I first learned about the administration’s plan to reform and restructure the Federal government when I read Ian Smith’s posting on April 12. Good work Ian. That was definitely an eye-popper.
Then on April 18 I saw Bob Gilson’s summary and well thought out opinions on the Directive. I agree with Bob in that this is must read material.
When I first read the OMB Directive on April 12 I was dumbfounded by its scope and magnitude. There should be no doubt that our President is serious about reducing the size and cost of government.
On second reading I looked for specific items that tweaked my employee and labor relations brain. I found one section of particular interest to me and hopefully to you, especially if you are an employee or labor relations practitioner or a supervisor or manager. The title of the section is Plan to maximize employee performance and it begins on page 12 of the Directive.
I was so struck by this section that it inspired this article. My purpose is to make sure readers are aware of changes that are about to come, some sooner and some later.
So, what is the fuss and what is so important?
The fuss is about barriers that work against maximizing employee performance and requiring agencies to identify and remove them, start holding everyone accountable for their performance and conduct, not routinely avoiding taking actions when the situation is screaming for attention, and more and more and more. For once, the administration is requiring agencies to develop specific plans to hit these problems head on. It’s about time. We’ve all read special reports over the years on these subjects. But reports rarely result in concrete action.
Moving to the specifics, each agency plan (or draft plan) required by the Directive must include timelines and specific actions they will take in five areas. Here they are, word for word.
- Review and Update Formal Agency Policy. Agency timelines must include a process for reviewing and updating (or creating if one does not already exist) the agency’s policy, procedures, and guidance on how to address poor performance and conduct. Agencies should specifically review whether their policies create unnecessary barriers for addressing poor performance. Agencies should remove steps not required in statute/regulation to streamline processes to the maximum extent. In addition, as required once the Administrative Leave Act implementing regulations are finalized, policies should incorporate expectations for limiting the use of unnecessary administrative leave and lay out alternatives (such as assigning other work). Agencies should also provide clear guidance on the use and requirements associated with performance improvement plans. If overarching policy cannot be created for an entire agency, it should be developed at the highest major component level possible. Policies should be created and endorsed by the agency’s Chief Human Capital Officer and General Counsel (or small agency equivalent) in consultation with the agency’s Equal Employment/Civil Rights Office and Labor Relations Office.
- Provide Transparency around the Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) Process. Agency submissions must include a timeline for providing all supervisors a copy of the rules and guidance regarding performance improvement plans (PIP) pursuant to 5 U.S.C. Chapter 43 (noting PIPS can be started at any point not just at the end of the rating period) as well as guidance on how unacceptable performance can be addressed pursuant to 5 U.S.C. Chapter 75. Agencies will maintain data on PIPs, including the number of employees placed on them and the number who successfully improve performance.
- Ensure Managers and Supporting HR Staff are Appropriately Trained. Agency submissions must include a timeline for all Senior Executive Service (SES) members, supervisors, managers, team leads, and any personnel involved in employee performance and conduct. Please refer to OPM’s website for current online courses, as well as reports from MSPB and GAO, and regulatory requirements for training and development of supervisors, managers, and executives at 5 C.F.R. 412.202.
- Ensure Accountability in Manager Performance Plans. Agency submissions must include a timeline for how they will ensure that supervisors and managers are held accountable for managing employee performance and conduct, including reviewing and updating (if necessary) supervisors’ and managers’ performance plans.
- Establishing Real-Time Support Mechanisms. Agency submissions must include a timeline for agencies to identify approaches and plans for providing accessible and “just-in-time” expert assistance and guidance to managers who are addressing performance/conduct issues. These mechanisms should include a real-time forum (e.g., dedicated contact support lines) for managers to receive guidance on addressing performance or conduct issues that require immediate action. Agencies ultimately have discretion to design these mechanisms. The following Manager Support Board structure would meet this requirement:
- Establish a Manager Support Board comprised on internal experts on employee and labor relations who may request policy guidance or technical assistance from OPM or other lead agencies if needed;
- Have at least one non-HR senior management member with experience/expertise to help provide coaching/support on techniques and approaches for managing employee performance, even if not on the specific case.
- Operate as close to the regional/division level as feasible;
- Publicize points of contact where managers can go to receive prompt guidance or provide frequent and regular open meeting times for any managers with questions to receive immediate guidance on appropriate next steps; and
- Establish regular check-ins with managers currently working on a case to ensure either the employee is improving or steps are being taken towards an appropriate disciplinary action.
When developed and executed in concert, these five actions and others agencies may identify will provide supervisors with the policies, processes, and tools to be empowered, and held accountable, for managing employee performance such as by an improvement to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) questions on addressing employee performance. The guidance in this memorandum must be implemented consistent with requirements imposed by applicable current collective bargaining obligations.
So there you have it – and this is just one piece of reforming – but one that has the potential to change the way Federal supervisors and leaders manage employee performance and conduct.
I can’t help but recall the times I raised this question when teaching a conduct and discipline or performance management class – “How many of you know someone, perhaps in your immediate office, that should be fired for poor performance?” The hands fly up immediately. It seems like nearly everyone knows of a poor performer.
It’s no wonder there are so many with the view that you can’t fire a Federal employee, not that the goal of the administration is to fire in vast numbers. It’s to improve performance, or maximize performance.
While it’s easy for me to say this since I’m a retiree, this all comes as good news to me. I can only hope it is taken seriously at all levels of government and that performance standards are revitalized and become more rigorous, that training on performance and conduct is provided to the right people as identified in the Directive, that tools and “just-in-time” advice become available for supervisors, and that all are held accountable.
Employee and Labor Relations Specialists, I hope you are not silent during the upcoming months and over the next several years. Your time to shine has come. I wish you success with the challenges you face.
All opinions expressed above are mine only and do not reflect those of FedSmith, any clients, or other person I know. If you want to contact me my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Hermann retired from the government after a 30 year career in employee and labor relations. He worked for several companies before starting his own VOSB in 2014. You may recognize some of his trainers: Bob Gilson, Don Musacchio and Bob Dietrich.