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Deontology of Performance Management in the Public Sector

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

By Benjamin Smith
May 25, 2018

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Before you can lead others, you must first lead yourself. Leaders need to have confidence in their capability and adopt a growth mindset. Failure is a part of learning process and should be embraced — not reprimanded. When we fail, we learn how to cope and develop better methods towards success. Public sector managers need to be transparent with their staff and provide opportunities for mentorship. Every employee needs to feel valued and know how their part makes a significant contribution to the success of the organization.

Anytime we are making a decision that affects others, we are making an ethical decision. During my stint in the military, there are evaluations and fitness reports based on predetermined characteristics and merits on a five-point scale. There was also a bias to seniority which undermined true merit. I reported to my first command excited and motivated to do my best in every aspect of my career. Unfortunately, my evaluation did not reflect that I was outstanding in any way. I was only ranked as average when I had felt I had done my best. There was no mentorship or engagement to drive my motivation. It was a disheartening experience and drained my motivation and ambitions.

I see that this is commonplace in the rest of the public sector. Nobody gets hired with the intent of becoming complacent and unmotivated. We are drawn to public service due to our intrinsic motivation to work towards goodwill for our communities and country. So why are we plagued by employees who refuse to do more than the minimum required?


Are you motivated? What does it mean to be motivated? How do we motivate others? Motivation is the desire within a person causing that person to act. As a leader in the Navy, I learned motivation and success are different for everybody. We need to cultivate trust and allow others to be free to express themselves. We cannot let ourselves fall into the trap of micromanagement due to a lack of confidence in our employees. The only time my motivation completely diminished was when my supervisor was scrutinizing every step of my job. To keep employees motivated, we must give accurate recognition promptly allowing them to understand how their work directly impacted the mission.


A point of contrition in every organization I have been in has been performance evaluations. I think the critical point is that the whole organization has not bought into the process. Many employees are unable to write accurately about their many achievements due to humility. Others that may not have been great individual contributors are excellent in writing up self-evaluations. This impunity can result in animosity and discontent amongst the collective there were more honest and forthright in their appraisals.

Many times as an employee I was asked to write up my performance review, and then my supervisor would take a more critical look at what I had written. At no point in this process was formalized training integrated. As noted by Joan E. Pynes in Human Resources Management neither the ratee or rater had a standard and protocol in which to conduct these evaluations. No coaching was provided to help the employee understand key performance indicators or other metrics. I have never received followup from a performance evaluation to work on my professional development continually. I have always needed to pursue feedback and ask for clear goals and metrics.


The most transformative organizations I have worked for stressed the importance of being a mentor and requiring each person within the organization to seek out a mentor as well. When we have somebody that has been through the process already and has insight on how to cope and improve situations it is a tremendous asset. My most significant mentor shifted my perspective of self-depreciation to self-confidence. Encouraged me to apply myself wholeheartedly. Provided a strategy on how to achieve the success that I wanted to reach. Mentorship is a key to professional development that many are missing out. As mentors, we need to inculcate qualities into our protege of humility, agreeableness and openness to experience.


Transparency develops trust when employees know how decisions are conducted and executed. It also gives employees an opportunity to take the initiative and provide feedback or perspectives. When an organization is hiding details, it causes commotion and distrust. Some may feel as though their job is at risk or that they are not valued or included in the information stream.

Survey Results

The good news is that based on the governmentwide management report from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey 91 percent of employees are always looking for ways to do their job better and 82 percent report that their supervisors treat them with respect. We are on an upward trend of employee engagement year after year since 2014.

Author: Benjamin Smith is a power systems electrician at a hydro-electric power plant in California. Previously, he was a nuclear operator and technician onboard a US Navy submarine. He is pursuing a dual degree master’s of business and public administration in sustainable management at Presidio Graduate School.

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