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

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

By Matt Foster

07 Sep 2016

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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