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Establishing a performance management baseline

Results from the employee census show that although improvements have been made, there are opportunities to improve current APS performance management practices. For example:

  • 12% of employees reported they had not received formal performance feedback in the 12 months before the employee census (although this is an improvement from 18% in 2013)
  • 80% of employees reported they had received informal performance feedback in the 12 months before the employee census (this was the same as results for 2013)
  • the percentage of employees who agreed their most recent performance review would help to improve their performance increased to 44% from 42% in 2013.

Data from the State of the Service Agency Survey (agency survey) indicates an improvement in the proportion of agencies with measures in place to encourage the active management of underperforming employees (93% in 2014 up from 77% in 2012). The Commission has worked closely with a number of agencies to improve the understanding and measurement of performance management. For example, in 2012 the Commission worked in collaboration with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to assist the agency to develop a measure of employee and manager perceptions of performance management in their agency. The measure was designed to be administered as a survey across the parts of the agency participating in a trial of a new performance management system.

From this successful trial, the performance management survey was subsequently refined and incorporated into the Diagnostic. The final survey testing was completed in the Australian Taxation Office, Geoscience Australia and the Commission as part of the implementation of the Diagnostic. The performance management survey focuses on these three aspects of performance management in an agency:

  • employees are asked to rate both their manager's actions or behaviour in relation to the effectiveness of performance management (for example, ‘my manager provides me with clear and consistent performance expectations’) and the performance management process (for example, ‘my performance agreement provides me with meaningful and relevant information that enables me to perform my role’)
  • managers are asked to rate their own behaviour in relation to the effectiveness of performance management (for example, ‘I articulate clear and consistent performance expectations to my staff’) and the performance management process in terms of the assistance available to them in managing employees (for example, ‘our performance management policies provide me with clear guidelines for measuring performance’)
  • all employees are asked to rate the effectiveness of the management of underperformance in their agency (for example, ‘my agency deals with underperformance effectively’).

Figure 9.5 shows results from the performance management survey for APS agencies by function. Results demonstrate that, generally, employees are less satisfied with the effectiveness of the performance management system overall than they are with the actions taken by their managers (performance management practices) or the processes supporting performance management in the agency.10

Conversely, managers tend to be more positive about the effectiveness of the performance management system and their own practices than they are with the processes in place to support them in managing employee performance.

Figure 9.5. Performance management by agency function, 2014

Source: Employee census

One important characteristic of the performance management survey is that it provides not only an assessment of overall scores but an understanding of the variability of scores within a group. By showing where agencies vary the most on performance management, the performance management survey can assist in identifying strengths and weaknesses and where the application of performance processes may be less consistent.

Figure 9.6 shows the variation across APS agencies on each component measured by the performance management survey (effectiveness, practices and processes) for employees and managers. The greatest variation in employee perceptions relate to the performance management practices of their managers (although employee responses against all three components show a high degree of variability).

Conversely, managers show a high degree of consistency in their responses relating to their own practices. For example, managers are more consistent in their agreement that they provide clear direction and communicate consistent performance expectations to their employees. There is, however, more variability in managers' perceptions of the effectiveness of the processes, policies and procedures in their agencies to support them in managing the performance of employees.

Figure 9.6. Variation in perceptions of performance management in the APS (managers and employees), 2014

Source: Employee census

As previously noted in this chapter, 12% of employees reported through the employee census that they had not received formal performance feedback in the previous 12 months. Data from the agency survey shows that in 96% of agencies (covering 97% of the workforce) all employees are required to have a formal performance agreement, reinforcing that there may be differences in the application of performance management processes across agencies.

Similarly, agencies can use a wide range of measures to assist in implementing their performance appraisal systems, with data from the agency survey showing a high degree of consistency with the mechanisms agencies employ. Ninety-eight per cent of agencies use a formal system and link this system and pay progression. Ninety-five per cent of agencies include key role accountabilities and performance indicators and link performance management to learning and development plans.

Establishing a better baseline for managing underperformance

In a major qualitative analysis, the State of the Service Report 2011–12 examined employee views of underperformance through responses to two questions. Employees were asked to provide their views on ‘what is done well’ and ‘what is done poorly’ in performance management in their agency. In relation to underperformance 11:

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.

While there is more to be gained from ensuring the efforts of the vast majority of APS employees who are well motivated and skilled are well directed, not managing underperformance is a drain on resources and productivity that should be addressed.

Traditionally, the employee census has asked employees the extent to which they agree or disagree with this statement: ‘My agency deals with underperformance effectively’. Consistently, only a small proportion of employees tend to agree with this statement.

The APS performance management survey assesses agency actions in managing underperformance using three statements:

  • My agency deals with underperformance effectively.
  • My supervisor appears to manage underperformance well in my workgroup.
  • I can rely on my supervisor for guidance and support if I have to manage a case of underperformance in one of my direct reports.

The first statement provides an overall assessment of employees' perceptions of how underperformance is managed in their agency. In 2014, 20% of employees agreed with this statement. This is a slight improvement on 2013 when 18% agreed with the same statement. This further reinforces that the management of underperformance remains a considerable issue for the APS.

When the focus is limited to the management of underperformance in the workgroup (compared with agency level) a larger proportion of employees agree it is managed well, although this proportion remains low. In 2014, 37% of employees agreed that their supervisor managed underperformance well.

In relation to manager perceptions of the guidance and support they can rely on from their immediate supervisor as they manage underperformance, three-quarters of employees felt they would get the support they needed to deal with underperformance. While the majority of managers tend to agree the support and tools are available to them to manage underperformance, the consistency of employees' views to the contrary at both agency and workgroup levels, suggest this remains an area of management responsibility that requires closer and more constant attention by APS managers.

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10 ‘Effectiveness’ refers to the overall effectiveness of the performance management system within an agency. ‘Practices’ refer to the actions undertaken by manager's in managing the performance of employees. ‘Processes’ refer to the processes, policies and procedures within an agency to support the performance management system.

11 Australian Public Service Commission 2012, State of the Service Report 2011–12, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p. 191.