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Research findings

Extensive research has been undertaken into how to use performance management more effectively to enable the development of high performance. The Strengthening the Performance Framework project has brought together the findings of a review of the existing literature; data from the State of the Service Report (SOSR) 2011–12; agency consultations and research undertaken in seven APS agencies (including in-depth interviews with 226 participants); and cross-case comparisons to generate a High Performance Framework for the APS. The Framework comprises four Principles and three Foundation elements (see diagram at Figure 1: Principles for High Performing Government. The full report, Strengthening the Performance Framework: Towards a High Performing Australian Public Service (March 2013) is available at: http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications-and-media/current-publications/stren....

The High Performance Framework is based on the proposition 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 resources 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 agency.

Many of the mechanisms required are often already evident in agencies. However, their application may be limited and there will be a number of areas where, through effective implementation, the performance management system could be improved to support employee engagement and high performance. The Diagnostic framework provides a tool that will enable agencies to assess strengths and weaknesses regarding their performance management implementation.

The 2013 employee census data suggests that there are opportunities to improve on current practices. For example:

  • 18 per cent of APS staff reported that they had not received formal performance feedback in the last 12 months, only a slight improvement from 20 per cent the previous year; and
  • Employees who agreed that their most recent performance review would help to improve their performance has declined to 42 per cent from 48 per cent in just one year.

Interestingly, the data from the 2013 agency census indicates an improvement in the proportion of agencies with measures in place to encourage the active management of underperforming staff, up from 77 per cent in 2012 to 83 per cent. The proportion of agencies that reported managers were not rewarded for superior staff management skills remained relatively stable (50 per cent compared to 51 per cent last year).

The Strengthening the Performance Framework research found that major reconfiguring of an agency's current performance management process was not necessarily the priority to address these challenges. Rather, making the current performance management system more effective through improved implementation and support for managers and employees was more valuable and likely to lead to longer term productivity improvements. This research has highlighted that there are actions which agencies can take to improve the implementation of performance management across the APS, such as:

  • discuss and define what high performance means at the agency, group and individual level within an agency;
  • ensure that agency goals are clearly understood and the importance of those goals is made relevant to each employee;
  • provide managers with guidance on how to set goals and provide feedback on performance: for example immediately prior to the commencement of the review cycle;
  • ensure managers are held accountable for supporting , maintaining and improving the performance of their staff ;
  • ensure managers are held accountable for the quality of performance agreements that are developed with their employees;
  • provide access to training that helps build the people management skills of managers (such as improved skill in the design of performance agreements and providing quality feedback);
  • support employee participation in decision-making , planning and setting accountability measures;
  • make sure that all employees have a relevant performance agreement in place;
  • all employees are held responsible for their performance;
  • ensure all employees receive targeted feedback on their performance; and
  • improve the use of the probation period through establishing clear performance expectations up front, providing feedback during the probation period and taking steps to improve performance if necessary.

The research undertaken by the Strengthening the Performance Framework project team has enabled a better understanding of current performance management practice across agencies. The research has identified that, for performance management to be effective, it must have a clear purpose and be meaningful to employees. Performance management needs to be the mechanism for:

  • aligning employees to agency requirements;
  • clearly articulating and managing expectations;
  • clearly establishing role and goal clarity;
  • identifying the support required to enable goal attainment;
  • discussing future career aspirations;
  • identifying developmental needs;
  • monitoring and reviewing performance;
  • ensuring that standards of performance align with expectations; and
  • recognising good performance.