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

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

By Jim Dunton

11 Jul 2016

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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