Performance management: Ministry of Defence consults staff on rethink of "demotivating" system

Unions welcome commitment to change controversial “guided distribution” system ahead of pilot results

By Jim Dunton

25 Jul 2016

Unions argue that the civil service's staff performance system is hurting morale. Image: Fotolia

Staff at the Ministry of Defence are being given the chance to redesign the way the civil service’s controversial performance management regime applies to them, it has emerged.

Permanent secretary Stephen Lovegrove signalled the move in internal communications with staff earlier this month, and the PCS union was quick to describe it as sign the MoD was set to scrap the controversial framework, introduced in 2012.

Frustration with  the current regime is chiefly focused on its “guided distribution” element, which encourages managers to rank 25% of staff as performing well, 65% as middling, and 10% as performing poorly – a system that unions argue bears little relation to actual performance, and which has been abandoned by many private sector employers.

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The Cabinet Office is already running pilots to refine the performance management regime and told Civil Service World earlier this month that it did not expect Whitehall-wide changes to the regime to go live until April 2018 at the earliest.

CSW now understands that the MoD will be consulting staff on steps to improve the way the performance management system works for its civilian staff, with a view to implementing a new scheme from April 2017.

An MoD spokeswoman said it was not correct to say the framework was being scrapped, but rather that officials would be “reviewing it in conjunction with staff”.

She said an intranet message from Lovegrove to staff had recognised the unpopularity of the current system and accepted that it was “demotivating people”.

She added that workshops and other consultation exercises were expected to take place to get views on how to motivate staff, recognise and reward high-performance, support under-performance and equip managers to “manage poor performance when necessary”.

Chris Dando, defence sector group president at the PCS union, said Lovegrove’s move had “potentially huge implications” for the whole civil service.

“We are pleased that the permanent secretary has listened to our union about this divisive and unpopular system and is now entering into an open and collaborative process to develop a fair system,” he said. 

“Our union will be participating fully in this process and we would welcome views from members on potential options.”

Alan Grey, MoD group president at the Prospect union, said members had reported unfair treatment throughout the whole performance management process, but had been particularly angry about “unevidenced changes” made to markings that line managers had given to staff.

“Performance management was an experiment that has failed, with destructive consequences for staff morale and for MoD,” he said. 

“Prospect has pressed MoD for change and will now continue that dialogue with the aim of agreeing a new system that recognises our members’ contribution and commitment.”

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