, we are now into our third year of using this style of system, and we have management chains putting in place additional MI processes in order to capture the evidence taht can be drawn upon to confirm an individual's poor performance. These are taking many forms, but - for example - "predicted" work completion rates are being used to pressure middle managers and on down, which has led to good evidence for must improve markings, despite everyone at ground level knowing that the predictions are a farce and the nature of the work does not lend itself to accurate forecasting of demand (as some public failures have amply demonstrated, sadly).

      I think we could all have got behind a system that was open, transparent, and aimed at delivering a fair and objective assessment. What we have, however, is a system that is redolent of the much-discredited "rank and yank" PM systems of 1980s America that did so much to foster the kind of stats-driven short-termism taht ultimately caused the corporate world to all-but tear up its foundations in the pursuit of good markings and a bonus.

      That we are introducing this type of system in the UK Civil Service is poor at best and badly out of touch at worst - and as I say it does tend to give credence to complaints that the system has been introduced to get rid of staff or justify further press attacks on poor-performing Civil Servants, rather than a genuine attempt to improve the performance of an organisation that badly needs support, nurturing and a little self-confidence.

      Apologies for the long rant, but I am passionate about the Civil Service (despite reaching the point where I feel I must move on to progress in my career) and felt the need to "vent"!.

  5. Comment by Ringo posted on

    Despite fine words from Bob -

    A final concern, and one I am eager to address, relates to the ‘must improve’ box marking for reviews. I want to create an environment in which all staff are able to achieve their full potential, and being open about the need for improvement where it is required is a big part of that. This box marking is designed to identify those members of staff whose performance needs to improve and to provide the tools that enable this to happen.

    - it is clear that staff are being put into category 3 solely on a whim & to make the 10% figure. How else would you describe the scenario where a member of staff achieves 100% quality & 97.9% YTD (as the manager noted) yet this member of staff - who has consistently been in the upper percentile of previous scoring, volunteers for things over & above current duties, on the promotion merit list - has been placed in Cat 3 by the very same manager?

    Bob's perception may be of one thing but the reality is a lot, lot different for staff having been forced to go through this huliliating ritual.

    This measure does not address Poor Performance but further seeks to alienate staff still further. And all because some bloke from Barclays Bank (a non-civil servant) who landed a Civil Service post said that's what they did in Barclays. With all these influx of Private Sector posts in senior positions who know nothing about how the Civil Service operates (or indeed what it is supposed to do), it is little wonder that Private Eye continues to mock HMRC (see Eyes passim ad finitum).

  6. Comment by billy d posted on

    the system is corrupt, sinister and biased. Period. Incredibly disadvantageous to those who don't work in the main hubs (or tick the right equality or age boxes) and largely based on perception than reality. They can't even generate reporting consistency within teams never mind heterogeneous grades across different departments with different sites. Nor have I have yet to see any evidence that the moderation panels are accountable or fair when most are dominated by participants from one particular location or profile who are all a bit buddy buddy tbh. How sad that at a time when Microsoft who operate in the real world decide to remove their stack ranking system we decide to impose what amounts to the same system and invert the scientifically accepted bell distribution curve. Shameful and a recipe for disaster. In the end, there is no sanitising a box 3 with abstract statements about development, like me (actually no sour grapes) you are deemed low rank and sycophantic sentiments about development don't pay the bills. If i could have some belief that the CS could even organise itself consistently on performance rankings and moderation i might have more faith but I don't. What a dark future of croneyism and nepotism that I thought I would avoid when I joined the CS many years ago. And yes, managers do force distributions according to their subjective metrics.

  7. Comment by billy d posted on

    and before i forget some departments operaret bigger rubbish categories (box 3) than others.

  8. Comment by Chris posted on

    Performance ratings should be based on objectives and acheiving those objectives. In the event that all personel's objectives involve out performing their respective colleagues, then there is no guarantee that their objectives are going to be acheived - it depends on how well everyone else does.

    This creates a major issue where to acheive your objectives you need to out acheive others the motive is not only 'I must do well in relation to that which is expected of me' it becomes 'I must do well and if necessary I must ensure that others do less well that I do'. The effect of this may well leave employees with high levels of anxiety and, beyond this, it can inspire a selfish and individualistic culture within the work place.

    Why not remove the distribution system and trust managers to do their jobs and accurately rate the performance of their staff? The cynic may beleive that the only motive would be to encourage a natural downsizing effect to the civil service where employees leave due to a performance system which favours the 'well protected regular faces of the work place' and discriminates those who provide the 'behind the scenes back bone' of that same work place.

    Objectives need to be acheivable regardless of the performance of others. Managers need to be capable of managing performance without frocing their hands using quota marking systems. The new system is a blunt tool for a complex system which potentially serves to pollute the civil service.

  9. Comment by Syl posted on

    Your comment "......certainly not JUST about dismissal." Does this then mean that it is about dismissal but finding a way of selling at something else?

    • Replies to Syl>

      Comment by Peter posted on

      That's about the size of it, I'm afraid.

      All a bit Orwellian if you ask me.

  10. Comment by Angie posted on

    I'm not sure the use of 'just' in the following quote does anything to help people's opinions of the new distribution ratings

    'It’s certainly not just about dismissal'

  11. Comment by Peter posted on

    If managers are to fulfil their role on managing performance they should be able to give a quick reply to a staff member's question "How am I doing?". That means as much independence and as little bureaucracy possible.

  12. Comment by Chris posted on

    I can confirm that my department has changed people's mid-year box markings to fit a desired distribution curve, and I agree with Andrew that I think this behaviour is happening in all departments. It is naive to specify a desired distribution and then think that anything else will happen - far worse injustices than this have happened purely because conscientious people felt obliged to follow orders.

    The major flaw in the system (which I think is otherwise quite good) is that box 3 has conflated two completely different things: a marking to encourage development of perfectly decent staff who are valued members of the team, and a marking to indicate unsatisfactory performance and the imminent threat of disciplinary procedures. Failing to separate these two concepts is either a colossal mistake or a deliberate and cynical move to demonise competent but unambitious staff in a McKinsey-esque "up or out" culture.

    • Replies to Chris>

      Comment by Karen posted on

      I totally agree with Chris. It seems that it is no longer acceptable for people to come to work and do a good job as you risk slipping into the category 3 marking, not because you're not performing well and meeting all of your objectives but beacuse you don't want to take on extra responsibility and compete against your colleagues and because you want a home life and to see your children before they go to bed. I am actually a high performer but only because I am concientious and go the extra mile, not because I am like some of the colleagues I see taking on roles specifically for one-up-manship against their colleagues and to get their name known and face seen by senior officials. I know the majority of people in my home Department think that people are being fitted into a box 3 to meet the 'quota' which has been raised to 15% in the Division in which I work.

  13. Comment by billy d posted on

    Things like this make me wish I was self-employed so I could escape this nonsense. Stack ranking has proved to be hugely counter-productive and largely discredited.

  14. Comment by Paul posted on

    We have just had a very interesting talk by Dave Coplin from Microsoft, and he made clear that they have just abandoned their "stacking system" (essentially quotas), because it discouraged people from working together. If colleagues see themselves as competitors and rivals rather than members of a unified team, the system is discouraging exactly the type of working we say we want. A friend tells me Ford too has abandoned this approach for similar reasons. I would urge you to read this article

    and to consider whether in this case the Civil Service isn't adopting an idea from the private sector just at the time the private sector is abandoning it (not for the first time, alas)...

