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Revitalising public service performance


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I am happy to be a part of a small but significant step in developing a new performance appraisal mechanism for the Sri Lankan public sector. It is jointly developed by the Public Services Commission (PSC) and the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM). We have started a pilot run with more than 10 organisations.  Today’s column is all about that endeavour with prospects and pitfalls. Overview Performance appraisals are not uncommon to Sri Lankan public service. How it is currently done is the question. In Sri Lanka, measuring of individual employee performance had been introduced by a Public Administration Initiative way back in 1998. The objective was to link the granting of annual increments of public officers to a proper appraisal of work performed during period considered for increment. The Government has adopted this as policy ever since. The sad truth is that in most of the cases it has become just a form-filling ritual. It categorised the performance of employees into broad categories such as Not Satisfactory, Satisfactory, Above Average and Very Good. The grey area has always been the subjectivity associated. New developments The Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) Minute was amended in 2005, accommodating special provisions including opportunities to fast-track promotions for SLAS officers. The provisions enabled SLAS officers to sit for a promotion examination on the condition that they maintain “above average performance” consecutively for five years. This was an unprecedented major breakthrough which was recognised in policy by a specific salary circular. Despite the fast track, the way of doing evaluations remained to be same. However, performance evaluation system did not get amended and the measurement system. Thus, the new policy demand and the old appraisal system became an obvious misfits resulting in many deadlocks According to Public Service Commission (PSC) sources, even after seven years into the introduction of the circular, old performance appraisal systems have not got the prowess that it should have to demarcate the super performers from the normal. This has resulted in the inability of the authorities concerned to amend service minutes making special remarks stating that until a proper performance evaluation system is introduced, “satisfactory” or “above satisfactory” performance will be considered as eligibility to sit for the promotion examination. This reduced the significance of differentiating “exceptional” performers from others. Management for Development Results Amidst this growing dissatisfaction toward the existing performance evaluation system, the need for an overall conceptual framework to relate the individual performance was also identified. Management for Development Results (MfDR), tested and proven in many public circles around the globe was seen as a suitable approach. Figure 1 contains the basic details of MfDR framework. It moves from short term to long term and also from activities, outputs and outcomes. MfDR focuses on development performance and on sustainable improvements at country level. It also includes practical tools for strategic planning, risk management, progress monitoring, and outcome evaluation. In essence the perspective of impact or result is the central focus. In simple terms, for a desired result to be generated there should be an outcome. For the desired outcome there should be outputs. For desired outputs to appear there should be a series of activities that need to be done. Linking development to performance   Ministries and Departments are supposed to develop a vision, mission, strategies, goals and action plans. Departments, in particular, have a mandate established by Acts in Parliament. Accordingly, their respective reasons for being present are well articulated. In essence, the outcomes that they want to produce and the impacts are self evident in their vision and mission statements. Under the prescriptions of the General Treasury, each government institution submits its corporate plans each year. Accordingly, their outputs towards achieving the outcomes are made clear. The rationale for such line of thinking to link MfDR with individual performance is that the impacts that departments desire to create should pass down from institutional level to interactive team level and then to individual level, which in turn produce results from individual level to spill over to interactive team level and institutional level respectively. It in fact links individual, division, department, ministerial and policy levels sequentially. The flow from the individual performance leads to Divisional Management Plans and to Strategic Departmental Plans which can be linked to results based budgets as well. In essence the broader policy objectives will be achieved if the individual level performance is correctly agreed to by the individuals and performed within a stipulated time. A new approach towards results The proposed performance appraisal system for the public sector will address several key people issues including the rational recognition of high performers. The new system demands transparency from both the appraiser and appraisee from the point of performance agreement and consistency right throughout the process. The whole exercise targets to improve both the services rendered to the public by public officers and also allow meritocracy by recognising super performers to reach deserving positions. Thus, this initiative addresses the issues pertaining to efficiency, effectiveness, equity and fairness as well. For the new approach to deliver results we need commitment from individuals and institutions alike. Monitoring is one of the major components detailed in the new system. As PSC has identified, it requires a clear transformation from orthodox administration divisions into Human Resource Development functions. This is vital to take care of the performance management aspects in addition to the administration tasks. Moving ahead For sure, it will not be a rosy path. Moving from a form-filling ritual to a rational system of specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound (SMART) objectives needs much clarity, consistency and commitment. As some public servants observe, performance appraisal is not so appetising topic to discuss and to implement. Nonetheless, in public sector it is an imperative component. This is on one hand, to ensure public services are delivered with utmost efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and consistency. On the other hand, it is to recognise and reward the employees who truly deserve their fair share of achievement be commended. KRAs, KPIs and KBIs The new performance evaluation consists of two key aspects, tasks and competencies. Tasks involve Key Result Areas (KRAs) and associated Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Competencies involve Key Behavioural Indicators (KBIs). The intention here is not to go into details but to highlight the novelty of the approach with comprehensive coverage. Identification of KPIs will rely on the key results that an institution is deemed by the very establishment of the particular institution. In other words, its mandate articulated in respective Acts or other legislative enactments. Once the key result areas are agreed into at the strategic level, the key divisional objectives will be made clear and those will be mentioned in the first page of the performance plan as a measure to keep the rest of the document remain aligned on check. Key Performance Areas will be derived from the divisional objectives spelt out in each performance plan. Derivation of tasks, which can range from one to many, will then depend on the key performance areas that have already been identified. KBIs on the other hand, refer to the broad aspect of competencies. According to Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahlad, “core competencies are the collective learning in the organisation, especially how to coordinate diverse production skills and integrate multiple streams of technologies.”  In the public sector the demanded set of skills may vary from being generic to specific: on the whole an individual might need to master a set of skills that are generic, but when it is referred to a position like Divisional Secretary soft skills like public relations would be pivotal. Just as same as the need to master the skills, the need to check on the employees building their competencies and how they showcase their required skills in their respective performance can only be measured by putting up on the board what the key behavioural indicators are. PSC made an important recommendation with this respect. In order for the new performance system to sustain, performance appraisal should be made a compulsory training module for induction and mid career trainings conducted by executive training institutions. PIM has taken a lead in training a selected group of government departments as a pilot project. Subsequently, it will be rolled out to cover the entire public service. Cascading effect from results to outcome, outcome to output, output to input and vice versa should be clearly identifiable in the performance appraisal system. Institutions need to rediscover their respective identities through re-reading their own establishments. Each institution needs to establish effective monitoring systems either Information Technology (IT) based or manual in order to make certain that objective measurement becomes likely and feasible. Way forward Revitalisation of the public service can be done through an effective performance management system. Designing and developing such a system is only the beginning. Delivering the desired results is the key. May the promises of the proposed performance evaluation system be fulfilled through committed efforts. (Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is the Acting Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA.)

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