Sections on this page:
- Performance management in the APS
- Understanding high performance
- Maturity of performance management systems
- Performance management and employee engagement
- Employee perceptions of performance management
- Perceptions on underperformance in the APS
- Improving the confidence of line managers
- Good and poor performance in the workplace
- Key chapter findings
A key element of organisational capability is having the right people with the right skills to deliver the policy work, regulation, policy implementation activity or services required of an agency. Agency systems, processes, governance and culture—and how these interact—are also critical to performance. Consequently, understanding and measuring performance in the Australian Public Service (APS) should take account of the contribution an individual employee makes to achieving team objectives, the quality of organisational systems that shape workplace performance, and how these interact to produce an organisational outcome.
Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration (the APS Reform Blueprint) recommended that the APS strengthen its performance management framework as a central component of improving outcomes.1 In collaboration with agencies, the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) has worked to better understand what constitutes good performance in the APS and develop a more comprehensive performance management framework.
This chapter introduces an APS Performance Management Framework, which underpins high performance. It reports on agency and employee perspectives on performance management, including what APS employees consider constitutes good and poor performance.
Chapter 10 also reports on the agency capability reviews that provide a mechanism for better understanding the interaction between people, processes and systems. These reviews identify the key enablers of successful performance in leadership, strategy and delivery which inform performance management.
Over the past decade several reports have examined aspects of performance management in the APS .2 These demonstrate the ongoing interest in improving performance across the APS.
The Management Advisory Committee (MAC) report, Performance Management in the Australian Public Service—A Strategic Framework, defined performance management as the ‘use of interrelated strategies and activities to improve the performance of individuals, teams and organisations’.3 Performance management was described as an ‘essential tool’ that ‘provides a means to improve organisational performance by linking and aligning individual, team and organisational objectives and results’.4 Finally, the MAC report identified three factors that support the operation of a successful performance management system:
- alignment with the outcomes sought by government
- credibility of the system (reducing the gap between rhetoric and reality)
- integration with the overall corporate management structure of the organisation.
This report identifies performance management as an issue traversing every aspect of an agency's operation from the performance of individual employees through to the implementation of organisational outcomes expected by government. One challenge for public service organisations is that ‘no consistent standard of value has emerged to serve as a reliable guide for governments on their high-performance journey’.5
The themes of ‘high performance’ and ‘high-performing organisations’ have been a consistent focus for those seeking to enhance performance in both public and private sector organisations.6 However, the Australian Industry Group's High Performance Organisations: Maximising Workforce Potential project, funded under the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations' Workforce Innovation Program, highlighted challenges in measuring high performance:
Simple explanations of high performance work organisations belie the fact that it is not easy to measure the things that help organisations achieve high performance. This is not surprising because organisations will have different core business interests, industry origins, ownership and management structures, incentive arrangements and organisational cultures. They have varying levels of financial health and access to technology and other resources. These in turn will help determine their capacity to invest in different management and human resource practices.7
These challenges apply equally to the APS. Within Australian Government administration, the APS is a core institution represented by more than 168,000 employees in more than 100 agencies. These agencies operate a largely devolved management framework designed to provide government with the ability and flexibility to tackle domestic and global challenges that significantly affect Australia's strength and prosperity. Within the APS, understanding and measuring the drivers of high performance remains a significant challenge.
The Commission, in collaboration with the Australian National University, the University of Canberra and the University of New South Wales, has developed a three-tier performance management framework. The objective is to devise a strategy and set of principles and practices to assist agencies to better appreciate high performance as a dynamic system and to develop ways to better measure performance at each level within that system.8
Figure 8.1 shows the framework's three tiers: high performance governance, high performance organisation and high performance groups and individuals. Each component is described below the figure.
Figure 8.1 APS Performance Management Framework
Source: Strengthening the Performance Framework Project
1. High performance governance
This tier focuses on the practices that determine the system-wide architecture that enables high performance across government agencies. It includes the practices that contribute to whole-of- APS performance; for example, stewardship and cross-agency collaboration. These practices are central to ensuring that, in terms of performance, longer-term system goals and broader outcomes are considered.