  15. Comment by Ian posted on

    There's an interesting article about Microsoft and their recent decision to ditch their current performance management system (which is based on a "predetermined targeted distribution") at

    I understand that Ford Motor Company also adopted and then subsequently got rid of a similar system a number of years ago after significant issues with morale and accusations of discrimination and favouritism.

    Notwithstanding the distinction between 'forced' and 'guided' distribution ranges, there still seems (to my untutored eye) to be some similarities between these systems and the one which is currently being introduced in the Civil Service. Trouble is, you can really only compare people's performance fairly, objectively and consistently if everyone is doing exactly the same job (e.g. making widgets in a factory). And any system which ranks staff against each other will always end up with some staff in the bottom category - even if everyone has performed at a satisfactory (or better) level.

  16. Comment by Bill posted on

    All very nice in theory Bob, but you are thinking of some kind of Utopia there, with no real basis in reality in the place which counts, the workplace.

    You can request that people bring concerns around quotas and distribution ratings all you like, but the fact is these exist, will continue to exist and no amount of bringing up objections to it in our departments will make the blind bit of difference to the usual response, akin to 'Thas what we need to work to, I'm afraid'.

    As regards the performance markings, there is a huge amount of worry around as regards these. We are basically being told that we need to mark a certain percentage of people as needing improvement which, in reality, is a complete nonsense. I'll tell you what would be a good way of ensuring that "we can become even stronger as an organisation", have confidence in your people and treat them with respect. If people need to be improved, they will be identified as such, having a certain percentage being identified as such is counter productive and morale sapping, especially when we are all having to make allwances for less resource, whilst working to targets which are proving ever more challenging to face. You have good people working in the various departments, I just wish that they were treated in the respectful way in which they deserve, instead of being used as the political pawns as per the current situation.

    As Chris says, let people do their jobs, and don't insult people with this new system and your attempted defence of it. Personally, as a line manager, I will mark the members of my team with what they deserve, and will not mark them down as needing improvement unless I feel that remark is absolutely necessary.

  17. Comment by Stuart posted on

    Several of the above examples are a case of bad management practices and will not be resolved by any performance management system. These need to be highlighted and dealt with by senior managers within departments.

    Personally at the ONS we already have the onus on the individual and their line manager, for me this is the correct outlook. We already have good benchmarking across all grades within the office which require proper ‘real life’ examples of work to justify markings. This encourages open and honest discussions between line management groups during review periods and ultimately results in consistency within our department.

    However I do share the above concerns regarding the distribution system despite Bob’s reassurance. I’ve seen systems like this in action in the private sector in the past and whatever the message is from the top, departments do end up trying to force line managers to meet their ‘quotas’. At the ONS a lot of effort has already been put into ensuring poor performance is managed and good performance is rewarded particularly through the Coaching for Confidence training. What benefit / value will the distribution system bring to the civil service?

  18. Comment by David posted on

    Bob, you're a civil servant. And you're talking to civil servants, many of whom have been around for an awfully long time. We write obfuscatory spin for a living, and are therefore immune when it is directed toward us.

    Report moderation meetings taking place right now are assigning people according to the curve. Directors and Deputy Directors are very much playing the numbers game with how many staff at X grade means Y number of them have to be Box 3. It is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

    The new system is divisive, causes an unpleasant, uncollegiate and counterproductive approach, and when the demographic numbers are run in a couple of years is likely to be proven as having significant pockets of discrimination according to sex, race, age, physical ability, level of ambition etc - as all stack systems tend to. It won't be pretty.

    But as this is the fifth or sixth reporting system I've been though in my career, I'm sure there'll be another one along in a minute.

  19. Comment by billy d posted on

    You could even argue that people should be allowed to see other people's markings from their peer group so that they have the chance to review their 'competitive edge'.

    Seriously, any attempt to rank individuals in heterogeneous departments, divisions, locations, functions is a receipe for disaster. The other bugbear is that it will stop people moving sideways if they feel they will be compromised performance wise by such an arrangement. FInally, different departments are applying different distributions so staff at the lower end in the punitive departments may simply decide to jump ship to take advantage of more generous measurements. This will create distortions that arise from fear rather than development needs. I also have little faith in the integrioty of the moderation system where tribal thinking based on factors such as location or social profile may impact.

  20. Comment by Mark posted on

    Please can you confirm that all CS departments will publish their half year performance marking statistics to staff? This should include stats on all grades and diversity groups.
    With the introduction of the new system it is essential that all staff can see that it is being operated openly and fairly and hold senior leaders accountable.

  21. Comment by Mark posted on

    Agree with Paul's comments. But there is another aspect to this. The distribution grid may not be forced, but it is sending out a clear message that there is an expectation that you will come close. If people in the needs improvement category (and who among us doesn't need improvement?) respond and address the areas identified, but everyone else does the same, then either some people will remain in the needs improvement category in spite of improvement, or someone else will drop from a 2 to a 3 to keep in line with the distribution. Either way that's a recipe for falling morale. Alternatively if everyone improves and has the evidence to back it up, then the distribution will become meaningless. If you want the distribution to hold, then you will have to raise the bar further on what constitutes success. Although any organisation will strive to raise the bar and improve its performance, that also needs to be looked at alongside rewards, incentives and managing poor performance and so perhaps we should have a proper discussion on that as well?

  22. Comment by Mac posted on

    Training on applying the system was very clear that assessments were to be in absolute terms for each individual. The guidance is also in absolute terms regarding the "what" and the "how" objectives. It is feasible for everyone to miss or achieve or exceed these so insistence on a predetermined distribution is flawed.

    The practical response has been to meet the distribution through relative judgement. This is at odds with the absolute assessment required. Relative judgement appears likely to lead to unfair assessments and so to destructive conflict rather than improved performance.

  23. Comment by BILL posted on

    At least when you compare apples with pears they are both fruit. With this system there are few if any common characteristics between posts, except "grade" on which to base any fair comparison. This PMS is unscientific and not logically sound. Good performance and staff management requires managers who have developed the necessary management skills, and that does not happen overnight.

  24. Comment by Tom posted on

    Scrap the Perfomance Management System (PMS) totally ... what a waste of time effort and money. If people need to be improved then managers must invest the time in those people to bring them to an acceptable standard. If managers are unable to manage, strip them of their managerial responsibilities and educate them.
    Managers should manage, leaders should lead.
    As an afterthought I would be interested to know exactly how many grievances went through last year and how much time was wasted by going through the process?

  25. Comment by David posted on

    There are many examples and articles about how the proposed performance rating and distribution approach is flawed. Interesting reading is an MIT article (link below), with the conclusion that:

    "We recommend the use of a semi-bell-curve that does not follow the rigid percentage
    distribution, and where someone who performers like a top performer is rewarded as one.
    Further, we recommend balancing pressure and morale. We recognize that this balance is
    very difficult to strike, especially in a company that is constantly shrinking. . The only way we
    see of keeping the pressure at the optimum level and the morale high in such an organization
    is to decouple to some extent the performance evaluation process from the issue of lay-offs."

    The full article is at

    This is referenced from an example where Yahoo! seem to be leading the pack of returning to the past.

  26. Comment by Jonathan posted on

    I'd like to add a comment as somebody who was involved quite closely in the validation system in my Department - I chaired one of the AA/AO grade groups in my Directorate. Before end of year managers came together to agree what a satisfactory level of performance looked like for those they were managed (to ensure fairness in deciding which box somebody should go into), and then met again post end year discussions to validate those decisions, focusing on those who were deemed "borderline" between categories. I've got to say that most managers felt that the system was easy to understand and fair, and there was certainly no discussion about forcing people in the box based on anything other than what we had previously agreed was a fair standard to apply across the group. In the end we only had to discuss a small group of difficult cases, and ended up with a distribution that looked roughly like the guide without any need to force anything.

