Human Capital:

Senior Executive Performance Management Can Be Significantly Strengthened to Achieve Results

GAO-04-614: Published: May 26, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 2004.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

J. Christopher Mihm
(202) 512-3604
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Congress and the administration have established a new performance-based pay system for members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) that is designed to provide a clear and direct linkage between SES performance and pay. Also, GAO previously reported that significant opportunities exist for agencies to hold the SES accountable for improving organizational results. GAO assessed how well selected agencies are creating linkages between SES performance and organizational success by applying nine key practices GAO previously identified for effective performance management. GAO selected the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Senior executives need to lead the way to transform their agencies' cultures to be more results-oriented, customer focused, and collaborative in nature. Performance management systems can help manage and direct this process. While Education, HHS, and NASA have undertaken important and valuable efforts to link their career SES performance management systems to their organizations' success, there are opportunities to use their systems more strategically. For example, as indicated by the executives themselves, the agencies can better use their performance management systems as a tool to manage the organization or to achieve organizational goals. As Congress and the administration are reforming SES pay to better link pay to performance, valid, reliable, and transparent performance management systems with reasonable safeguards are critical. Information on the experiences and knowledge of these agencies should provide valuable insights to other agencies as they seek to drive internal change and achieve external results.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While Education's senior executives have a performance expectation for "building coalitions/communications" that generally addresses collaborating with internal and external organizations to work toward common goals, senior executives are not required to identify in their individual performance plans the crosscutting goals that they are working toward during the year and the internal or external organizations with which they need to collaborate to achieve these goals, according to Education's 2004 senior executive performance management guidance. In April 2008, an Education official stated that no changes have been made to the senior executive performance plan structure or guidance since 2004 and no additional changes were necessary since Education received certification from the Office of Personnel Management as meeting the current regulations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by requiring senior executives to identify in their individual performance plans programmatic crosscutting goals that would require collaboration to achieve and clearly identify the relevant internal and external organizations with which they would collaborate to achieve these goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2008, HHS provided the heads of its operating divisions the aggregate departmentwide senior executive rating, bonus, and pay increase distributions for the fiscal year 2006 and 2007 performance appraisal cycles and instructed these officials to share the results with all of their senior executives as well as disaggregated results for their divisions for fiscal year 2007. HHS also posted the departmentwide results for fiscal year 2006 and 2007 on its internal Web site.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by building in additional safeguards when linking pay to performance by communicating the overall results of the performance management decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: For fiscal year 2008, HHS's senior executives' performance plans contain a common performance expectation to improve the work environment by implementing improvements based on the results of the Federal Human Capital Survey and/or HHS's all employee survey. According to an HHS official, agency leadership receive the results of these surveys with with the intent that deficient areas will be addressed and executives will be held accountable for any changes or improvements through their individual performance appraisals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by requiring senior executives to take follow-up actions based on the performance information available to them in order to make programmatic improvements, and formally recognize executives for these actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Beginning in the fiscal year 2005 performance appraisal cycle, HHS is requiring senior executives to identify the internal/external groups or organizations they will collaborate with to accomplish agency cross-functional goals in their individual performance plans.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by requiring senior executives to clearly identify in their individual performance plans the relevant internal or external organizations with which they would collaborate to achieve programmatic crosscutting goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education's senior executive service performance management policy (dated January 2005) states that orientation will be provided to senior executives on all aspects of the performance management system and copies of the department's policies and procedures will be made available to all senior executives. In addition, training is to be provided to supervisors and all senior executives on a periodic basis.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by involving senior executives in future refinements to the performance management system and offer training on the system, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To help allow for distinctions in performance, Education shifted from a three-level rating system to a five-level system when revising its senior executive performance management system, effective January 2005. According to the Office of Personnel Management, using a four- or five-level rating system helps allow for meaningful distinctions based on relative performance. Education also recognizes the importance of making distinctions in bonuses among its senior executives. In its 2005 senior executive performance management guidance, Education stated that the highest performing senior executives as demonstrated through their performance ratings will receive the highest bonuses and pay adjustments.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by making meaningful distinctions in senior executive performance through both ratings and bonuses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its agency comments, Education stated that each principal office will be notified of the results of its senior executives' rating and bonus distribution upon final decision by the Secretary. Education also stated that an agency-wide aggregate distribution of performance ratings or bonuses will be given consideration. In January 2008, Education briefed all of its senior executives on the aggregate rating, bonus, pay adjustment distributions from the fiscal year 2005, 2006, and 2007 performance appraisal cycles.