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Policy, Data, Oversight Performance Management

Measuring Hard-to-Measure Work:  Supervisor

The third in a series of articles addressing hard-to-measure work

Writing a supervisor's performance plan can be challenging. Sometimes a supervisor's plan can grow long and unwieldy — seeming to include everything but the kitchen sink. One way to center the plan on what is important is to focus on results. The results of the work of a supervisor include the work unit's products or services as well as the smooth operation of the work unit. The work unit's performance becomes the central measure of the supervisor's performance plan. Getting results requires good management, supervisory, and human resources management skills on the part of the supervisor.

Cascading Organizational Goals to the Work Unit

The first step in developing a supervisor's performance plan is to determine which organizational goal(s) his or her work unit supports or can affect. The next step is to determine the work unit's products or services that support organizational goal achievement. The supervisor can be held responsible for those products or services. (This goal-cascading method is one method for measuring results described in A Handbook for Measuring Employee Performance: Aligning Employee Performance Plans With Organizational Goals).

Cascading Goals

graphic showing connecting cascade from the first of three agency strategic goals to three program annual performance plan goals, and (from last goal) to work unit products and services related to that goal


The manager of a Federal organization wanted to develop elements and standards for her supervisors that align with organizational goals and that hold the supervisors responsible for their work units' expected accomplishments. She also wanted the elements and standards to reflect the supervisors' general management and human resources management skills. By using the goal-cascading method, she completed the following steps:

Step 1. Look at the big picture

The manager referred to her agency's annual performance plan and targeted the goals that each of her supervisors and their work units affect. Specifically, for the supervisor of the widget production work unit, she aligned the performance plan with the following organizational goals:

  • The agency will maintain last year's high customer satisfaction with the timeliness and quality of the agency's products, which include widgets.
  • The agency will provide a safe working environment for its employees.
  • The agency will promote effective leadership and employee productivity.

Step 2. Describe the products and services the work unit provides to help the agency reach its goals

For the widget production work unit, the manager determined that the product of the work unit, of course, was widgets. In addition, in order to produce widgets, the work unit must have a safe and productive working environment and good leadership.

Step 3. Develop work unit measures and set standards for performance

The manager determined that the following measures were important to include in the supervisor's performance plan:

  • the quality, quantity, and timeliness of the widgets produced by the work unit;
  • the safety of the workplace; and
  • the quality of supervisory leadership shown, which results in productive subordinates.

By cascading organizational goals to the widget production work unit, the manager wrote the following elements and standards for the supervisor of that work unit:

Element: Widget Production

Fully Successful Standard:

  • Usually 90 to 95 percent of the work unit's pallets have no defects;
  • with few exceptions, the work unit has no more than 1.5 to 2 hours of down time per week;
  • normally, the work unit meets its production schedule 5 out of 7 days; and
  • normally, the work unit meets its shipment schedule 5 out of 7 days.

Element: Safe Work Environment

Fully Successful Standard:

  • The supervisor corrects or improves safety problems usually by agreed-upon date;
  • the supervisor routinely holds one safety audit per week; and
  • the work unit rarely has any lost time hours.

Element: Effective Leadership

Fully Successful Standard:

Management is generally satisfied that:

  • the supervisor periodically initiates ways to reduce costs;
  • most of the supervisor's decisions benefit the organization and are generally satisfactory;
  • the supervisor provides discipline fairly and consistently;
  • work unit training requirements are met;
  • most work unit members understand the department's goals and how their performance affects these goals;
  • work unit members understand how they are performing against their individual elements and standards; and
  • work unit members receive rewards for good performance.


This example is very general and represents a minimum framework of what a performance plan could include.

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