    I understand that this won't convince those who seem to have had the system poorly applied in their circumstance, but thought it worth saying that overall I felt it was a positive experience - responsibility for deciding box markings was definitely devolved to the managers (and counter-signing officers) involved, so less central bureaucracy (no day long moderation meetings to rank everybody) and in the end, from reading the end of year reviews, the marks seemed fair.

    No system is perfect, but I think what we have now is better than what we had before.

    • Replies to Jonathan>

      Comment by Andrew posted on

      and there is a big problem - you met before the Year End meeting to decide what was good or bad. So staff go all year thinking they're doing great, to discover that they aren't. That's not marking the person, but marking the job.

  27. Comment by Tony posted on

    I am not very good at passing comment corectley , as i have a habbit of saying the wrong thing.
    However I would like you to take a look at this part of your statment

    "no individual’s performance rating should simply change to meet the guided distribution total "

    Last year ,in my daprtment, all of the team managers had agreed the markings for there team members. To be told by a senior manager that there were not enough lower box markings and they had to go back into the meeting and ensure that more people were put on a lower marking.

    Now i dont imagine for one minute that this senior manager will ever admit that he said this , and as far as bringing it to the attention of the management, when they are at the heart of it is really just a joke and a waste of time and effort.

    Bob I am afraid you really dont know what goes on at the lower levels and quite frankly you will never know, as i am sure the poeple below you will never in a million years tell you what really happens at grass roots so to speak.

    I do appologise in advance if this is not what you want to hear, but the system does not work and never will as long as you continue to allow senior managers to dictate to the line managers what they can and cannot set. Most line managers, know there staff and can set a fair mark and then try to help them to improve on it for the next year.

    Just one last thing , about your comment in your statment

    " A really important point is that these ratings are guided and not forced "
    Well I really think you need to tell your senior managers this because they really are not aware it is a guide. As we are constanly told that there has to be so many in the lower boxes , even if they know how to do there jobs.

  28. Comment by Dom posted on

    I'm interested. Can someone point me at extensive peer-reviewed research by recognised academic institutions (not someone trying to sell an approach) which shows the cost-benefit of any proposed performance system against a system that merely has one question which asks "Has this person met the standard expected this year?" Yes/No with a 250 word comments limit if No is entered.

  29. Comment by Tytalus posted on

    A summary of what I've read in the comments above is that a 'Man from Barclays' has applied a 'Stack Ranking' system to the Civil Service as an 'Industry Best Practice', when Industry has started to realise it doesn't deliver in all cases and 'Industry Best Practice' can't always be applied to the Civil Service.

    Bob should really sit up and listen when we (the Civil Servants being marked) point out some fairly fundamental flaws in this new system. For example: when the MoD implemented the Cabinet Office's fundamentally flawed performance related bonus scheme, the major flaws were pointed out at the beginning during an away day of nearly 100 people, by all but the Personnel Director and the Director responsible for bringing it in. After 5 years of trying it was finally ditched as a bad idea (closely followed by 'Bonuses' becoming a dirty word when the banks collapsed).

    Now we are faced with a forced distribution of markings for staff. Yes, it is to be forced and there are now many examples of HRs and DGs going into print on it (some openly, some not so).

    Those working on individual projects will only be able to measure their individual success against their individual objectives, they won't have a clue of how they are performing against their colleagues. Those working in teams will be pitched against others in the team.

    This system, as with the doomed MoD system, ignored the main issue with performance management, and that it's not normally the systems fault, but the lack of time, training and mentoring available to the Managers, and more importantly, their managers. Having been told 'I know that's what the manual says, but this is how it's done in the real world' was why the MoDs system was seen to be broken and allowed the Bonus system to be introduced as a solution. If Managers actually stuck to the manual, and marked fairly without inflation, then it would have worked.

    Then, as pointed out by another above, once everyone had been marked fairly, it may have looked something like the Bell Curve that we are being asked to mark to. Only that it would have had the right people in the right areas, whereas this new system will force too many into the wrong areas to fit the quota.

  30. Comment by Bobby posted on

    We have been assured countless times on the intranet through news stories and through the Hotseat, that there is no 'quota', and the snappy alternative for quota is 'guided distribution'. The exact opposite of this is true, and a 'quota' truly does exist and is being freely discussed as needing to be met among managers and at validation meetings. The system does not work, is onerous, time consuming, and is causing undue stress to staff whose morale is already at rock bottom. I would urge a rethink on this, and by rethink i mean scrapping the whole thing. How can a workforce be treated so shabbily and not be expected to oppose systems such as this? Ive worked in the department for almost twenty years and i have NEVER experienced such a strength of opposition to something by myself and my colleagues.

  31. Comment by Caz posted on

    I've been told by the person doing my performance assessment (who is not my line manager as he has outsourced his responsibility for this to another member of the team) that I need to increase my visibility with the moderation panel members in our unit over the next six months to be in the 'safe zone' at the end of the year i.e. not in Category 3. So, it's a beauty contest as to who can make themselves look good rather than who does a job well. And this is on a 25% quota for Category 3 and no sign of my real line manager in the assessment process. Can that be right?

  32. Comment by Peter posted on

    Here's a really good explanation of why 'guided / forced' distributions, stack ranking, quotas (whatever you care to call them!) don't, and will never, work:

    Deming's 94/6 rule puts 94% of all performance down to system conditions with only 6% coming directly from the people. As a middle manager, I have spent 57 hours on appraisal in the last 6 weeks ... standard setting, moderation & distribution meetings, stack ranking (literally putting everybody in order and justifying positions) ... and this is only mid year! Not exactly consistent with Deming's 94/6 rule, is it? Individuals are turning evidence gathering into an industry to protect themselves and the whole thing is driving dysfunctional behavior at every level.

    Just to put this into context, I absolutely 'get' the need for improved performance. Continuous improvement is my 'day job'. I live and breathe a culture of 'better every day'. But this isn't the way to achieve it!

    Come on Bob, if this is the 'Civil Service of the Future', how come we are so far behind the curve? Needs Improvement perhaps?

  33. Comment by David posted on

    Leading private sector organisations are dumping this toxic method .. including Microsoft just in the last few weeks.

  34. Comment by Neal posted on

    I can't say I disagree with anything that has already been said.

    One thing that has always bugged me in my short time in the Civil Service (5 years) is that, as already has been said, why is it not enough to just come in, work hard, do your job really well and then go home. Their is nothing at all wrong with just doing that - why do you have to show that you are doing duties etc above and beyond your job/grade or that you are thinking strategically? The best people I have worked with are the ones that just get-on with their jobs and do it well.

    Also, as someone who has worked for the Civil Service outside of Whitehall, I have found that Managers outside of Whitehall are generally fair in their ratings whereas when I moved to Whitehall, I noticed their is more pressure on Line Managers to meet 'quotas'.

  35. Comment by LMM posted on

    The MYR in my business area was focussed on achieving the percentages, which had been raised to 25% for top and bottom boxes. See the below 2009 extract from a document on, we seem to have fallen into exactly what it is argued should be avoided. I have felt overwhelmed by guidance, then differing intrepretation on the guidance, and then statements such as, 'we have gone to 25% so that those in Box 3 do not feel isolated', not the most motivational or inspiring performance statement. So much effort has been spent on the MYR deliberations which could have been used more productively on delivering what we are here to do. This PMS is demotivating individuals and creating anxieties in good performing staff.

