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Appraisal Program Design

Appraisal Program Design

The incoming fax from your department headquarters contains the text of the newly approved performance appraisal system. After all these months, the ball is finally in your court. What do you do now? Think of the performance appraisal program as the operating document that tells employees in your organization who is appraised, how they are to be appraised, who is to appraise them, and when they are to be appraised.

Whereas previous regulations were so detailed that these decisions were largely made for you by OPM, you now have flexibility in the way you meet the regulatory requirements for designing a program so that it will fit your organization, its mission, and culture. To be effective, program design needs the active involvement of managers, supervisors, and employees and their representatives. Many organizations assemble design teams in which personnel specialists may be participants or advisors.

The amount of freedom you have at the subcomponent level to design your program is defined by the agency system. Some systems allow for the broadest possible range of options available. Others have set definite parameters under which your program can operate. Additional constraints on program design may also be determined at the agency level through discussion with national partnership councils.

Ensure that as you develop your program, you have a clear understanding of the decisions you can make.

Program Definition

Many decisions have to be made in order to have an operational performance appraisal program that meets the regulatory requirements. Three key components distinguish one program from another: the employees covered by the program, the length of the appraisal period, and the specific summary level pattern.

However, a program is more than the sum of these three decisions. Using the documents that define your operating parameters for reference, such as the agency system description, the following points should be addressed:

Program Issues

  • Does the system allow your organization to establish a program?
  • What are the primary objectives of the program (e.g., to improve organizational performance, to communicate expectations)?
  • Have you identified who will be covered by your program?
  • Have you defined your appraisal period or performance cycle?
  • Have you defined the minimum period(s)?

Performance Plans

  • Have you decided how to involve employees in establishing performance plans?
  • Have you specified how performance plans are to be communicated to employees?
  • Have you defined when and how critical elements will be used?
  • Have you defined if, when, and how non-critical elements will be used?
  • Have you defined if, when, and how additional performance elements will be used (e.g., to establish performance improvement goals)?
  • Have you specified how standards are to be established?
  • Will you require higher level review of performance plans?

Appraising Performance

  • Have you specified how elements are to be appraised?
  • Will you permit input from other than first line supervisors?
  • Have you specified procedures and documentation for progress reviews?
  • Have you specified the summary level pattern to be used?
  • Have you specified how the summary levels are to be derived from the appraisal of elements?
  • Will you require higher level review of employee ratings of record for other than the Unacceptable level?

Administrative Issues

  • Have you specified an effective date for your program?
  • Have you specified how program operations will be communicated to employees (e.g., training, issuances)?
  • Have you specified whether and how employees whose performance is below Fully Successful, but above Unacceptable, are to be assisted?
  • Will you require that employees appraised Unacceptable receive assistance beyond that required under the regulations?
  • Have you included procedures to cover employees who are on detail or transferred?
  • Have you specified if, when, and how employee development plans will be used?
  • Have you specified that no provision of this program will affect any pending administrative proceeding initiated under a previous appraisal program?
  • Is your awards program aligned with the goals of your organization and your appraisal program?
  • Will you permit quality step increases?
  • Have you developed an evaluation approach to the performance appraisal and awards programs to make knowledgeable and effective modifications as necessary?

Each of these decisions can be complicated and may be revisited several times as your design team progresses. Program development is challenging work. Don't hesitate to ask for advice and assistance from personnel specialists at your agency. You may also call our staff in the Performance Management and Incentive Awards Division for additional guidance on program design.

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