Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Poorly Performing Bureaucrats

Some would argue that my title is an anti-oxymoron, a redundancy. But today's Federal Diary in the Post discusses (Is the Annual Performance Review the Goof-Off's Best Friend?) a proposal from a Harvard man, Robert Behn (see his newsletter here):
"Behn argues that most agency managers have only two choices when trying to fire employees who don't pull their weight: Launch an all-out attack using the full powers of the personnel system, or shrug off their lackluster performance and give the employee a passing grade, such as 'meets expectations' or 'satisfactory.'

Agency managers are not dumb or incompetent in their handling of poor performers, but they understand that there is only so much time in the week, the month and the year, Behn says. Managers can focus on a few important problems and try to make a difference on behalf of taxpayers, or they can go to war with employees who know the workplace rules and are 'willing and able to use them' to protect their jobs, Behn writes."
I agree with the analysis. I'm dubious of the proposal, which is to eliminate yearly reviews and just rely on letters of commendation. The bottom line is that managers, like other Americans, don't like face to face confrontations (in the blogosphere is okay, but not where it counts). So they need strong incentives to manage people well.

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