    So what do companies do? They tinker. In an attempt to make “improvements”, HR practitioners change the process year after year -- only to end up with an overly complex, confusing, and time consuming process. Some “thought leaders” claim that we should just do away with performance management altogether. I don’t believe this is the answer. After seven months studying how high impact HR organizations (including high-performing companies such as Lowe’s, Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, Seagate and Target) approach employee performance management, I believe the answer clear: re-focus on the basics and keep it simple.

  36. Comment by Kevin posted on

    There's something fundamentally wrong where an employer can demand that staff be "team players" and then grade them divisively on an annual basis against a Bell curve in order to meet a Cabinet Office assumption - there is a widely held belief that 10% of civil servants are less than effective - Oh really? If assumptions like that can be plucked out of thin air presumably so can annual markings. Have we also decided that SMART objectives are now old hat? Microsoft have proved that this approach does NOT work. It's bad for business, bad for individuals' health and welfare, bad for morale and BAD for teamwork!

  37. Comment by Dave Vincent posted on

    We have had pay restraint for over 20 years now whilst we have met nearly all targets and implemented continual changes of new initiatives and constant re-organisations we get an annual 'Thank you you've all done very well'.
    We achieve what we achieve due to teamwork. The new PMS is aimed at inducing a climate of fear - that you must look at whoever is doing more than you and try to match or better their performance. For what? The chance of an outstanding marking and performance bonus - maybe? Individuals will decide to only do what demonstrably improves their output and anything that doesn't will be left out or dumped on someone else.
    We've just seen the falsifying of statistics in one NHS Trust after another.
    Once again, another system that will disciminate against BME staff and those with any disability affecting output. As another poster has said, once the favourites have got their higher markings it is down to who a manager least likes.
    Stress is already endemic throughout the civil service due to the cuts and this system will increase stress and sick absence. We are urged to do more with less and also more for less for most staff. As others have said - whatever Bob says, many managers do see 'guided distribution' as picking the bottom 8-15% of staff. Most of whom were fine the previous year (and years).
    And many of those just making the satisfactory marking this year, will, after some fast exited staff, be next year's 'poor performers'. What an insult.
    With any league table there will always be people at the bottom. Even in the Olympics every race has superbly fit athletes coming last.
    This naff new system, now being rejected by the private sector, will undermine trust between staff and managers, will destroy teamwork and honesty, will cause resentment and demoralisation and will increase still further work related stress sick absence.
    When will we get someone as the Head of the Civil Service who will defend the best most impartial civil service in the world instead of attacking it constantly?
    Meanwhile CEOs get another huge rise in bonuses and wages whilst announcing another round of job cuts for their loyal staff.
    It is not open and transparent to have an 'indicative marking' all year then have it marked down after a secret closed door benchmarking session.
    At what level will the 'bottom 8-15% be delivered? Within each Court/Office/Unit?
    The bottom 8% in one office will be better than the bottom 8% in another office - how is that fair?
    How about between offices/courts/units then? So an office/court/unit comes bottom (assuming the staistics are genuine and a true reflection of genuine performance)?
    Even within that 'poor performing office' must be some outstanding hard working individuals pulled down by the alleged 'poor performers' in their office. How is that fair either?
    What about the reasons for an individuals (or office/court/unit) poor performance? What if they are under staffed or have a lot of inexperienced staff trying their best but no match for more experienced staff in another office?
    Now matter how you identify the 'poor performers' once you set an arbitrary (or guided) level it is unfair and demoralising.
    Bob, you've totally failed to convince 98% of respondees here. Stop following orders and use instead, what works. Drop this counter productive nonsense and earn our respect instead of justifying the indefensible.

  38. Comment by Newbie posted on

    I'm very new to the Civil Service (only 42 calendar days in fact!) and since I've started all I've heard is everyone moaning about the new appraisal system and the comments on this blog are no different.
    Very few people like change and I can understand why there is resistance to this system; especially in the Civil Service which is relatively a static organisation.

    So for those who care-here's my two ounces of thought...
    The new system does seem to be particularly labour intensive; there has to be a lot of notes/records kept, examples, and right now the whole process is time consuming.

    This is the first year this has been fully rolled out and we're all learning. I think there is a lot that can be done to streamline the process and make it the product our senior leaders actually imagined it to be. I hope that the feedback from the comments on this blog and other forums are being fed upwards to management and Bob's team; because we should continually be looking to improve & taking the views of our employees very seriously.

    Also I think this "new" system is not new at all. At the end of the day it does exactly what we'd expect any appraisal system to achieve:

    1) You and your manager set some objectives at the beginning of the year
    2) Contnually measure yourelf against those objectives
    3) At end year, your manager forms an opinion of whether the objectives have been met or not.

    Unfortunately from what I can see/hear this is not what's happening (there's some horror stories of people spending about 3 hours every Friday afternoon printing pages of 'evidence').

    Either these people have misunderstood what the new system is asking or the people at the top haven't succesfully communicated what we should all be doing. In my department the guidance around the new system is around 69 pages long- this is absurd! My vision is that by the time the next appraisal round comes along this guidance should just be one side of A4. (Call me an optimist, crazy, delusional or whatever you like!)

    I've not mentioned anything about the 'quota' (sorry I meant 'guided distribution' ) because I think there's an entirely seperate debate to be had on this topic.
    One another's worth having a read of the link below which mentions:
    A) Why the new system was introduced (CS staff asked for it apparently in the survey in 2012)
    B) What it was intended to deliver

    Having been around people who are using the new system now here's a little quote from the link which I found quite ironic and frankly VERY amusing:

    "Mid and end of year processes will be as light in bureaucracy as possible, so that time is spent discussing performance and development, not filling in forms."

    • Replies to Newbie>

      Comment by Keith C posted on

      CS staff did not ask for a microsoft style quota system for appraisal ratings in the 2012 survey. The heads of the CS who score very badly in the survey on leadership, managing change etc disregard those comments, claim improvement every year even though they continue to score so badly. Then, as if to demonstrate why staff have such a dim view of their leadership, they interpret evidence that staff feel that appraisal is not carried out well in the CS as a desire for an even worse system. Then when told repeatedly that a quota system is demotivating, demoralising and unfair they fail to listen , they selectively read comments and then they declare the system to be a great success and an example of how well they listen. Cue next staff survey results and yet again they are told they manage change badly, lead badly, don't listen...and still they don't listen.
      It is not really true that people don't like change. This is an old cliche. Change can be unsettling and can be quite stressful if poorly managed. The staff survey shows that CS believe that change in the CS has mostly been for the worse in recent years. But consider this; a change in living standards facilitated by a 15% pay increase would not be unwelcome. Despite a bit of stress and readjustment many staff welcome the change that promotion brings. There have been times when significant change e.g. the end of Apartheid in South Africa, has been greated with dancing in the streets. Proponants of change for the worst dismiss criticism as 'people don't like change'. It is lazy and it is an excuse for not listening.

