Accentuate the positive: take lead on performance management

The Australian Public Service Commission starts a new era of high-performance management 15 years in the making. If it’s going to stick, senior executives need to lead by example.

There isn’t much love in the Australian public service for the dysfunctional system that currently passes for performance management. In last year’s employee census, only 42% felt their most recent evaluation would help them improve, while 18% said they received no feedback at all in the preceding year.

In the worst cases, performance evaluations are seen as something you do at certain intervals because you have to, and then get back to your real work — a loathsome exercise for both the reviewer and the reviewed. In the best examples, managers regularly and cheerfully talk to staff about what they’re doing well and how they can improve. The latter is the essence of high performance management, and it could finally be coming to the Commonwealth.

At the end of July, a research team put together by the Australian Public Service Commission gave senior executives a new tool to tweak their organisations for high performance. This new diagnostic instrument distils a comprehensive three-year project — itself built on a decade of prior research — and provides a step-by-step guide to putting its findings into action.

The centrepiece is the 2013 report Strengthening the Performance Framework: Towards a High Performing Australian Public Service. According to human resource management professor Michael O’Donnell, who worked on the project, most of the mandarins believed performance management was code for dealing with underperformance.

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