2. High performance organisation
This tier recognises that capabilities are the essential building blocks for achieving the longer-term objectives of a high performance organisation. Consequently, this tier focuses on building and enabling the management capacity necessary for enhancing organisational performance. This includes the:
- identification of organisational goals in relation to their contribution to the overall outcomes of government
- strategic identification of organisational competencies and dynamic capabilities necessary for achieving organisational goals and, ultimately, high performance
- establishment of human resource systems and practices that support and encourage the development of desired competencies and capabilities across an organisation, which lead to desired behaviours (including performance management capacity)
- management and development of groups and individual employees according to required organisational competencies.
3. High performance groups and individuals
This tier focuses on high performing groups and individuals. The effectiveness of the workforce depends on the quality of the governance and organisational systems that support it. Four principles have emerged that can support performance:
- Adaptability. Ability of organisations and individuals to anticipate, respond and adapt to changing circumstances.
- Mutuality. Emphasis on the need for employees and managers to be mutually responsible and accountable for performance management.
- Competencies and capabilities. Understanding the organisation-level requirements and interdependence of competencies and capabilities.
- Management capacity. Ability of all managers and employees, at all levels, to undertake performance management effectively.
The three-tier framework will enable the interaction between current practices and processes and best possible practice to be analysed. It will also enable the skills, capabilities and behaviours necessary for a high performance culture to be identified.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO)9 found that performance management systems were not always aligned with agency requirements, integrated with other practices, or supported by the capabilities at supervisory and managerial levels that are necessary for high performance. State of the Service reports have consistently shown that, although agencies have procedures and systems in place, there is room for improvement in performance management.
In the 2010–11 agency survey, APS agencies were asked to indicate their current and required positions on a five-level maturity model10 for key capabilities, including performance management. The five maturity levels11 are:
- Level 1—awareness
- Level 2—general acceptance
- Level 3—defined
- Level 4—managed
- Level 5—leader/excellence.
Table 8.1 shows the performance management maturity levels reported by agency size for 2010–11. Most small (67%), medium (84%) and large agencies (68%) reported a current position of Level 3—defined, or lower. Most small (51%), medium (50%) and large agencies (45%) reported they need to be at Level 4—managed (a centralised strategic approach) or better to achieve agency goals by 2013–14. This represents a considerable challenge.
|Performance management capability level||Level 1—awareness||Level 2—general acceptance||Level 3—defined||Level 4—managed||Level 5—leader/excellence|
|Source: Agency survey 2010–11|
|Agency size||Current position (%)|
|Agency size||Required position|
Figure 8.2 shows that in 2010–11, 24 agencies (9% of the workforce) reported they were already at a maturity level in their performance management systems that would enable them to achieve agency goals within the next three years. However, most agencies (68) needed to be one or two levels above their current level, with five needing to be at least three levels above their current level.
The majority of agencies recognise that existing performance management systems and processes will not be sufficient to meet future business needs.
However, agencies report that they have the systems and practices in place for effective performance management—business strategies, selection and development processes, and reward and recognition programs. Importantly, the effective alignment and integration of these systems and practices underpins the ability to achieve outcomes.
Figure 8.2 Current and required performance management capability by agency, 2010–11
Source: Agency survey 2010–11
Notes: Each radial line shows one APS agency's current and required performance management capability level. The required position is the capability level assessed by the agency as necessary to achieve its goals within the next three years.
The 2011–2012 agency survey showed that line managers are central to implementing an effective performance management system. Figure 8.3 sets out the systems available in agencies to support line managers to do so. Ninety-two per cent of agencies require all employees to have a formal performance agreement and 93% have a defined timeline for completion of agreement phases. Far fewer agencies rewarded managers for their staff management skills (24%), although this was an increase from last year (19%).
Figure 8.3 Agency systems for performance management, 2011–2012
Source: Agency survey
Table 8.2 shows the performance management measures used by APS agencies in 2010–11 and 2011–2012. These measures are categorised by formal requirements of the performance management system, the assessment process, rewards and sanctions and evaluation.