  39. Comment by Dave Putson posted on

    "This performane rating is designed to identify those members of staff whose performance needs to improve and to provide the tools that enable this to happen. It’s certainly not just about dismissal "

    Perhaps Bob can explain why across the Civil Service less than 1% of staff receive a must improve marking currently, but with the new "policy" you must have between 8% to 15%. Sounds like another avenue for dismissals regardless of his assertion.
    With a year on year 8% reduction some departments would lose their entire staff in approximately 13 years, and with the 15% that reduces to 7 years !! My calculation was conducted, I conclude, in the same way as this policy was devised, on the back of an envelope !!
    If you seriously want to encourage Civil Servants to be the best they can be for the departments they represent then ask them to do this and they deliver, pay them appropriately to do this and they will feel the appreciation. Once again anyone at the "top" is rewarded for performance financially whilst those not so elevated in the departmental structures are subjected to this style of sanction led approach.
    It is interesting that one previous leader of a department was released for failing to hit his work based targets and yet his "Golden Goodbye" payment was overpaid by £85k and never recovered. I cannot see any of those staff being forced into the "must improve" area of supposed performance receiving a "Golden Goodbye" on their dismissal.
    This policy is divisive, unworkable and offensive and don't even get me started on the pernicious "behavioural" aspects left to Line Managers to evaluate without any "behavioural" qualifications at all.

  40. Comment by Dan posted on

    I've recently changed roles so I had the pleasure of attending two PMR meetings. In both, teams were told that if we do not meet the desired distribution, markings will go up or down as necessary. Some teams in a battalion may have less 'must improve's and other may have more, but the 10%, 70% 20% must be met across the group.

    It's hard to believe that the fact the distribution isn't set in stone wasn't made explicitly clear from the outset, it has caused a lot of people a lot of stress.

  41. Comment by Jane posted on

    I agree with all of the above comments. How can we compare different roles within the same grade in order to rank people? Not only are we all doing different roles, but there is not a common standard that we are all judged against. The system is fundamentally flawed. As for the point about its having a guided distribution, not a forced distribution, I know that the quotas are being applied at the mid-year point as a forced distribution and that 20% of staff are being placed into the 'must improve' category. 1 in 5 colleagues are given this demoralising assessment purely for the sake of meeting a distribution.

  42. Comment by Colin posted on

    Where I work we had a brief meeting several months ago designed to tell us about the new system. I have been told via email that I need to fill in a form with information about myself prior to a meeting with my superior, I have no idea what I should put, this is all rather stressful.
    I have been doing the same job as a Court Usher for nearly 10 years, I have seen colleagues come and go in that time and I have always trained them to work together as a team, I see this new process as devisive to our team, pitting worker against worker.
    I was told when I started, and it has been the case ever since that you must work very closely with the Judiciary to ensure that their very valuable time is not wasted.
    Doing what is best for the Judge and the hearings does not always fit in what is seen to be best for the court office so you have to try and balance these sometimes conflicting needs.
    I am hoping to be able to afford to retire in a year or two, I cannot see how this new performance management system will improve the way we already deliver everything the courts need to run smoothly and efficiently.
    We already feel, and we are treated as the bottom of the pile where I work, I cannot see how any training needs will assist in this, we are all very worried about this new initiative and what we are going to be expected to do to hang on to our jobs in the light of 10% of us being marked down as needing to improve.

  43. Comment by David posted on

    So will bob reply to any of these valid challenges?

  44. Comment by sylvia posted on

    Feedback on your work, on individual and team performance- these are important and useful.
    Box markings are not.
    Box markings tend to discriminate against people who work flexibly, are part time, or have other responsibilities at home - these groups rarely get top box markings and are the first to be put in the lowest box. To get the top box, you have to work long hours; you have to be an extrovert, good at making a show and getting noticed by managers.
    This approach doesn't value team working, getting the best out of people around you and consistent good performance of individuals and teams.
    Positive, encouraging feedback throughout the year is a much greater incentive to good performance - of teams and individuals - than box markings.
    Why have box markings at all? Get rid of them!

  45. Comment by Viper posted on

    Wholly agree with the comments made. The system is totally flawed, poorly administered, misinterpreted by managers across different departments, open to abuse, highly demoralising, demotivating, and grossly unfair. In all my 26 years of working in the department and having seen all manner of change, introduction of new systems, policies, directives, PM systems and everything else in between including caring for staff (whatever happened to that?), diversity, investors in people and the list goes on and on, never have I seen a PM system which pits teams against teams and individuals against individuals. They say history repeats itself and humans throughout the course of time always repeat the same mistakes. Look at the way in which wars are still carried out and to what aim? Look at the corruption that exists at even the highest echelons of life, look at how the distribution of wealth causes the class divide to grow even bigger and create the levels of crime and corruption we see today. Nothing that has not already been seen in the past if you care to look closely enough, even going as far back as the ancient tribes around the world. Senior leaders are not demi gods and their comments are not to be taken as godspell. They work to an entirely different agenda and dont see what we see from their ivory towers despite their claims that they do.

    How is the introduction of a system which has proven to be a failure in the biggest corporation of our time i.e. microsoft let alone the other companies who have used or adopted this system going to work in ours? How is this improving morale, employee engagement or boosting performance and encouraging individuals to truly go and be the best they can be.When you have a behaviours framework which in itself suppresses those of us who do not like to beat around the bush and give politician styl responses or statements to things we feel strongly about and are not scared to openly say what we feel as this is deemed to be negative behaviour. Heck even the greatest politicians and leaders of our time have made impassioned speeches and delievered their messages in a somewhat vociferous manner. You only have to listen to the debates in Parliament to see that. I hear the words order, order all the time from the speakers chair. Are they told at the end of their reporting year that they are displaying negative behaviour. What will the orgainstaion be if we are all homogenised and pasteurised? Let alone brainwashed and indoctrinated to the point where we have no voice of our own we just spout what we are programmed to spout!

    It's about time someone in senior leadership woke up and smelled the stink that surrounds this anachronistic system and put it to bed for good. No amount of spin from the senior echelons of the CS is going to convince me otherwise as I am that old dog who wont be taught new tricks simply to appease and pander to the hidden agendas of our peers who apparently run and control the direction of the CS.

  46. Comment by patrick posted on

    Lots of staff throughout HMCTS work in or as a team, would the time not be better spent encouraging staff to work together instead of what can only be described as a form of persecution on staff.
    Things are difficult enough in this organisation what with staff numbers being depleted on a almost daily basis.
    Lets focus on the postive things that the staff do and lets encourage them to work together to achieve our goals.

  47. Comment by John Sims posted on

    Sir Bob
    I was hoping that you would actually address the concerns of staff, rather than brush them aside.
    If the distribution of box markings is "guided not forced", then why set a guide in any case..?
    Believe me, I'm not saying that all staff are perfect, but in my experience over the last 26 years the vast majority of staff are dedicated, work to the best of their ability, and are a credit to the organisation.
    Indeed with staff reductions, the recent pay freeze, and having to say goodbye to "fixed term contract staff" who they have worked alongside for a year, then are thrown on the rubbish heap, it's amazing that any goodwill still exists.
    Sorry....Apparently 10% need to improve...or do they as the markings are "guided not forced" -.....I think the staff have already made up their mind what the true meaning of that phrase is.
    Please stop trying to defend a flawed system and replace it.
    Your greatest asset is your workforce, and rather than beating them with an ever larger stick, a bit of encouragement just for once wouldn't go amiss...

  48. Comment by Susan posted on

    My concern relates to the wrong grading of poor performing (even non performing) senior managers. I feel that, as has always been the case, the number of senior managers who actually achieve nothing and contribute nothing to their department, branch or team will not be told they 'must improve' or be put in category 3. They will carry on 'playing the game' with their 'faces that fit' whilst the lower grade staff will be the ones populating category 3 to achieve the necessary grade distribution.

    I had this happen to me in a previous role and it's divisive and stressful, creates bad feeling and removes any incentive for staff to go that extra mile.

    And if, or when, these gradings lead to performance related pay, it won't be the managers that don't get a pay increase!

