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Performance management as a tool for high performances

The complexity of the work undertaken in the Australian Public Service (APS) is increasing, with a rise in the need for knowledge work, as well as the speed and frequency of change. Simultaneously, there is pressure to reduce costs while still meeting the growing expectations of the public and the Government which presents a unique productivity challenge for the APS (Australian Public Service Commission [APSC], 2012). Ensuring that the APS achieves and maintains optimum levels of performance is, however, a complicated matter which needs to be addressed at four levels of activity: governance, organisational, group and individual(see Annex 1).

The argument is that while more traditional reforms in the areas of technology and the use of structural or administrative changes can support the achievement of these requirements, they can provide only part of the answer. Real gains will emerge through the implementation of high performance practices at all four levels of activity. This paper presents a framework for supporting the development of high performance through an alternative approach to performance management.

The proposition of this framework is that, to enable high performance, there needs to be a renewed emphasis on performance management as a core activity that is embedded in all management functions. To be meaningful and effective, performance management needs to be integrated with other management and human resource practices in order to develop an integrated system of high performance; it would commence with job design and flow through to when an employee leaves the organisation. Several of the mechanisms required to support effective performance management are already evident in organisations. However, their application is limited and there are a number of areas where the performance management system could be improved to support performance improvement, employee engagement and high performance.

To assist organisations in undertaking a renewed approach to performance management, the Commission, in collaboration with Professor Deborah Blackman and Dr. Fiona Buick from the University of Canberra, Professor Janine O’Flynn from the University of Melbourne and Professor Michael O’Donnell from the University of New South Wales Canberra, undertook a comprehensive review of the existing literature on high performance and performance management to develop a new conceptual framework[1]. Empirical work undertaken in APS agencies has resulted in the development of a new approach. We now present a new approach to performance management designed to support the development and maintenance of high performance within the APS (see Annex 2 for details of the project methodology).

The research identified that performance management is an issue affecting every aspect of an agency’s operation, from the performance of individual employees through to the implementation of organisational outcomes expected by Government. A framework has been developed that reconceptualises the elements that support performance improvement and, ultimately, high performance. The report details the elements of the framework itself, as well as offering guidance on how to implement the principles and foundation elements.

[1] See Blackman, D., Buick, F., O'Donnell, M., O'Flynn, J. and West, D. (2012). ‘Developing High Performance: Performance Management in the Australian Public Service’. See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2130232.