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by building in additional safeguards when linking pay to performance by communicating the overall results of the performance management decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education's senior executive performance management policy (dated January 2005) requires senior executives, in their individual performance plans, to identify critical performance priorities unique to the executive's area of responsibility with measurable outcomes, and milestones and execution targets, as appropriate. Specifically, these milestones and targets are to include specific actions, tasks, and implementation strategies the executive plans to take to achieve each priority and the timeframes and expected completion dates for each priority. To track their progress toward the priorities during the year, senior executives are to discuss with their supervisors the actions they are taking to meet the milestones and targets at the mid-point in the appraisal cycle as well as through regular and ongoing communication and feedback throughout the year. At the end of the appraisal cycle, senior executives are to be rated on their actions and performance related to the critical priorities and the other expectations in their individual performance plan.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by requiring senior executives to take follow-up actions based on the performance information available to them in order to make programmatic improvements, and formally recognize executives for these actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Education's senior executive performance management guidance as of 2006, senior executives are held accountable for performance elements in their individual performance plans related to organizational results, customer satisfaction, and employee perspectives and receive information throughout the year toward these measures. For organizational results, senior executives are held accountable for individual and organizational performance taking into account results achieved toward organizational goals they are responsible for. The principal offices are to identify the organizational goals including the Secretary's priorities that their office will achieve during the year. They are held accountable for tracking their progress during the year and assessing their organization's results and senior executive performance against the goals and priorities at the end of the year. The results of the assessment process are documented and fed back to the senior executives so improvements toward organizational results can be made in future years. For employee perspectives and customer satisfaction, the senior executive receives information on customer and employee feedback from the rating official throughout the year. The rating official has the discretion to determine the methods to use to obtain this feedback on the senior executive's performance from employees and customers, such as surveys, meetings, or correspondences.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by providing disaggregated performance information from various sources to help facilitate senior executive decision making and progress in achieving organizational results, customer satisfaction, and employee perspectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education's senior executive performance management policy (dated January 2005) requires senior executives to identify in their individual performance plans specific critical performance priorities to achieve during the year that are derived from and directly align with Education's mission, the Secretary's strategic plan and goals, and the executive's program/policy objectives. For each critical priority, the executives are to include measurable outcomes, milestones, execution targets, and the results to be achieved, as appropriate.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by requiring senior executives to set specific levels of performance that are linked to organizational goals to help them see how they directly contribute to organizational goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In order to create and allow for meaningful distinctions between levels of performance, HHS implemented a four-level rating system for its senior executives beginning in the fiscal year 2005 performance appraisal cycle. According to the Office of Personnel Management, using a four- or five-level rating system for senior executives helps allow for meaningful distinctions based on relative performance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by making meaningful distinctions in senior executive performance through ratings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2007, HHS provided all senior executives information on the revisions to the senior executive performance plan template for fiscal year 2008. Prior to finalizing the template, officials from the Office of Human Resources met with senior executives in the various operating and staff divisions throughout HHS to obtain their input and comments on the revisions, which greatly impacted the final template, according to an HHS official. Also in 2007, HHS's Office of Human Resources conducted 15 training sessions for senior executives across the department that focused on developing results-oriented individual performance plans that align with organizational goals and understanding leadership's role in effective performance management including how to cascade the Secretary's priorities down to individual performance expectations, among other things.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by involving senior executives in future refinements to the performance management system and offer training on the system, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Beginning in the fiscal year 2005 performance appraisal cycle, all HHS senior executives are to be held accountable for demonstrating executive leadership responsibilities, such as successfully leading and facilitating organizational and management change during ongoing transitions, as a critical element in their individual performance plans.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by setting specific performance expectations for senior executives related to leading and facilitating change management initiatives during ongoing transitions throughout the organization that executives should include in their individual performance plans.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA's senior executive performance management guidance (dated February 2005) requires executives, in their individual performance plans, to describe the programmatic crosscutting goals that they will work to achieve through collaboration and list the organizations, such as NASA centers and other organizations, with whom collaboration will occur.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NASA should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by requiring senior executives to identify in their individual performance plans programmatic crosscutting goals that would require collaboration to achieve and clearly identify the relevant internal or external organizations with which they would collaborate to achieve these goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  15. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Through its senior executive performance management system and performance plans for fiscal year 2008, HHS holds senior executives accountable for organizational results and customer and employee perspectives. To address employee perspectives, results of the Federal Human Capital Survey and HHS's all employee survey are shared with senior executives in the operating and staff divisions to help address areas of improvement. For organizational results, HHS assesses the organizational performance for each operating and staff division using a standard template with various factors that align with the executives' individual performance plans--executive leadership, management results as measured through the President's Management Agenda and other areas, and program results. The operating and staff division heads receive the final assessments for their organizations' performance prior to the completion of individual performance ratings for senior executives and they are encouraged to share the results with their senior executives to help inform the appraisal process, according to an HHS official.