Similar to last year, multi-source feedback for managers (21%), and measures to encourage the active management of high performance and talent (40%), were less commonly used for agency-wide performance management. Formal performance appraisal continues to be the most commonly used process for determining agency-wide performance management (95%). Ninety-four per cent of agencies reported linking performance assessment and salary progression, while 25% have a performance bonus scheme for individuals. Forty-nine per cent reported using a non-financial reward and recognition system.
|2011 agency-wide (% agencies)||2012 agency-wide (% agencies)|
|Source: Agency survey|
|Formal requirements||A formal performance appraisal process that is documented and conducted periodically||97||95|
|A clear statement of performance expectations derived through discussion with staff||88||88|
|Linkages between performance assessment and salary progression||93||94|
|Individualised learning and development plans||87||88|
|Assessment process||Performance appraisals which include key role accountabilities and performance indicators||81||88|
|Support and assistance for line managers to develop skills in performance management||72||73|
|A performance culture where managers and staff engage in regular feedback and discussion on an informal basis||71||75|
|A process to help ensure consistency in assessment||68||68|
|Multi-source feedback for managers||19||21|
|Rewards and sanctions||Review and reward of groups/teams as well as individuals||45||50|
|A reward and recognition system that is not linked to financial rewards||43||49|
|Measures that encourage the active management of high performance and talent among employees||35||40|
|Measures that encourage the active management of underperforming staff||85||77|
|Evaluation||Periodic evaluation of the performance management system||67||74|
Evaluation provides an important basis for reviewing and improving agency performance management systems in terms of process, performance outcomes and overall credibility with staff. While there was an increase to 74% in the number of agencies reporting they periodically evaluated their performance management system, only 27% of agencies reported they had formally done so in 2011–2012. The evaluations covered the following areas:
- clarity for staff on what constitutes good performance (85%)
- effectiveness in assisting staff to evaluate or improve their own performance (70%)
- absence of bias in performance decisions (41%)
- motivational value of rewards offered (26%).
Fifty-one per cent of agencies reported that managers were not rewarded for superior staff management skills and 22% reported they did not link agency-wide performance indicators for performance management and individual performance agreements for senior managers. Forty-six per cent of agencies reported that they provided performance management training for managers.
Intriguingly there was a decline in agencies with measures in place to ‘encourage active management of underperforming staff’. This proportion fell from 85% last year to 77% in 2012. Further investigation shows that formal performance management systems are widespread in the APS but agencies could improve the effectiveness of their systems in a number of areas.
Case study: Office of National Assessments (ONA)
ONA's Performance Development Framework (PDF) aims to articulate role-specific priorities and align its behavioural and capability expectations with those of the broader APS. Central is the framework's role in facilitating collegiate discussion between managers and staff, including on staff personal development needs.
In the last cycle of the PDF, ONA identified that the PDF's four-point performance rating scale was getting in the way of achieving outcomes. The gradients of ‘higher’ performance ratings were determined to be inconsistent with the PDF's aims and risked becoming a distraction. So the rating scales adopted for the 2011–2012 reporting cycle were reduced to two-effective or unsatisfactory. An ‘effective’ performance rating became a prerequisite to pay-point advancement while ‘unsatisfactory’ triggers ONA's underperformance guidelines.
Discussion is continuing on the process for the 2012–13 reporting cycle. The central focus of ONA's PDF is discussion between managers and staff. This is key to the PDF's success.
Ultimately, a performance management system should result in feedback to the employee that provides specific information on how they can improve or sustain their performance. In 2011–2012, 20% of APS employees reported they had not received formal individual performance feedback in the last 12 months.
Figure 8.4 shows there were small but meaningful differences on all employee engagement components, other than agency engagement, between those who had received performance feedback and those who had not. In all cases, employees who had received feedback showed higher levels of engagement than those who had not.
