Controversial civil service performance management to stay until 2018 “at earliest”

Written by Jim Dunton on 11 July 2016 in News
News

Cabinet Office confirms pilots will test changes to civil service-wide staff grading system, but draws fire for “frustratingly slow” progress

Changes to the civil service’s controversial performance management regime are unlikely to be introduced across the whole of Whitehall for almost two years, it has emerged.

The system, introduced in 2012, has drawn fire from unions because of its “guided distribution” element, which encourages managers to rank 25% of staff as performing well, 65% as middling, and 10% as performing poorly.

A handful of pilots aimed at testing changes to the system are either already running or set to go live, but the Cabinet Office has told Civil Service World it does not expect reforms to the system to be applied until April 2018 at the earliest.


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The trials will run until April next year, and evidence is due to be evaluated over the 2017-18 performance year meaning that 2018-19 would be the “earliest” that anything coming out of them could be implemented, the Cabinet Office said.  

The Valuation Office Agency is running one of the pilots, and CSW understands the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the National Offender Management Service, and HM Revenue & Customs are among other departments hosting trials. The Cabinet Office declined to name the departments running trials.

Last month, new HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson told MPs on the Treasury Select Committee that the performance management regime was contributing to his department’s bottom-of-the-table staff engagement score in the latest annual civil service employee survey.

While the system applies to the whole of the civil service, representatives of the PCS union told Civil Service World that HMRC’s particular problems stemmed from a lack of flexibility in applying the guided distribution system in comparison to other departments.

Meanwhile, Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said guided distribution was “corrosive” to staff relations with line managers, said the and that the timescales the CO was working to represented “frustratingly slow” progress. 

“It’s clear that guided distribution is a breeding ground for staff disaffection and is bringing the performance management system into disrepute,” he said.

“I’m a fan of performance management systems where people doing a good job get recognised for that, but I’ve had people coming to me saying ‘I’ve met my objectives and my line manager agrees, but I still find myself in the bottom division’.”

Graham said there was anecdotal evidence that some staff were leaving the civil service because of the performance management regime.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the current performance management framework had helped the civil service to improve performance management practice and culture, and the trials would explore ways to “build on” its success.

"Any forward-thinking organisation will want to periodically review its approach to performance management to make sure it keeps up with best practice and internal changes,” he said. 

“The civil service is no exception. We are in the process of finalising trials to look at ways we can build on the success of the current system, and will make a further announcement in due course."

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Comments

Winston Smith (not verified)

Submitted on 11 July, 2016 - 13:03
I'm waiting for the revised version of performance management, the version with just two final indicators: 1) You're adequate 2) You're sacked

Bob Smith (not verified)

Submitted on 14 October, 2016 - 19:45
My sentiments exactly Winston, however as I am now over 50 I no longer have to ask for a must improve marking it's an automatic right.

Penguin365 (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 12:46
The system has achieved one of its main (hidden) objectives in pushing people into taking Vountary Early Retirement and allowing cheaper new employees to replace them on weaker terms and conditions. Expect this to continue until the rump of the governmental estates rationalisation programme has been completed. Cynical - who me !!!

Former civil servant (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 20:10
In some cases we really didn't need much of a push and it's actually worked out really well for us, which sadly means it will bite the civil service in the long term. The new guys may be cheaper but lack both the capability and experience of those who have left to far greener pastures.

Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 12:52
The Cabinet Office would do well to conider gathering data on the sick absence, stress, depression and anxiety, and any potential deaths from ill health and suicide caused by this dreadful practice of forcing good performing people into the bottom 10%, and to survey staff put in this category for their views on how it has affected them.

janie J (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 13:20
I agree that the performance management needed to take into account behaviours and not just 'numbers' but the guided distribution system is hated. It is unfair, divisive, subjective and demotivating. It is appraisal by fear. There should be 4 box markings, where only those who really need to be improved either re their work or behaviours should be placed. Some really good staff have been placed in the bottom category, which has been a very destructive process. It also creates behaviours where everyone is frightened of owning up to a mistake or admitting that something is not working - which in projects and multiple areas is a very corrosive and damaging thing to the business. As an appraisal system it creates problems that would not have been there. It needs to go and the sooner the better. It also needs to be far less time consuming, not least the never ending one to ones and writing up of them.

janie J (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 13:27
I agree that the performance management needed to take into account behaviours and not just 'numbers' but the guided distribution system is hated. It is unfair, divisive, subjective and demotivating. It is appraisal by fear. There should be 4 box markings, where only those who really need to be improved either re their work or behaviours should be placed. Some really good staff have been placed in the bottom category, which has been a very destructive process. It also creates behaviours where everyone is frightened of owning up to a mistake or admitting that something is not working - which in projects and multiple areas is a very corrosive and damaging thing to the business. As an appraisal system it creates problems that would not have been there. It needs to go and the sooner the better. It also needs to be far less time consuming, not least the never ending one to ones and writing up of them.

John Sims (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 13:44
This is a devisive, demotivating, and totally unfair system that has largely been abandoned by the private sector. Why should it take a further 2 years to rid ourselves of it? Our senior management should try for once listening to the staff who have told them time and time again how much time is wasted on this pointless exercise each year....!

John Sims (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 13:44
This is a devisive, demotivating, and totally unfair system that has largely been abandoned by the private sector. Why should it take a further 2 years to rid ourselves of it? Our senior management should try for once listening to the staff who have told them time and time again how much time is wasted on this pointless exercise each year....!

Aron (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 14:48
"we are looking at ways we can build on the success of the current system" - that quote just about encapsulates everything that is wrong with the culture of the civil service.

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