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by providing disaggregated performance information from various sources to help facilitate senior executive decision making and progress in achieving organizational results, customer satisfaction, and employee perspectives.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  16. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA's senior executive performance management guidance (dated February 2005) requires senior executives to include in their individual performance plans an expectation to lead and facilitate change management initiatives in support of transitions/transformations that contribute to the health of NASA.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NASA should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by setting specific performance expectations for senior executives related to leading and facilitating change management initiatives during ongoing transitions throughout the organization that executives should include in their individual performance plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  17. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In revising its senior executive performance management system that went into effect in March 2005, NASA stated that it incorporated input to the system from a variety of sources including individuals from the NASA Leadership Counsel, a review team of NASA Performance Review Board members, and NASA's installations or centers. To train senior executives on the revised system, NASA's centers provided training to their senior executives and offered assistance as needed to ensure a smooth transition to the new system. Specifically, NASA conducted a "train the trainers" workshop in March 2005 for human resources staff at the NASA centers that included training on the features and requirements of the revised system and how to write effective appraisals. NASA indicated that this training prepared the human resources staff to provide the necessary training and assistance to the senior executives at their center.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NASA should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by involving senior executives in future refinements to the performance management system and offer training on the system, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  18. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In NASA's 2005 performance appraisal cycle, about 53 percent of NASA's senior executives received the highest rating level of "outstanding" compared to 76 percent of senior executives in the 2003 cycle.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NASA should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by making meaningful distinctions in senior executive performance through both ratings and bonuses.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  19. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA stated that the results of the 2004 performance appraisal cycle have been extensively publicized throughout the agency. Specifically, NASA communicated the aggregate performance rating distribution and the percentage of bonus recipients to its senior executives through training sessions and briefings on how to implement its revised senior executive performance management system. NASA also plans to make available to its senior executives the aggregate performance rating and bonus results for its 2005 performance appraisal cycle.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NASA should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by building in additional safeguards when linking pay to performance by communicating the overall results of the performance management decisions.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  20. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA's senior executive performance management guidance (dated February 2005) requires senior executives to include in their individual performance plans an expectation to analyze program performance data and take follow-up actions necessary to achieve programmatic improvements and high-quality results. At the end of the appraisal cycle, senior executives are to be rated on how they met their program objectives by analyzing performance data and taking the necessary follow-up actions, among other things.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NASA should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by requiring senior executives to take follow-up actions based on the performance information available to them in order to make programmatic improvements, and formally recognize executives for these actions.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  21. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Through its senior executive performance plan for the 2006 performance appraisal cycle (completed September 30, 2006), NASA held senior executives accountable for management competencies related to organizational results, customer satisfaction, and employee perspectives. A NASA official stated that the executives receive various types of performance information in a disaggregated format to help achieve these competencies. Specifically, for employee perspectives, NASA provides the senior executives the data from OPM's Federal Human Capital Survey broken out for their center as well as NASA's overall results. For customer satisfaction, NASA senior executives consider other offices or centers within NASA as their customers and supervisors are encouraged to give senior executives feedback that they collect on the executive's performance during the year. A NASA official stated that the emphasis on obtaining customer feedback on the executive was emphasized more strongly this past appraisal cycle mainly due to the interest of top management to make internal coordination and collaboration a strong focus in SES performance management. For organizational results, senior executive receive performance information on how they are meeting the results documented in their individual performance plan from their centers/offices to emphasis the importance of aligning individual expectations with NASA strategic and annual goals and the organizational goals of the center/offices.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NASA should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by providing disaggregated performance information from various sources to help facilitate senior executive decision making and progress in achieving organizational results, customer satisfaction, and employee perspectives.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  22. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA's senior executive performance management guidance (dated February 2005) requires executives to describe in their individual performance plans the program objectives based on their position that they will work to achieve. For each program objective, the executives are to include observable, measurable, and/or demonstrable results that are clearly linked to agency goals.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NASA should reinforce the key practices for effective performance management by requiring senior executives to set specific levels of performance that are linked to organizational goals to help them see how they directly contribute to organizational goals.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 2, 2014

Jul 15, 2014

Jun 6, 2014

May 8, 2014

Apr 9, 2014

Mar 4, 2014

Jan 29, 2014

Jul 18, 2013

Jul 8, 2013

Apr 16, 2013

Looking for more? Browse all our products here