Performance management: Cabinet Office minister confirms controversial "guided distribution" under review

Written by Matt Foster on 7 September 2016 in News
News

Ben Gummer says requirement for managers to allocate set proportion of staff as poor performers – condemned as "divisive" by unions – is being considered as part of ongoing review of the civil service performance management system

The controversial "guided distribution" element of the civil service's staff performance management system is under review, Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer has confirmed.

The civil service's current staff performance system was introduced in 2012 in a bid to help managers better target poor practice.

But it has been criticised as divisive by civil service unions because the “guided distribution” part of the system means leaders are strongly encouraged to rank 10% of their staff as performing poorly, with 25% marked as performing well and the remaining 65% as middling.


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CSW revealed earlier this year that a handful of pilots aimed at testing changes to the system were either already underway or in the pipeline, including at the Valuation Office Agency, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the National Offender Management Service.

In a written question tabled last week, Labour MP Steve McCabe asked Gummer – who took up post just before Parliament's summer recess – to set out his stance on performance management and asked the new minister "if he will abolish the guided distribution model".

Gummer responded by defending the aims of the performance management framework, saying it had "helped to improve performance management practice and culture by focussing on regular conversation and assessment of both ‘what’ people do and ‘how’ they do it".

He added: "The current approach has brought consistency and helped improve managers’ ability to differentiate between levels of performance."

But the Cabinet Office minister said the civil service was "currently reviewing its approach to performance management" to ensure it aligned with "external best practice and internal changes".

"As part of this, we are in the process of trialling ways in which we can build on the success of the current system.

"We will reflect on the outcomes of these trials upon the conclusion of the 2016-17 performance year to inform an evidence-based decision on the future of performance management in the civil service from 2018/19; this will include how the civil service will take forward the guided distribution element of the current system."

Gummer's predecessor-but-one in the Cabinet Office job, Francis Maude, told CSW last year that he believed the performance management system in fact needed to go further, moving from the guided distribution model to a "forced ranking" of individual staff from best to worst by their line managers.

That suggestion was immediately condemned by unions, with FDA general secretary Dave Penman saying guided distribution was "already one of the most divisive and widely criticised aspects of the performance management system".

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Matt Foster
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Matt Foster is CSW's deputy editor. He tweets as @CSWDepEd

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Stavo (not verified)

Submitted on 7 September, 2016 - 14:10
Maude = last place you would look for advice about the civil service.

Stavo (not verified)

Submitted on 7 September, 2016 - 14:10
Maude = last place you would look for advice about the civil service.

Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 7 September, 2016 - 15:18
Well if the FDA says guided distribution is a bad thing, in truth it must be a good thing. The truth is always the reverse of what the FDA says. I just don't trust them.

DUMPER68

Submitted on 7 September, 2016 - 16:08
At last.....shame it's about two years too late............

Fred Blogs (not verified)

Submitted on 7 September, 2016 - 22:51
Probably the worst thing Francis Maude ever did. Never known anything in my career so universally detested.

Liz (not verified)

Submitted on 8 September, 2016 - 09:36
How about we turn the system upside down and rank our managers' performance? I think the Civil Service culture would change far mor quickly and we'd have evidence of where the dead wood is.

Gjules (not verified)

Submitted on 8 September, 2016 - 11:54
"The civil service's current staff performance system was introduced in 2012 in a bid to help managers better target poor practice." How about introducing something really controversial and relevant with providing consistent training and help, (and time!) for managers (of all grades) to properly get to know and manage their people of all abilities so all performers can be mentored/ coached/ guided to perform better/ smarter across all tasks. Introducing a flawed system (PM) to mask another flawed system (unequipped overworked managers) is never going to work. An infected sticking plaster will cause a wound to get worse and fester, not to heal. Change the way you think to think outside the old box and innovate new ways of encouraging/ incentivising/ growing your staff. Most of us are hardworking despite the poor tools we are given, so credit us with wanting to do our best and give us encouragement, tools and help in order to do so. Divisive performance management systems rob us all. I know my heart is no longer as much in the job as it used to be since the latest reporting tool and attached payment system was brought in because no matter how hard I work now I have no assurance that it will be reflected in any pay rise, nor do I any longer feel a valued employee and certainly the loyalty I have been giving has not been repaid with reciprocal loyalty from my employer. In fact if my performance reflected exactly the performance of my employer I would be in a box 3 or lower! As it is, it is my own work ethic that keeps me going, not the most discouraging performance management system I have ever encountered both inside and outside the Civil service.

Another anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 8 September, 2016 - 15:28
If it is as good as system as Ministers claim then they should also be ranked according to their performance.

V Bull (not verified)

Submitted on 17 September, 2016 - 17:17
Performance management is like marksmanship. Assessing who rates as a Marksman, 1st class or a pass depends on how many targets each individual hit. Everyone could be a marksman or everyone could fail. Expected distributions confuse this with who hit more. The solution is to remove the expected distributions.

Mark Benney (not verified)

Submitted on 18 September, 2016 - 09:45
There is a certain amount of rewriting of history going on here. The PCS defeated forced ranking/guided distribution at DWP in 2007. Defra under Dame Helen Ghosh then took it up in 2009. There was no significant action by FDA, PCS or Prospect. I was a G6 lawyer in Defra. In February 2009 I handed documents to Dave Penman and the PCS showing that Dame Helen was apparently engineering a reckless and unfair implementation timetable, having regard to Defra's own stats showing disparate impacts on BME, disabled and older staff. I received no significant support from FDA and PCS (I was a member of both) and "blew the whistle" in April 2009. I was immediately suspended. During my grievance and disciplinary processes throughout 2009 PCS and FDA were running very fast in the opposite direction. In November 2009 Defra threatened me with dismissal should I refuse to shut up about non-disclosure of relevant documents during the grievance, disciplinary and High Court proceedings; FDA and PCS refused me access to legal advice and support. Hilary Benn at one point wanted to review my dismissal but was warned that it might be inadvisable to get involved in a Tribunal case and stood aside; I was summarily dismissed on 8 December 2009. The position of FDA and PCS was confirmed during the ensuing ET proceedings. I accepted a significant financial settlement in 2010 but effectively lost the last ten years of my career. The ICO later confirmed that Defra had breached the Freedom of Information Act in relation to requests I had made at the outset of the dispute. Documents were also wrongly withheld from my MP (Rob Wilson, Reading East). During the key stages of the dispute and litigation Jonathan Baume, Dave Penman and (my then FDA rep) Paul Whiteman became increasingly hostile and abusive. For Dave Penman to come out now as a virulent opponent of the bell curve is surprising, to say the least.

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