It is important to note that this analysis only considered if feedback was provided. It did not draw a distinction between positive and negative feedback. The analysis shows that small improvements in the effectiveness of the performance management system may have a positive impact on workforce and outcomes in the APS.
Figure 8.4 Performance feedback and employee engagement, 2011–2012
Source: Employee census
However, only 48% of employees agreed that their most recent performance review would help them improve their performance and 16% of employees disagreed it would do so.
This has been a consistent finding of State of the Service reports with the most commonly reported issues this year:
- did not give constructive feedback or identify ways to improve (45%)
- performance reviews are too generic and not tailored to employees or their roles (35%)
- performance review did not appropriately consider career development (31%)
- performance review did not appropriately recognise employees' level of performance (30%).
Figure 8.5 shows the strong differences on all employee engagement components between employees who agreed their most recent performance agreement would help them improve their performance and those who did not agree it would do so.
Combined, Figure 8.4 and Figure 8.5 show that providing feedback has a positive effect on employee engagement and providing constructive feedback that the employee believes helps to improve performance substantially improves employee engagement. Consequently, improving the quality of feedback provided by managers to employees as part of the performance management process could have a large positive impact on employee engagement.
Figure 8.5 Performance feedback helped the employee improve their performance
Source: Employee census
For the first time, the 2012 employee census asked respondents to indicate the number of employees they had direct performance management responsibility for. Thirty-five per cent indicated they had direct performance management responsibilities and 65% indicated they did not. To some extent this result mirrored the classification of those who responded to the employee census, with APS 1–6 making up the majority of respondents (70%) and Executive Level (EL) and Senior Executive Service (SES) about 30% of respondents.
Employee perceptions of performance management practice
This year, for the first time, employees were asked to provide their views on what is done well and what is done poorly in performance management. They were also asked to identify:
- the behaviours and attributes that constitute good and poor performance in the workplace
- what is required for managers to be more confident in managing performance.
The resulting employee perceptions are described here.
What is done well in performance management?
Table 8.3 summarises the overall key themes and concepts that emerged from the analysis of employee responses to what is done well in performance management. About 12% of APS 1–6 employees commented (7,206 comments), 48% of EL employees commented (11,801 comments), and 74% of SES employees commented (1,226 comments).
Employees were united in their opinion on what is done well in performance management. The strength of the system was overwhelmingly seen to be its formalised, structured nature by which it is compulsory for managers to engage with staff to, among other things, identify learning and development needs.
There was considerable overlap between APS 1–6 and EL staff on the ability to ‘identify training requirements of staff’. APS 1–6 staff valued receiving feedback on performance: ‘Everyone gets the opportunity to have regular feedback sessions’. EL employees indicated ‘good support’ from and for managers, including forms and templates, guides and support material ‘to help the conversation’. SES respondents reported that the formal performance management system is ‘a good system, well supported with policy and advice’, and one that allows for ‘clearly articulated … messages’ that provide for ‘good outcomes’. SES further reported that the system provides for staff opportunities: ‘staff have a development plan and learning and development program’ and ‘regular and honest feedback’.
|Source: Employee census|
Process, expectations, responsibility and communication are clear and transparent
Staff development opportunities are identified and implemented
||Not a key theme for this group||
What is done poorly in performance management?
Table 8.4 shows the key themes of employee perceptions of what is done poorly in the performance management system. About 12% of APS 1–6 employees provided comment (7,472 comments), 50% of EL employees provided comment (12,305 comments), and 73% of SES employees provided comment (1,222 comments). Overall, employees reported that the performance management system is time-consuming and inconsistently applied among managers and across agencies.
|Source: Employee census|
Failure to offer constructive advice
||Not a key theme for this group|
Availability of resources
||Not a key theme for this group||
Balancing staff and agency needs
Management of underperformance is a core concern for all levels of APS employees. Employees reported that the performance management system is often geared to managing underperformance at the expense of effectively identifying and recognising high-level performance. Other frequently cited concerns were that procedures were not implemented in a timely manner and that managing performance is a time-consuming process that is not adequately accommodated by agencies. Comments illustrating what is done poorly in performance management include:
Some managers don't spend the time needed and do generic assessments. (APS 1–6)
It is my impression that managers tend to be stretched too thin which limits their time to undertake performance management. (EL)
There can be reluctance to take on the management of under performers as [it is] very time consuming and challenging. (SES)
Despite the attention and effort all agencies have invested in managing underperformance, only 21% of employees agreed their agency dealt with underperformance well while 40% disagreed. These findings contrast with the 65% of employees who agreed their supervisor is effective in managing people and the 73% who agreed they have a good manager.
