Dealing with Poor Performers

The issue of poor performers is a perennial topic.  This topic seems to continually top the list of issues the President’s Management Council – comprised of deputy secretaries – wants to address by streamlining the rules.  But a new report by the Merit Systems Protection Board concludes that it is not the rules, but the managers, who are the problem.

In a story by Federal Times’ Steve Losey, “MSPB:  Managers Lack Skills to Deal with Poor Performers,” MSPB  notes “many supervisors have a hard time with performance management – setting standards for how well their employees must do their jobs and then track their performance.”

MSPB Chairman Neil McPhie wrote in the report’s introduction: “Ultimately, at least part of the solution to the issues of dealing with poor performers may be in educating and encouraging supervisors in the use of better performance management practices.”

MSPB notes that government often promotes people who have strong technical skills, but lack management skills.  Government also tends to not invest in managerial training, either. 

Interestingly, the report said that the necessary laws are in place.  The Office of Personnel Management, according to Losey, has promised to create a new performance appraisal system ”that will make it easier for manager to track how well employees do their jobs.”  But the real issue is recruiting and training competent managers, not better software.  What is needed is a leadership commitment from the top to make this a priority, much like the military does.  Some civilian agencies are better than others.  Social Security and the IRS tend to be better than most.

Investing in better management training, according to the Government Accountability Office, is also a prerequisite to being able to move to a performance-based pay system as well.

3 thoughts on “Dealing with Poor Performers

  1. This report challenges a strong cultural belief in the US, that being that low performers in the government are protected by laws that make it so arduous to challenge their performance that their low performance goes on unchecked.

    I like the suggestion that perhaps it’s management skills, not the law, that keeps people from challenging low performers. But the references to management skills above and in the report referenced is so general that it waters down the impact.

    What if it had to be defined more specifically? What if poor performance is always a two way street, partly the person functioning at that level, and partly a manager who doesn’t want to (dreads, doesn’t have time to, fears…) get that INVOLVED?

    See blog on topic [ ]

    Ultimately changing performance always requires involvement, engagement, or as Bossidy and Charan suggested in the title of their book, Confronting Reality.

    Rodney Brim,
    CEO Performance Solutions Technology

  2. People can only work as well as the System allows them to.So It is unhelpful to get locked into a two way debate as to whether it is poor management that does not deal with poor performers when we ignore the effects of the ‘system’. Deming showed that most of the problems lie in the system not with the people . Managers should learn how to improve the system rather than spend time learning how to work better at harassing the people. When we remove the seven deadly diseases of Western Management ( there’s a very good chance that with good recruitment policies, and better understanding of the numeracy we use to judge performance ( that the concept of poor performance will disappear as we currently talk about it.

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