Performance management in the Australian Public Service
Employee performance management is both:
- an aspect of the management relationship between a supervisor and employee in which work responsibilities, priorities and expectations are communicated and clarified, and
- a process of defining, aligning and evaluating employee duties in relation to organisational goals and objectives.
A series of reports and research findings stretching back more than a decade and a half all confirm that the effective management of employee performance is a significant and ongoing challenge for the APS. There is a significant discrepancy between the performance management systems in place in APS agencies, which are often acceptable from a design perspective, and the perceived effectiveness of those systems.
For example, the 2013-14 State of the Service Report revealed that while 98% of agencies have a formal performance management system in place with clear links to remuneration, only 44% of employees said their most recent performance review would help improve their individual performance and only 20% believe their agency's system deals with underperformance effectively.
The Strengthening the Performance Framework Project
The Strengthening the Performance Framework Project commenced in 2010 as a research partnership between the Australian Public Service Commission and the Australian National University, the University of New South Wales, and the University of Canberra. The goal of the partnership was to develop a new approach to performance management in the APS.
Research findings from the Project have enabled a better understanding of current performance management practices across APS agencies. The research 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 development needs,
- monitoring and reviewing performance,
- ensuring that standards of performance align with expectations, and
- recognising good performance.
The research has established a pathway to reform of performance management across the APS, with key legal, training and administrative initiatives.
Performance management Directions
An amendment of the Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions 2013 for performance management was signed into law on 12 December 2014 and commenced on 1 July 2015. The new performance management Directions are available on the ComLaw website. The performance management Directions strengthen the existing obligations of Agency Heads in respect of individual employee performance management, and create a new set of obligations in this regard for APS supervisors and employees. A one-page general guide is also available.
Changes to legislation
Findings of the Strengthening the Performance Framework Project previously informed amendments to the Public Service Act 1999,, which came into effect on 1 July 2013. These amendments included the introduction of a new section 10A, which outlines the APS Employment Principles. Of relevance to performance management, subsection 10A(1)(d) of the Act states that the APS "is a career-based public service…that requires effective performance from each employee." This is the effective performance Employment Principle. The new performance management Directions were developed to specify minimum requirements to uphold the effective performance Employment Principle.
The high performance framework
is a model of the key areas of focus that are important for successful attainment of high performance through any performance management system. The key areas of focus include seven principles and foundational elements designed to restrict inquiry to a core set of operational questions and problems.
In terms of principles, high performing performance management systems exhibit clarity, strong alignment with organisational goals, mutuality of ownership between employers and employees, and adaptability.
In terms of foundational elements, they exhibit an appropriate arrangement of capabilities, they collate and channel the right evidence and data for decision making, and they are pragmatically designed and implemented.
The performance management diagnostic
was developed through the Strengthening the Performance Framework Project to enable agencies to achieve high performance through their existing performance management systems. The Diagnostic proceeds on the assumption that the achievement of high performance is affected more by the application of a performance system, rather than by the system design itself. Research indicates that while agencies usually have the requisite systems in place, implementation and utilisation is patchy.
The Diagnostic focuses on activity at the agency, group and individual levels. It utilises a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods, and can be used to identify key areas requiring improvement. The Diagnostic can be applied as a self-assessment tool, or with assistance from the APSC or other external facilitator.
Core skills program
Research conducted through the Strengthening the Performance Framework Project also informed development of the APS performance management learning program. Information about the performance management learning program can be found on the performance management learning materials page and associated materials can be downloaded from the APSC Core and Management Skills Reference Group Govdex site. To gain access to the site, APS employees are encouraged to send an email to nationalcalendarteam [at] apsc.gov.au.
For further information, please send an email to the Employment Reform team at employmentreform [at] apsc.gov.au.