It is important to note that these findings are employee perceptions. Often staff are not in a position to make factually based assessments on how well or otherwise underperformance is managed. It happens behind closed doors and the results rarely become known to other staff.
Agencies used the following measures in 2011–2012 to assist managing underperformance:
- agency-issued guidelines (91%)
- coaching or case management services to assist managers (86%)
- short-term objectives for underperforming individuals (83%)
- guidance on strategies managers can use to foster performance improvement (77%)
- step-by-step instructions or templates to guide managers (69%)
- agency-designed program or system (62%)
- dismissal in cases where performance continues to be unsatisfactory (60%)
- training of managers (46%).
Case study: Managing underperformance
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry's enterprise agreement specifies that:
Managers where possible will apply informal management techniques when dealing with potential performance management issues by providing regular and open feedback against performance expectations.
The department has established informal processes to assist managers to improve feedback and clearly set expected standards of performance.
Before any formal action is taken on underperformance, the informal processes ensure:
- regular feedback and discussion (on more than one occasion) between managers and employees
- managers have clearly specified to employees, in writing, work expectations and standards
- employees have been given reasonable opportunity to meet work expectations and standards.
In cases where the managers have worked with employees through the informal processes and employees do not improve their performance, managers can ask the department's performance team for assistance with undertaking formal underperformance action.
In 2004, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the ANAO raised concerns about the level of commitment to performance management of immediate supervisors and senior managers. The ANAO was of the view that this level of commitment was making it more difficult to create and embed a culture of high performance and continuous improvement.12 The ANAO argued that most employees perceived that insufficient priority was given to effective people management skills and that managers displaying such skills were not adequately recognised or rewarded.13
The 2012 employee census showed that 80% of managers said they were confident in managing the performance of others. This is in sharp contrast to the virtually 80% of APS employees who did not respond positively when asked if they perceived their agency manages underperformance well. Managers who said they were not confident in managing performance agreed they would be helped through access to training on performance management (51%), improved guidelines on the performance management process (46%) and improved access to advice within their agency (51%).
This year for the first time all employees were invited to indicate three key behaviours or attributes that represent good and poor performance in their workplace. Table 8.5 summarises the key themes that emerged.
Overall 123,651 responses were received from APS 1–6 employees, 58,606 from EL employees and 4,154 from SES employees. Proportionally, 69% of APS 1–6 employees provided at least one behaviour or attribute, while 80% of EL and 83% of SES provided at least one attribute.
|Source: Employee census|
|Respectful and collaborative working relationships||
||Not a key theme for this group||
|Knowledge and skills||
For APS 1–6 level employees the key theme that emerged centred on service to customers with employees using words and phrases such as ‘good’, ‘quality’ and ‘high-level’ customer service, as well as ‘customer service focus’. For EL employees, timeliness was a key theme and one reflecting indicators of good performance such as good time management and timeliness. For SES employees, the three key themes were work ethic, communication and collaboration.
What is apparent and different among the three levels is the focus of APS 1–6 employees on service and customers (‘respect for customers’) as indicators of good performance compared to the focus of EL and SES on relationship management and collaboration.
The behaviours and attributes that represent poor performance
Table 8.6 summarises the key themes that emerged from the analysis of behaviours and attributes employees consider constitute poor performance.
|Source: Employee census|
|Lack of knowledge and skills||
|Poor work ethic||
|Absence of personal or professional attributes||
The behaviours and attributes most frequently cited by APS 1–6 level employees as indicators of poor performance were lack of enthusiasm or negativity in thinking or behaviour in the workplace, and unprofessional or unreliable behaviour.