  49. Comment by Cathy posted on

    I agree with the majority of the comments on here about this new system. I would like to know if everyone is subjected to monthly one to ones as part of this new performance procedure we are in our office. I feel this is a total waste of time, the amount of man hours wasted on this is ridiculous, the time could be better spent doing actual work, surely a 6 month review is enough unless a person is not meeting their targets and benchmarks they should then be told before the 6 month review that an improvement is needed.

  50. Comment by George posted on

    The new system is a complete waste of time. It lacks fairness, simplicity, and logic. The whole system should be scrapped, and replaced with a simple summary schedule. The Civil Srvice has to recognise that just because a box is ticked after a waste of a few hours nonsense on plotting a spot on a curve does not make me or my staff better employees. The next system should be designed by staff from this solar system.

  51. Comment by George posted on

    what do you want modified?

    • Replies to George>

      Comment by George posted on

      The new system is a complete waste of time. It lacks fairness, simplicity, and logic. The system would function better with a simple summary review. The Civil Srvice has to recognise that just because a box is ticked after a waste of a few hours plotting a spot on a curve does not make me or my staff better employees.

  52. Comment by MJM posted on

    I really can't beleive anyone thinks this overly cumbersome is actually sensible, unless of course they are the "yes" men who dare not say otherwise. I also wonder just how much time and money (oh yes, I'll bet my bottom dollar there are many overpaid consultants behind this). It's just another example of how we can't be allowed to mature and develop ourselves. I am dismayed at how easily very snr management can be convinced that this can be anything other than counter productive, time consuming (haven't people got a real job to do?) and all so fad ish. And of course will the very snr management be managed in the same way???.... you all know the answer to that one!!

  53. Comment by G Neal posted on

    Not sure about other Depts but our managers have been given a target to meet for those who need improvement. Even if we find that everyone's having a very good year. The figure we've been given has been plucked from mid air because there's no precedent for it.

    So as managers we've been told that across our unit we must find 8% of staff we manage as 'needing improvement' and if we don't, we've been told we have to "justify why not" to HR.

    Does that sound fair?

    • Replies to G Neal>

      Comment by Susan posted on

      I am an FLM and had marked my team including one 'Must Improve' which was no surprise as we have discussed this at the end of quarter one, I also marked one as 'Exceed'. At validation my marks were agreed by the other managers. At my PMR my manager told me I had achieved and expected me to be high achieved by the end of the year. At his validation meeting he was told he had too many HO managers as achieved and needed to rank the seven managers and put one in the 'Must Improve' category, to meet the Guided Distribution Quota. That person turned out to be me, and I received an email saying, 'Sorry, but you are the 'Must Improve'. At no time during the previous 6 months had I been told I 'Must Improve', indeed I was undertaking both management and technical training and during that time had been made substantive. At the same time the managers were told to hold another validation meeting to downgrade an AO caseworker and it was decided my AO would be given 'Must Improve'. Again at no time during the year did I tell her she 'Must Improve'. so I refused to do it. I was told if I didn't change her marking there could be repercussions, I still refused but she could see how difficult the situation was for me, so to support me she made me give her the 'Must Improve' marking. I would say that behaviour should be marked as 'Exceed'. You cannot imagine the stress and upset this has caused to my team. My AO is utterly demotivated as am I. As previously stated neither of us were told we 'Must Improve' but in order to meet the Guided Distribution Quota we have been 'scapegoated'. I have sent all the details to the PCS but until the end of year markings I doubt there will be a conclusion; I have discussed this with my manager with my PCS rep and clearly I could see he was in a very difficult position, however I was prepared not to mark down my AO and to stand up for what I believed was wrong. This has affected me so badly I am currently off with stress, having dealt with the sudden death of my mother this year and all that entails the change of marking was the final straw. Does HMRC really have any idea what is happening to their staff, more to the point do they really care? This is an appalling system completely demotivating and is destroying the relationships built up between staff and managers. It takes all credibility away from the managers making solid fact based decisions on their staff performance. Indeed at the second validation we were told to upgrade an O to 'Exceed;' who quite frankly demonstrates behaviour I would suggest borders on bullying and intimidation. So, having experienced the process I can confirm staff are having their markings changed purely to meet the 'Guided Distribution Quota'.

  54. Comment by Malcolm Smyth posted on

    Will Bob respond to any of these comments ?

  55. Comment by Vicky posted on

    It doesn't really matter what we put on our PMR as there are no opportunities to develop our careers anyway. For all of the emphasis on development objectives, this issue is being totally overlooked. I have been in my grade for 10 years and have no hope of promotion, despite receiving an outstanding performance marking for the last 5 years. I have to ask myself why I am bothering to put in any additional effort or do jobs above and beyond my role- which I am- and why we are being pushed to "develop". This new system does not obviate this concern and frankly is alientaing the very staff that should be being encouraged.

  56. Comment by Roy Thorpe posted on

    The new performance management (appraisal) system will not improve staff performance as it claims to do because it is having a negative impact on employees as it is creating an insecure and stressed workforce, which will lead to under-performance and inefficiency because employees will become pre-occupied with saving their own neck rather than working together as a team to improve the organisation.

    The new system is complicated and it is extremely time consuming, thus wasting a great deal of staff time, time that could be put to better use in actually improving & delivering the services that we provide.

    This type of ranking system is already being discredited in the private sector and is it being abandoned by private companies such as Microsoft because it has divided their staff and produced no real benefit to their business.

    This new system's main aim appears to be reducing the headcount by getting rid of staff as cheaply as possible.

    Incredibily the managers in charge of the civil service appear determined to continue with this appalling system, which will only create problems for its staff & managers. It is a destructive, devisive system that sets colleagues against each other, creating disharmony & friction.

    The fact that staff will only given an indicative performance rating at their review reveals the horrible truth about this system. A person might be told that at their review that their indicative rating is "Good" only to be told later that they have been ranked as "Must Improve". This will have a devastating effect on their morale.

    The new system should be scrapped before too much harm is done. We should revert to the previous system, which worked perfectly well when it was applied properly. Areas of weakness can be addressed and improvement can be achieved without the need to have a person fearing for their job.

    We should be looking to get the best out of our staff, making them feel good about their contribution by focusing on their strengths so that they want to give their best every day.

  57. Comment by Mike posted on

    This is not a new system to some of us. At my previous Department we had a performance related appraisal process, which included a bonus for top rated staff, allegedly at the insistence of the Treasury as part of a pay package. Come end of year review time my manager placed me in box 1 but managers above decided there were too many box ones going through so I was among several colleagues who were moved into box 2. I had to take out a grievance against the people concerned in order to get this resolved. Not good for morale or working relationships - would you tell other, potentially jealous, colleagues you got a bonus?

    My experiences in the private sector were very different. Until I joined the Civil Service I hadn't had a formal assessment of my work for decades but my managers knew and recognised my strengths. I can't believe we spend so much time on this process with objective setting meetings, gathering 'evidence', drafting and rewriting assessments, attending lengthy review meetings and that's before we even get to countersigning and moderation. Whatever happened to just getting on with the job, including managing?

    So, Sir Bob - How exactly does this divisive, cumbersome, time consuming process make the Civil Service more efficient at delivering more for less?

  58. Comment by Jo posted on

    So this system will require a fair amount of training for all concerned before it is introduced in my department. We have already had lengthy team meetings to discuss it all. Then, once we give it a go, there will be grievances, stress related sickness, drawn out discussions about how fair it is etc. Then there are people like me who are sitting at their desks reading the 62 comments on this thread when I could be contributing to my Agency's delivery targets. If we continued with our existing system, which was once hailed as the 'best', how much time would we have saved per employee? Would we not have processed an extra 50 forms, booked another 30 tests, answered another 40 customer queries? ......That really would have improved our performance and probably made our customer's lives that little bit easier. Which is where we should be concentrating our efforts.

