Managers report pressure to name 10% poor performers

Written by Suzannah Brecknell on 29 May 2014 in News

More than two thirds (70%) of civil service managers are coming under pressure to designate 10% of their staff as poorly performing under the new performance management system, according to a survey carried out by Civil Service World.


One in three of the 2037 managers who responded to the survey said that “managers are being told explicitly to designate staff as poor performing”, with a further 40% saying managers are coming under pressure to hit the target despite being told it is an “aspiration”.

These figures exclude 10% of managers who chose ‘other’, mainly because the system has not yet been introduced, or is being applied with different ratios, in their department.
The new system advises managers to divide their staff into three categories: the top 25%, the middle-ranking 65%, and the bottom 10%. Civil service leaders have said these ratios are not mandatory targets: in a blog post discussing the reforms, head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake said the “intention is that these ratings are guided not forced.” 

Kerslake also wrote that Civil Service People Survey results indicate greater staff satisfaction with performance management under the new system, noting that in DWP significantly more people feel that poor performance is addressed well.

The CSW survey, however,found that nearly half (46%) of respondents believe new procedures “have made little or no difference to performance management of poorly performing individuals”. This figure rose slightly, to 48%, among line managers – and, interestingly, among DWP staff. 

In contrast, just 16% said the new system has improved management of poorly performing individuals, though line managers were a little more positive: 20% have seen improvements. So too were DWP staff, where the score was 24%. 

There was more awareness of the new Competency Framework, with 74% of respondents saying they understand what it is and how it applies to their role, and 40% saying it has made it easier to assess their own performance.

The survey, carried out in April, gathered 4,196 responses – four times the average number.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Over half the civil service have only just completed the first full year of the new system. Departments will be reviewing their progress to ensure the system is implemented fairly and consistently. Each department will be able to provide help and support so staff are clear what is expected of them and their managers.”


See also: Bob's blog met with CS furyour editorial on forced ranking

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Mike Leach (not verified)

Submitted on 29 May, 2014 - 13:30
I think that this policy is totally disgusting. It is just negative re-enforcement aimed at people who haven't had a payrise for years! It is forcing managers to pick a scapegoat. The civil service used to be something to be proud of working in. Now it is just bullying from the top down. Giving managers targets to be negative is just the road to ruin. Staff feel down trodden to start with, and this will create an even bigger "them and us" devide. Manager's will become unpopular and teams will become apathetic. How many senior staff have actually worked at the bottom? Are they in touch with reality anymore?

Lindsay Watt (not verified)

Submitted on 29 May, 2014 - 13:38
No surprises in the comments from the Cabinet Office. They have chosen to completely iginore this survey but ironically they are quick to use other surveys to defend their position. Your survey is fully supported by the unprecedented response to Sir Bob's blog on this acromonious reporting process. I suppose Cabinet Office will have forgotten about that too.......

Brian (not verified)

Submitted on 29 May, 2014 - 13:47
Implementing this systenm is a disgrace, it was how we did it previously years ago and it did not help in any way shape or form. It is a stick to beat staff with. What should happen is managers deal with poor performance properly not just mark people down to hit a target unbelievable. To say it is a guide is also a nonsense we all know it is a demand.

Name not supplied (not verified)

Submitted on 29 May, 2014 - 14:02
Managers report pressure to name 10% poor performers - It would be interesteing to put a monetary figure on the time spent on the 'new' performance process in DWP including preparation for end of year, mid year and monthly one to one discussions, the discussions themselves, meetings to agree standards & criteria, the various working groups who gather to ensure teams are following agreed guidance and the meetings attended by senior managers to ensure their staff are all getting a fair hearing at end of year.

LoudLeslie (not verified)

Submitted on 29 May, 2014 - 14:38
Not surprising. I wonder if the ‘needs improvement’ will be spread evenly, or will they just fall mostly on the front line workers while the managers and back room staff form the majority of the ‘tops’? My manager has come under pressure of this sort. He had to resort to marking a ‘top’ performer as a ‘not met’ on the pretext of one event that happened back in December. Guess he’ll be getting his ‘top’ mark as our team have now hit the quota…

Bob Ministry of... (not verified)

Submitted on 29 May, 2014 - 17:13
There is evidence that more are being forced to put staff into the must improve, but I'm concerned that those in this are being labled as poor performers. This is not the case - you can be in this group without being placed under the existing formal performance improvement guidance. In effect many many capable staff are being labled quite unfairly which is damaging morale rather than improving it. It's also worth noting that when challenging markings the typical response is 'it has been moderated' when staff are totally dependant on how well your manager 'fights your case' and decisions are taken behind a cloak of secrecy and without an appropriate route to challenge them. We all want to improve but this doesn't work and has (as mentioned in articles previously) been ditched by industry as unworkable.

