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Introducing Performance Appraisals 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 Peter Melan
November 9, 2021

Imagine for a moment that an organization began to correlate salary increases to performance measures set forth by leadership. Consider departments such as police where any merit-based increase compares to quotas, which are considered illegal. It would be virtually impossible to consider raises based on performance, especially in bargaining units, as contractual terms usually supersede administrative policies when it comes to salaries.

Let us now remove police and the bargaining units from the equation, and what remains is the administrative staff. How can the chief administrative officer implement such a policy where salaries correlate to performance? The process begins with incremental changes that the staff can acclimate to as opposed to a massive overhaul of the system. Until recently, staff received annual increases regardless of how well they performed.

The hope is that the organization realizes that holding staff accountable for performance measures has benefits. Properly documenting what each department is responsible for implementing with effective leadership will allow the administration to analyze deficiencies or uncover strengths not otherwise known. The eight steps used to measure performance will create a strategy for administrators to utilize in helping the organization succeed.

The first step in the process is evaluating the organization. To properly conduct the evaluation, a comparison to a previous year is crucial in order to effectively determine success or failures to the measures set in place. This provides an opportunity to re-evaluate the overall intent of adjusting to improve the success of the organization.

Control is the second step in the process. The managers have their tools to implement the changes and can hold staff accountable if any of the measures did not produce the intended results.

The third step is the budget. This step is critical since it focuses on financial allocations and what projects or initiatives require funding. It is also important to note that within local government, there are a limited amount of resources available, where careful consideration of each proposed change is essential. There is also the differing opinion of legislators and administrators, who may differ on what is considered a priority.

The fourth step is motivation. A recurring issue in the public sector is the apparent lack of motivation by staff. There could be a separate discussion on this step that is the length of a book. For the sake of this article, let us affirm that motivation is a crucial problem without resolution due to the constraints of the organization and a fundamental lack of creativity. An administrator would be hard-pressed to offer a financial incentive or extra vacation time to incentivize staff who otherwise show lackluster effort in completing their assigned tasks. Although financial motivation is a single factor, administrators should employ creativity in allowing their leadership team flexibility in adhering to performance measures.

The fifth step in measuring performance is promotion. Administrators are faced with making decisions that are difficult in order to progress with the oversight of elected officials. Citizens play a part in this step, as they are most likely the recipients of any change or improvement in the process. When performance measures things such as reducing crime by 4% from the previous year, the administration senses accomplishment, followed by a sense of promotion that allows the public to see progress and regain trust.

The sixth step is celebrating. There is a sense of pride in meeting or exceeding a performance measure that the public should be made aware of and not in the sense of throwing a block party with ice cream trucks and parades. The administration should take the accomplishment of fulfilling what was planned to improve for the next year. The staff who assisted in overall improving the measure should deserve recognition for their effort. Coincidentally, this is a significant deficiency in the public sector, where elected officials are the representatives of the municipality and take the reward for how an organization is fulfilling promises and improving efficiencies. Staff deserve the benefit of receiving similar acknowledgment, known to boost morale and overall productivity. Having a mid-year presentation of findings with an ice cream truck parked outside the municipal building during the summer months probably does more to improve the sense of appreciation than a lifeless box of chocolates from the local convenience store.

The seventh step is learning. Learning is a human behavior that allows for reflection on what works and what fails. What is most important in these situations requires how we adjust and learn from mistakes or elaborate on what succeeded in order to capitalize on improvements. With that sentiment comes an acknowledgment that the road to success was not smooth and required adjustments along the way.  

The eighth step is improving. Performance measures should be a constant mechanism that does not inhibit an organization to change processes, with improvement seen as a benefit and not as a deterrent.

Performance measures are a significant indicator of how to effectively make an organization successful. Taking a periodic look at how an organization is functioning is prudent and worthy of discussion to ensure measures are implemented correctly.

Author: Peter Melan, MPA, is the owner of PolityInc.com a consulting firm specializing in helping local governments achieve success in solving complex issues. He emphasizes visualizing data to assist lawmakers and chief executives in understanding the problem and rendering decisions. He is a second-term councilperson in Easton, PA and is also a public speaker who frequently contributes his expertise to several online publications.

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