The behaviours and attitudes most frequently cited by EL employees were similar, although this level also emphasised poor communication and leadership. ‘Not working as part of a team’, being ‘a non-team player’, ‘laziness’ and individualism ‘at the expense of the team’ were also considered evidence of poor performance in the workplace by EL staff.
Like other employees, SES also described indicators of poor performance in terms of the absence of qualities and behaviours or ‘poor’ behaviours, for example, timekeeping, judgement, communication, teamwork, risk management, service delivery, people skills, stakeholder management, communication and collaboration.
SES respondents had a clear output focus when reporting indicators of poor performance. For example, some APS 1–6 staff spoke about lack of work-related skills and some SES spoke about the nature of work output as an indicator of poor performance.
Overall, APS employees at all levels reported more-or-less the same behaviours and attributes as indicators of poor performance in the workplace. All employees desire respectful, collaborative relationships and ethical behaviour in their work environment. They expect work outcomes that encompass skills, knowledge and thinking as well as quality and reliability of work completed. These issues are at the heart of what APS employees see as indicators of good and poor performance.
This year's data provides useful insights into key areas where the APS can improve performance management. Connecting individual agreements to agency outcomes and increasing the performance management capacity of managers are important. Investing in the capability of managers and supporting a performance management culture with specific and constructive feedback regularly provided may pay large dividends in terms of increased productivity of the APS as a whole.
To help drive high performance in the APS, a three-tier performance management framework has been developed. The three tiers are: high performance governance, high performance organisation and high performance groups. The framework provides principles and practices that will assist agencies to better appreciate high performance as a dynamic system and to develop ways to better measure performance at each tier.
In terms of performance management, there is room for agencies to better align systems with their requirements and integrate them with other practices, supported by the necessary capabilities at managerial level. The majority of agencies recognise that existing performance management systems and processes are not sufficient to meet future business needs.
To bridge the gap between performance management rhetoric and reality, and to create a culture which builds agency performance to meet future requirements, sharper focus is needed on performance review discussions. These need to provide useful motivating feedback, which values strong people management skills and better manages both top and poor performers (that is, extremes of performance).
1 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010), Recommendation 7.4.
2 Australian Public Service Commission, Performance Management, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2002). Australian Public Service Commission, Sharpening the Focus: Managing Performance in the APS, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2006). MAC, Performance Management in the Australian Public Service: A Strategic Framework, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2001). Australian National Audit Office, Performance Management in the Australian Public Service, Performance Audit Report No. 6, 2003–04, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2004). Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Australian National Audit Office, Implementation of Programme and Policy Initiatives: Making Implementation Matter: A Better Practice Guide, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2006). Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010).
3 MAC, Performance Management in the Australian Public Service: A Strategic Framework, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2001), p. 14.
4 MAC, Performance Management in the Australian Public Service: A Strategic Framework, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2001), p. 7.
5 V Jupp and MP Younger, ‘A Value Model for the Public Sector’, Outlook, (2004), vol. 1, pp. 14–21.
6 D McBride, Strategic Management Model for Public Organizations: Looking for Effective, Efficient, Transparent, Ethical and Accountable Organizations, Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, (2008).
8 D Blackman, F Buick, M O'Donnell, J O'Flynn and D West, Developing High Performance: Performance Management in the Australian Public Service, (2012).
9 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Australian National Audit Office, Implementation of Programme and Policy Initiatives: Making Implementation Matter. A Better Practice Guide, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2006).
10 The required positions are the maturity levels assessed by agencies as necessary to achieve their goals within the next three years.
12 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Australian National Audit Office, Implementation of Programme and Policy Initiatives: Making Implementation Matter. A Better Practice Guide, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2006).
13 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Australian National Audit Office, Implementation of Programme and Policy Initiatives: Making Implementation Matter. A Better Practice Guide, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2006).