EXCL: 5% of SCS to be marked as underperforming in return to guided distribution for performance management

Managers must “properly identify those who are not performing at the expected standard”, guidance says

Departments will be expected to mark 5% of senior civil servants as underperforming, under a new “guided distribution” performance-management system being introduced this year.

Under the new system, which is set to come into force on Friday, senior civil servants will be ranked in four categories, depending on whether they are deemed to be “exceeding”, “high performing”, “achieving” or to have “partially met” their targets.

The Civil Service HR document – published two years after ministers dropped the previous, highly contentious, “forced distribution” system for SCS performance management – stresses that departments must “properly identify those who are not performing at the expected standard”.

“As such, we have made it clear… that departments would expect to see around 5% of their overall SCS rated as ‘partially met’ at the end of year assessment process,” the guidance, seen by CSW, says.

“If a department finds they have fallen well short of these expectations following the conclusion of their annual performance-management cycle, then they should take action at the beginning of the next performance year to ensure that their processes are as robust as possible.”

Under the previous iteration of guided distribution, introduced by then-Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude in 2012, managers were strongly encouraged to mark 10% of their staff as performing poorly, with 25% marked as performing well and the remaining 65% as middling.

Guidance published in April 2019 confirmed that the system – also referred to as forced distribution – had been dropped, and that managers should expect to see a “bell curve of performance differentiation”.

The four new categories replace the previous system, which ranked SCS members as “top”, “achieving” or “low”.

However, Civil Service HR said that as in previous years, most senior officials are expected to fall into the “achieving” category.

“As in any normal large organisation, performance differentiation is expected to take the shape of a curve,” the guidance says.

The rankings will be determined based on how well senior civil servants have achieved their objectives in four areas: business delivery; finance/efficiency; people/capability, including diversity and inclusion; and corporate contribution.

Progress on meeting these objectives is monitored at mandatory quarterly performance-management conversations, which were introduced last year to “encourage a year-round focus on performance”.

Senior civil servants fall into the “partially met” cohort when they are judged to have delivered “some but not all of what they agreed to deliver in their performance objectives, as a result of factors either within or outside of their control”.

They will also “not have demonstrated all the behaviours required for the successful delivery of their objectives”.

Being assigned to the “partially met” group should be a trigger for “intensive support, training and coaching”, rather than poor performance procedures.

By contrast, someone “exceeding” is judged to have “consistently performed above and beyond all of their agreed stretching objectives” and “embodied the expected behaviours of their role… in all aspects of their work” throughout the year.

As in the past, departments will be required to report to the Cabinet Office what proportion and number of SCS they have ranked in each category, as well as any staff under formal poor performance measures or who display poor performance in consecutive years.

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