Steve Jary (not verified)

Submitted on 30 May, 2014 - 09:58
As a Prospect union official looking after our members in the MOD, there's so much I could say about this story. But I'll restrict myself to a comment on the point regarding CS core competences. You report "74% of respondents saying they understand what it is and how it applies to their role, and 40% saying it has made it easier to assess their own performance." I note the second of these is a minority - something which should be seen as a problem. But my main point is that, in specialist departments like the MOD - employing 1,000s of engineers, scientists, analysts, and the like - the CS competency framework is largely irrelevant to their work. I'd be very interested to see what the survey results on this question were for specialist civil servants.

D H Owen (not verified)

Submitted on 30 May, 2014 - 16:06
Managers determined to do the right thing will be frustrated by perceptions that staff may be wrongly rated in order to fit a guideline distribution. Unfortunately, it can happen. When it comes to light, management reaction is important in repairing confidence. Because of a legal case, it did come to light in my department. This was before the new system, but under similar rules of a guideline percentage which was not to be treated as a quota. The Human Resources representative testified that at the meeting to decide performance marks, "it was clear that somebody...was to be placed in the bottom box." Asked about this, she explained that it was the Director General chairing the meeting who made this clear. She went on to say that she knew that this was against the policy, and that she could not explain why neither she nor anyone else challenged it. When the Director General was asked about this, he agreed that he "may well have said we must put one person in." He defended this by saying that if others present (all but one of whom were under his management) had "ganged up on him and said no one was in Box 3, I would have said OK". The upshot was that the bottom mark was given to someone who had been assessed as meeting all their objectives in full. Happily, there was a safeguard, and the mark was upgraded on appeal. What effect this had will have been affected by whether the management treated it as an aberration and took steps to show that it would never be repeated. By this time, I was no longer working there and do not know. The Director General's promotion to Permanent Secretary the following year would be reassuring if he has led efforts to learn from the incident. The survey reported shows that in some parts of the civil service, there is more to be done to reassure staff.

Gloria Galloway... (not verified)

Submitted on 1 June, 2014 - 16:08
I have never in my life come across such a divisive tool, i am CIPD trained and was a HR person for all of my 26 yrs in the civil service, my thoughts on this issue would be unprintable! What ever happened to valuing your staff. I am at loss for words

Leslie Manasseh (not verified)

Submitted on 2 June, 2014 - 10:50
These results come as no surprise to me. Performance management systems are corrupted and discredited by the use of predetermined quotas for performance markings. "Guided" quotas very quickly become forced if the outturns do not match employer expectations/requirements and the whole process falls victim to secret briefings and unwritten demands from the top. This is because while the aim of performance management should be to improve performance, too often it is hijacked by other less worthy objectives such as reducing the paybill or increasing managed exits.

Mandy (not verified)

Submitted on 8 August, 2014 - 15:34
During 28 years of service I have accepted that performance systems are not perfect. I even accept that if performance management is carried out correctly then the chances are around 10% of staff require improvement. However I cannot accept that any performance system is right when it can penalise someone for being new or for achieving the set standards. Part of why I have remained a Civil Servant so long is that I have been able to transfer between different roles and develop my skills in other organisations, I will now think twice about doing this. Here are some quotes from a HR presentation given just last week: Agencys Approach - 'We accepted that the relative ranking system could mean that a colleague who achieved his/her objectives might find themselves ranked within the 10% group, if they happened to be part of a high performing team. This is uncomfortable, but an inevitable possible consequence of relative ranking' Who is in our development group - 'Those colleagues who have been rated with a 4 in their rating or ranked in the development 10% of colleagues in a division, centre or group. This will include many colleagues who are new to their role, some who are subject to informal performance measures and a small number within the formal performance management process' Fair?

TP (not verified)

Submitted on 30 April, 2015 - 13:39
I have absolutely no faith in the PMR system nor in my managers to operate it fairly. After 35 years of service I have just received my first ever "must improve" marking in a year when my wife was diagnosed with cancer, my father was admitted to a care home with dementia, my mother fell into depression as a result and one of my twin daughters ended up in A&E as she couldn't even remember what her name was! Oh, and on top of that my disabled daughter moved into a new flat that needed decorating from top to toe to make it fit for a wheelchair user. The reason given for my must improve was because I had not completed certain work, yet on three separate occasions I had told my managers that I could not cope ( I am partially retired and work a three day week|). The previous job-holder could not do the work in a five day week! So what does the civil service end up with. A better supported, fully motivated employee. No, an angry, cynical employee who has lost trust in his employer.

Shirley north w... (not verified)

Submitted on 25 November, 2015 - 02:51
I work for dwp as an ao currently on tda as a work coach last year I got a box mark 1 as an ao but since I started tda when I had a 3 month reveiw I was told I am getting a 3. As this was discussed anyone on tda was to get a 3 as the office is not performing so this looks good with the csom. I would have never gone on tda I was told I was an easy target from someone who gave me inside information.

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