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.