Holding Federal Employees Accountable

OhMyGov.com contributor Ev Chasen penned this article for the "Sinclair Speaks" blog by the Sinclair Advisory Group; we are reprinting it here for the benefit of all our OhMyGov readers.

 

On July 16, USA Today reporter Dennis Cauchon wrote a story that cited government statistics showing that workers in many Federal agencies are more likely to die of natural causes than to get laid off or fired.  (You can read the article here.

In Fiscal Year 2010, according to the article, the Federal government fired 0.55% of its workers—compared to the private sector’s 3% average annual firing rate.  The government also laid off 385 people in reorganizations that year—a 0.02% rate, or one in every 6,000 employees.  USA Today was unable to find a comparable private sector layoff rate.  (They did not count seasonal workers in the Federal rate.)

Two of the agencies studied, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, laid off or fired no one.  Overwhelmingly, those who were laid off or fired were “blue-collar” workers: federal employees earning more than $100,000 per year had a 99.82% job security rate.

I do not believe many people with significant experience as a Federal Government manager would agree with Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesperson Jerry Brown, who told Mr. Cauchon that HUD’s low dismissal rate demonstrates the skills and commitment of the Department’s workforce.  Rather, I think, most would agree with Associate Gary Rossio’s June 2 blog post, which stated that “too often in the past, I have felt that senior HR employees believed their role was to “protect” their directors and other supervisors from unions and lawsuits and difficult situations—leading to inaction by supervisors and management.”

Gary’s post stated that good HR departments should be able to provide sound advice, technical support, and the ability to spot, hire, and help retrain good employees.  Exceptional leadership in HR would certainly help managers make the tough decisions needed to fire poor performers, but there is another factor involved.

Creating a committed organizational workforce depended on managers themselves applying management systems in a fair and equitable manner “so everyone recognizes that high performers will be consistently rewarded and poor employees will be consistently dealt with in an appropriate manner.”

In order to recognize top performers in a fair and equitable manner, managers should initially explain to employees what is expected of them—not only what minimum performance expectations are, but also what employees need to do to receive awards. They should also give them frequent feedback so employees know how they are doing. Those who meet the standards needed to excel must be rewarded, and, conversely, action must be taken if employees do not meet the performance or conduct standards of their position.  

The overwhelming majority of government employees do not want to work hard and then see others who are not pulling their weight slide by.  Managers must deal with problem employees, so that everyone gets the message—and they should not be afraid to lose an occasional case. 

Federal managers should not have to shy away from disciplining problem employees because they fear the difficulties of the removal process.  If the bottom 10% of employees do not improve their performance, they must be removed.  The status quo, for them, is not acceptable.  Neither is the state of affairs USA Today described: federal government managers simply must develop a culture of performance, not tolerance, or they will never be able meet the expectations other Americans have for them.

 

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