  59. Comment by Tony Higgins posted on

    I cannot believe that this new PMR system is still being rolled out. It lacks the necessary safeguards for staff, and will only be used by departments to "force" out people on the cheap, thus saving departments the time of running any more VED's scheme's. I have grave concerns over how you measure someone's behaviour traits, and agree with other comments left here that "favourites" will get the highest marks, staff will become demoralised by the whole process when after being told at mid year (as I have been) that my work is of the required standard, only for the mark to be downgraded by some faceless moderation panel that does not know me or how I do my job.

    My colleagues and I take a great pride in the work that we do, but we are constantly bombarded with changes, some good, most bad, that are leading to a demoralised workforce. Satff are right to be worried that a quota of "must imporve" will be forced on the line managers who see the work of staff every day.

    This system is just plain wrong, as Microsoft have now admitted. I echo Roy Thorpe's comment that the system we used last was fit for purpose when it was used correctly by line managers and staff. The problem is that the "higher up" inetrpret comments in each year's staff engagement survey of "poor performance is not tackled correctly" as being the green light to introduce this system and state "we are listening to your concerns".

    I also echo the thoughts of contributers of what is wrong with coming in to work, to do your job to the best of your ability and to the required standard. I have worked for the courts for over 30 years and been through countless appraisal systems, and can honestly say each new system has become harder to understand. Just accept that some civil servants just want to come in and do their job. Just accept that some of us are not ambitious to be developed into some "super human" civil servant. We want respect from our managers and colleagues.

    This system will just pit indiciduals against each other and will lead to a demoralised workforce.

  60. Comment by Pete Loader posted on

    Sir Bob,
    Microsoft's (now defunct) staff ranking system sounds very similar to the new cross-Civil Service performance system but they have done away with it because it promoted the wrong culture for them. Do you have a view on this in the Civil Service context?

  61. Comment by David W posted on

    Sir Bob

    As 60 or so colleagues above have commented, this is indeed a terrible system. It has been implemented without due preparation, or even consideration of the inevitable outcomes – a simple Internet search would reveal copious evidence of the toxic effects of stack ranking. There seems to have been no pilot, and no estimate of costs (probably in excess of a million hours of staff time in my department alone, just for the mid-years).

    And what behaviours does it incentivise? It will encourage the “not in my objectives” attitude. It will also catastrophically undermine teamwork – we put ourselves at risk now if we help colleagues in our assessment group succeed, and improve our personal chances if we surreptitiously let them fail.

    The reputation of Perm Secs across the Civil Service is taking a battering as they seek to defend a system that runs entirely counter to the commitment, loyalty, and flexibility they otherwise seek to engender. Please save your staff from further ravages to morale, and the taxpayers from spectacular waste of their hard-earned cash, and stop it now – not next summer, but now.

  62. Comment by Dan R posted on

    My 'department' has done away with ratings this year, instead a performance statement is produced, using 360 feedback from stakeholders/colleagues etc.

    This appears to be a good approach to me

  63. Comment by Ray posted on

    Fascinating to see you say:

    "When it comes to distribution ratings, no individual’s performance rating should simply change to meet the guided distribution total and if there is any evidence of this, colleagues should raise this within their department."

    I didn't realise this was the official policy- and it certainly wasn't being implemented like that at the last department I worked at. In fact- when they explained the system to us at Defra via an exercise, they were quite open about the fact that you had to fit x people into box 1, and it was the moderator's job to not let people leave until those tough decisions had been taken.

    So to be positive- it's great you've sent this clear signal. Anyone who suspects they are being downgraded should now be able to quote this back to senior management.

  64. Comment by Ella Cook posted on

    Sir Bob,

    Although I'm glad that you have written "A really important point is that these ratings are guided and not forced" I am very concerned that in reality any departments that do not meet these guidelines will surely be frowned upon won't they? The difference between guidelines and rules is not one that often seems to be taken into account when it comes to policy making.

    I would also like to say that although many government initiatives are good, and many ideas that come from the private sector are good, this does not mean that everything that's been used before is good. It seems unwise to ignore lessons that have been learned by Micorosoft, for example, who used a similar performance managment system and have recently scrapped it. Please see this link:



  65. Comment by MJM posted on

    Further to all of the less than positive comments on the additional overhead this new process will absorb, has Sir Bob given thought to the wholly un-productive time that will be spent on handling staff grievances that will almost certainly arise as a result of staff being singled out? There are examples above that cry out for grievances to be raised

  66. Comment by Agnes posted on

    My experience is that units do feel forced to allocate individuals to meet the required percentages, regardless of actual performance. In a unit of high-performing individuals this can cause difficulties and be demoralising or worse.

    In my unit, I think there is also an issue about how performance is assessed for the purpose of allocation to the lowest box. This isn't "in the round". An individual may, for example, be assessed as excellent against three out of four criteria but be allocated to the lowest box because of issues around the fourth.

    For example, when I was told that I was allocated to box 3, I was also told that the quality of my work was excellent, the amount of work I had got through was excellent and my relationship with the clients was excellent but I was being allocated to that box because of feedback from internal colleagues. In fact, my feedback from colleagues was mixed but (as I found out) had been distorted by my line manager to the point where some things said by her caused me to become unwell. I began a process of seeking a review but it became too much for me and I withdrew. If a line manager has "blackened your name" in a personal way it is really hard to defend yourself to a reviewer who, although well-meaning, does not know you very well.

    It feels wrong that dedicated civil servants should face this situation and I would appeal to Sir Bob to respond to this and the other comments in this blog.

  67. Comment by Lee posted on

    How about my situation where I proved my LM lied about me in my end of year report and I took it all the way to appeal but nobody particularly noted that fact. And now because I have reached the end of the line I cannot do anything else because the appeal managers decision is final!! Talk about being royally scr**ed!!! All this to fit the curve in performance markings.

  68. Comment by Ian posted on

    Until 5 years ago I worked in the Technology sector and experienced the full horror of aggressive 'rank and yank' Performance Management. The human cost was dire, stress was routine, nervous breakdowns endemic, and suicides by staff largely attributable to the stress caused by this deeply flawed and sinister means of getting rid of staff. All done in order to improve the 'bottom line'. When I came to the Civil Service I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had come to an honest organisation. I don't understand how the obligation to tell lies about colleagues' performance squares with the Civil Service Code. By all means evaluate people properly - but don't institutionalise dishonesty.

  69. Comment by Keith Paul posted on

    PMR,s are putting unreasonable stress on staff .Why is it up to us to prove with evidence that we are doing our job, having in my case been doing it for ten years . It should be up to managment to prove with evidence that we are not !!! Across the whole civil service how many man hours are being lost preparing PMR ,s Tax payers money !!!!

