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The Caveats of One Size Fits All Performance Management

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Horace Blake
November 18, 2014

In today’s world of high technology and endless webinars, it seems everyone is charging high dollars to bring managers and leaders up to speed on performance management techniques. Both the private and public sectors are apt to embrace these online courses in an effort to cut costs and eliminate time constraints.

The caveat is that these online courses rarely take into consideration the endless varieties of jobs that are performed on a daily basis. Further, these job positions require a more realistically tailored curriculum that would be representative as to its uniqueness. The ultimate ambition of any public service organization is to capture innovation and modernization based on its performance schedule.

So what are public organizations doing to engage their employees? Whether the answer is based on open commitment to the organization or the type of training offered to employees, the goal is to exhibit peak measurable performance that is aligned with an outcome matrix.

Determining Performance and Work Structures

Blake novContrary to prevailing belief, performance management is not just about the outcome. It is also about such specific areas as employee engagement, developmental plans, employee accountability, diagnostic support, loyalty and commitment. Not all work structures mirror each other. To determine what to measure is based on a unit level such as:

  • A charting method that demonstrates a work flow pattern.
  • A customer focused method that is based on internal or external business partners.
  • A cascading method that is global in scope to respond to a variety of customers.

Embarking on a performance plan that aligns each individual performance with the highest level of the organizational goal will determine how well management is buying into performance management. Keep in mind that there is a caveat where activities should not be construed as accomplishments. Activities can be random, where accomplishments should be planned and calculated in order to adhere to measurement. Furthermore, effective managers should subscribe to very specific and specialized areas:

  • Planning where the organization plans work, where the expectation mirrors goals for individuals to channel their efforts toward the organization set expectations.
  • Monitoring occurs on a consistent and ongoing basis, whether it is internal or external in terms of the activities, where the employees or work groups are well-informed of their progress.
  • Developmental plans where the employee or group is given specific assignments to strengthen their competencies in order to embrace change or introduction to new technology that is evident in E-governance.
  • Creating a formal performance appraisal sometimes called metrics is necessary over a time period to understand who their best employees are for future considerations in terms of new assignments.
  • Rewarding the best performers as this action mirrors positive consequence.

Public Sector Best Practices toward Sound Performance Management

Unlike the private sector, the public sector must adhere to a very complex organizational structure. In addition, the long-term and short-term priorities of politicians create even more challenges to this dichotomy of politics and administration. Frequently changing who is in charge alters the outcome of what needs to be prioritized and the time frame.

The model of civil service training, competency tests and recertification of public service employees, is based on rigor that guarantees a pattern of consistency in how public agencies carry out their everyday activities. In their book, Public Personnel Management: Contexts and Strategies, Donald E. Klingner and John Nalbandian wrote that if training is an appropriate intervention, the appropriateness of a particular training design depends upon the target of the change. The simplest dimension in training objectives is whether or not the change will involve an interpersonal dimension. Traditional training methods, which are more directive, teacher-oriented and have as their objective transferring knowledge, work best where the trainees are motivated to change, see the value in the change and where the change can be readily incorporated into the way employee currently performs their job.

Concluding Thoughts

As organizations and individuals alike meander across the wide expanse of performance management, the conversation takes us to the high profile studies of the Veterans Affairs and more recently the Secret Service. Here leaders are literally shoved out of office either by the media’s insatiable thirsts for news items or interest groups making sure their voices are heard. One does not truly know for sure if these leaders were informed of their real responsibilities especially when they are forced out of office on certain technicalities that they really did not have control over. In addition, the time they have had on the job hardly could produce measurable results.

Problems at agencies are usually deeply rooted in the culture and the need to make changes will clearly be work in progress, utilizing planning, monitoring, developing, rating and rewarding strategies toward performance management. Robert l. Mathis and John H. Jackson, in their book Human Resource Management, stated a performance management system consists of the processes used to identify, encourage, measure, evaluate, improve and reward employee performance. Performance management also links organizational strategy to results that provides information to employees about their performance; clarify what the organization expects; identify development needs and document performance for personnel needs. The importance here is that even the most well intentioned employees do not always know what is expected of them to improve their performance toward best outcome.


Author: Horace Blake is a three-term city commissioner with 23 years combined community action experience at municipal and state level. He is the current Treasurer of ASPA’s Section on Public Law and Administration (SPLA). He can be reached [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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