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Rating employee performance is one of the key components in the performance management process. Supervisors must develop and demonstrate the ability to make fair assessments of their subordinates' performance. According to the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM's) Federal Competency Assessment Tool - Management (FCAT- M), the assessments should be based on "observable behaviors, performance feedback, and demonstrated results." Supervisors must learn how to establish performance plans with measurable results that are conducive to differentiating performance.
First and foremost, supervisors need to become experts in establishing performance plans that allow them to make meaningful distinctions in levels of performance. They should ensure that the elements and standards established in the performance plan clearly explain what the employee needs to accomplish as well as how well the employee must accomplish it. The plan should align with the work unit's goals, which in turn align with other organizational goals, so that the employee understands how his/her performance impacts the agency's mission. Also, supervisors should encourage the employee to be involved in developing the performance plan, which helps the employee know what results are expected and strengthens commitment to achieve success.
According to Howard Risher and Charles H. Fay in the report, "Managing for Better Performance: Enhancing Federal Performance Management Practices," supervisors should "ensure that during planning discussions with employees, each individual understands what's expected, what it will take to be rated as outstanding, and what level of performance will be unacceptable." By clearly defining what is expected at different levels of performance, supervisors will be able to make distinctions in performance when rating employees at the end of the appraisal period.
Supervisors must establish performance standards that clearly express what is expected of the employee. Governmentwide regulations require performance standards written at the Fully Successful level for critical elements and allow them to be established at other levels. Supervisors must clearly define what is expected of fully successful performers and must follow any specific policies of their agency as they set performance standards. Generally, when establishing the Fully Successful standard supervisors should describe a range of acceptable performance (e.g., 3-5 articles are written). Performance that exceeds the top of that range would be appraised at a level above Fully Successful, and performance below the bottom of that range would be appraised at a level below Fully Successful (e.g., Minimally Successful or Unacceptable). Also, defining a level above Fully Successful is a good management practice because it allows supervisors to emphasize the high performance that is valued by the organization and to easily identify the top performers. Having a level above Fully Successful provides employees a challenging target to meet and a clear understanding of what is high performance.
In addition, when developing performance plans supervisors should ask themselves the following questions found in OPM's Handbook for Measuring Employee Performance:
Clear performance plans with measurable results enable supervisors to observe and track performance and make final judgments that are credible and defensible. Supervisors should be able to identify employees who are poor performers as well as those who stand above the norm.
Risher and Fay stated, "Managers need to be able to make tough but honest decisions about the performance of their employees." They describe the following steps that supervisors can take when appraising performance at the end of the appraisal period:
The Merit Systems Protection Board's report, "Designing an Effective Pay for Performance Compensation System," highlights that "learning how to fairly rate employee performance remains one of the most critical skills for supervisors." The report describes the following common rating pitfalls that could impede supervisors from making meaningful distinctions in performance:
The following tips for evaluating and differentiating performance can help supervisors prevent those universal rating tendencies:
According to the results of OPM's 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey (FHCS), 64% of respondents agreed that "My performance appraisal is a fair reflection of my performance." Fifty-six percent agreed that "Discussions with my supervisor/team leader about my performance are worthwhile." Both questions experienced a slight decline from the 2004 survey, where they scored 66% and 58% respectively.
Agencies are beginning to hold supervisors accountable for the performance management of subordinates in their own performance plans. Supervisors are expected to align subordinate performance plans with organizational goals and rigorously appraise their subordinates. Supervisors need to develop their "people skills" to complete these critical performance management tasks.
How can supervisors develop the skills necessary to identify top, average, and poor performers?
When a supervisor sits down with pen in hand to assign the rating of record, it should be very easy for him/her to mark the ratings on the performance appraisal form. The process should result in a realistic appraisal of performance if the supervisor has paid special attention up front to setting goals, monitoring performance, and reinforcing goal achievement. The final rating of record should come as no surprise to anyone.
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