  70. Comment by Richard Emmens posted on

    Dear Sir Bob
    Honesty compels comment on the new Performance Management System - silence would give the wrong message. Your explanation is appreciated but my conclusion is that the system needs amending, at the very least. It has two elements that are a mistake. They threaten values of the civil service. They leave the stated intentions and the effects visibly divergent.
    As briefly as possible, the forced distribution (demonstrably a quota system) is very rough justice and causes unnecessary distress to good people who only needed encouragement or plain speaking. It results in demoralised staff. It changes motivation from willingness to fear (of losing your job). Admittedly both are a kind of motivation. Perhaps the change is seen as acceptable in achieving better value for money, but one would not want to assume that lightly. The effect is not targetted where it is needed most. We are displacing performance measurement against agreed objectives with competition, in a relative pecking order, based mostly on behaviour if applied amongst high-performing groups. These changes do work, after a fashion, to push people along; they may be said to make the Civil Service more business-like; but what kind of business? The approach does not fit well with integrity, honesty, objectivity, and impartiality. Having witnessed its operation in the past few weeks it is undeniable that managers were required to get enough people ‘into the box’ (Needs Improvement) and to look for reasons to do so. The change in attitude implied to the workforce is stark and the effects long-lasting. The cost is in loss of loyalty and the service ethos. I have recently heard private comments from colleagues (high performers) who are more inclined to leave. Only a little digging reveals a lot of informative research – I found this review from 2005 which resonates and is helpful about alternatives:
    What to do? Bin the Bell Curve, as a statistical abstraction. How can one of these ever be a basis for people management? Follow the feedback: (1) “It strikes me as a bit old-fashioned!”, from one consultant I know; (2) “What’s it for, really?”, asks another. Large organisations have tried stack ranking systems and then got rid of them, for good reason. General Electric were explicit about getting rid of 10% of people each year – a harsh process, but a least with a clear logic. In the Civil Service, current explanations that the new system is not (mainly?) about exits, but to encourage better performance, seem confused. Categorising <25% of your people as ‘Needs Improving’ (and who doesn’t?) is unlikely to maintain good morale if you plan to keep them. If the thing is really about workforce reduction in due course then an open and honest explanation of how it will work would be better - especially in relation to the inefficiency and disciplinary procedures we already had, with which the Needs Improvement label is unavoidably, yet imprecisely, associated. It would be good to see more responses on this subject soon.

  71. Comment by Nahida Ahmed posted on

    My concern is that regardless of being a box 1 and achieving a high standard in everything you do, it does not count towards any progression or promotion. you could be fully qualified at a high post and be recognised by your managers as more than capable but cannot be promoted unless you go through a complete recruitment process. We talk about adopting good practices from the private sector. Would this be something the private industry would do? We are losing capable and excellent staff because of this.

  72. Comment by Mary posted on

    The sad truth is, many hard-working staff are being shoe-horned into the ten percent of 'must improve', just to fit the quota, despite what Sir Bob says above. I have worked in the Civil Service for over 20 years now, and in all my time there have never experienced anything quite so stressful, convoluted and downright time-wasting as this new PMR system. Neither have I seen such a system so universally despised (well, perhaps apart from 'caseflow') by staff. On the plus side, the introduction of PMR has given me the push to finally start making concrete plans for my departure from the Civil Service as soon as possible (and this isn't through fear of ending up in the bottom ten percent, as I have been a top performer for the past 6 years), as, on top of everything else, I do not wish to work in an environment of back-stabbing and 'one upmanship', which PMR will inevitably lead to as people. Though I feel sure that I'll be doing my Department a favour when I resign in a few years time, as the staff there appear to be seen as an inconvenience, and PMR just seems to be a mechanism to get rid of them on the cheap.

  73. Comment by sarah posted on

    I have only just had the readout of mid year validation meeting at which I was told despite Line Manager suggesting I should be box 1 , view of the meeting was that I am high performing box 2 because even though I am demonstrating behaviours and objectives at the required level I need to do something "exceptional" over and above my objectives . I have already taken on specific extra projects with short deadlines outside my own work area and work long hours. The guideline means that there are simply not enough box 1 to go around. My line manager was not sure what more I can do. Therefore, Im afraid I fail to see how the excellent advice you give is actually being applied.

  74. Comment by MIles Nelson posted on

    I am currently fighting an "improvement needed" marking, not because of the marking per se but because the process was so seriously flawed in execution (leaving aside the nature of the process) that I am seething with a sense of injustice as well as feeling demoralised and depressed. Feedback not read, a radical reinterpretation at the mid-year review of what my job should be, my evidence countered with "management impression", etc. I was trained to be sceptical, analytical and logical, yet I am taken for a fool.

    I have heard many accounts of people marked down for "behaviours", subjective impressions which apparently carry much more weight than evidence or reputation. This will not do. I am just waiting for a manager to say to someone: "I marked him down because he looked at me funny".

    I aim to fight this con trick for as long as I have breath, and to draw attention to the injustice and unhappiness that is growing day by day. I am also fighting to regain my sense of commitment and my previous enthusiasm, which is hard. I also wonder why I bother.

    Miles Nelson (HMRC Grade 6)

  75. Comment by Stephen posted on

    The performance marking system described by Sir Bob bears no resemblance to the appalling system that we have just introduced in the IPO (a BIS agency). Admittedly the IPO decided not to implement the standard Civil Service Performance Management process. Here, each individual's end-of-year performance marking is determined by a panel of senior managers, most of whom will have had no contact with the job holder throughout the year. There will often be around 10-20 people on these panels. The distribution of top markings is rigidly imposed, even if it means going against the line manager's recommendation.

    Why is this distribution forced? Because our department (BIS) and the Treasury insist that we cannot give performance pay to more than 25% of our staff. How is the Civil Service ever going to achieve its full potential with a performance management process that is limited to rewarding - at most - a quarter of its employees?

    I have been a senior manager (G7 & SCS) in the Civil Service for nearly twenty years, and I have always sought to encourage all the people in my teams to perform to the highest possible level. I will admit that I have not always achieved 100% in this aim, but I have NEVER set my sights as low as 25%. In my opinion, aiming for 25% in the highest performing band is aiming to fail. Any leader/manager who considers that 25% is good enough, simply should not be in a position of responsibility.

  76. Comment by James posted on

    In my own Department, a minimum of 10% of staff are prejudged to be marked Box 3 and require 'improvement' before evidence is even considered, whilst Box 1s are limited to a maximum of 25%. However, this rule is not applied consistently across every grade. The more junior the grade, then the more likely it is for you to get a Box 3, but harder to achieve Box 1. For senior grades the opposite applies. It is so blatant that less than 10% of certain senior grades get Box 3, whilst the maximum quota of 25% get Box 1. Senior managers are thus far less likely to mark down other senior staff within their social clique. If Departments have a fixed wage budget, then they will 'cut the cake' so junior staff pay for the rises of their senior managers.

  77. Comment by Kevin posted on

    A performance management system benefitting from adaquate investment in staff resourcing and training, woukd not require 'guided distribution', quotas or otherwise. Go figure!

  78. Comment by Alan posted on

    As a long-serving and, until recently, highly committed member of a small team of acknowledged high-performers, I fell victim to this ridiculous and counterproductive system after a year in which I had, at some personal cost, worked at the very limits of my ability and achieved much more than ever before.

    No reason given, I was just 'moderated' into a box which someone (apparently) HAD to be in, and have since taken the view that if, despite my best efforts, I was going to be tagged as an 'underperformer' then I might as well behave like one in the first place, and have moderated my commitment, my hours, and my preparedness to step outside my comfort zone accordingly, i.e. the minimum necessary.

    Not an attitude I'm entirely comfortable with, but frankly I can see no reason to contribute any more for the benefit of an employer under ever-increasing pressure to do more and more with less and less resource, but apparently too witless and uncaring to come up with some simple and positive way of recognising the efforts of committed and hard-working staff and of motivating and inspiring them to even greater efforts.

    Having read all I can find to read on the internet on this system, what surprises me most is why anyone outside a psychiatric institute should think it would do anything other than demoralise and demotivate.

    For what it's worth Bob, your 'performance management' system has surgically removed the incentive to perform of at least one member of the Civil Service.......