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Frequently Asked Questions Performance Management

Performance Planning - Elements

  • A critical element is a work assignment or responsibility of such importance that unacceptable performance on that element would result in a determination the employee's overall performance is unacceptable. Governmentwide regulations require employees have at least one critical element in their performance plans. Critical elements must address performance at the individual level only.
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  • A non-critical element is a dimension or aspect of individual, team or organizational performance, exclusive of a critical element, used in assigning a summary level. It may include, but is not limited to, objectives, goals, program plans, work plans, and other means of expressing expected performance.
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  • A retention standard describes the level of performance necessary to be retained in a job (i.e., the standard written for performance one level above the Unacceptable level). In appraisal programs where a Minimally Successful or equivalent level exists for appraising elements, the retention standard is the Minimally Successful or equivalent standard. In appraisal programs that do not have a Minimally Successful or equivalent level available, the retention standard is the Fully Successful standard. The Merit Systems Protection Board and the courts have held that an agency
    • must ensure that retention standards:
    • are reasonably attainable
    • are not impermissibly absolute (allow for no error)
    • inform the employee of the level of performance needed to retain his or her job
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  • Additional performance elements provide agencies another tool for communicating performance expectations important to the organization. In essence, they are dimensions or aspects of overall performance the agency wishes to communicate and appraise, but which will not be used in assigning a summary level. Such additional elements may include objectives, goals, program plans, work plans, and other methods of expressing expected performance. Like non-critical elements, they do not have to be appraised at any particular level. Their major distinctions from non-critical elements are they cannot be used in assigning a summary level and additional performance elements do not require a performance standard. They allow agencies to factor group or team performance into the performance plan of employees under two-level (Pass/Fail) summary appraisal programs.
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  • Governmentwide regulations specify three types of performance elements:
    • critical elements
    • non-critical elements
    • additional performance elements
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  • Yes. OPM believes it is possible to develop a critical element and standard that holds a supervisor, manager, or team leader responsible for group performance. The element and standard would have to be crafted carefully so that it identifies measurable achievements that would be expected to result when the individual supervisor, manager, or team leader properly exercises his or her leadership responsibilities.
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  • Yes. OPM encourages agencies to hold supervisors accountable for fulfilling their performance management responsibilities. Agencies often establish elements and standards in the raters' performance plans to hold them accountable for the performance management of their subordinates.
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  • No. The level designators (Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, Level 5) described in Governmentwide regulations address summary levels only. An agency appraisal program can be designed to appraise elements using a mix of rating levels. For example, critical elements might be appraised at five levels and non-critical elements appraised as pass/fail. A methodology for deriving a summary rating must be in place, however. Agencies have flexibility to determine how their elements are appraised and their particular program design choices that agencies and their subcomponents make should reflect their own situations and needs.
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  • Performance at the individual level means the accomplishment of outputs and work processes for which the employee can be held individually accountable. Because failure of a critical element can result in an employee's reduction in grade or removal, critical elements would measure those outputs/outcomes and processes over which the employee is expected or intended to have control and exercise authority.
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  • Non-critical elements are not required but, if used, they must be expressed as elemenst and standards, be included in the employee's performance plan, and be used in assigning a summary level for the rating of record. However, non-critical elements cannot be used as a basis for taking a performance-based action. Other features of non-critical elements:
    • they cannot be used in two-level appraisal programs (i.e., pass/fail)
    • they can be given more weight than critical elements when assigning a summary level above "Unacceptable" (Level 1)
    • they must have a performance standard written for at least one level, the written standard need not describe the "Fully Successful" or equivalent level
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