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Highlights

Many factors contribute to an organization's success in accomplishing its mission, but none more than the effective management and utilization of its greatest asset--its employees. A high-performing organization relies on a dynamic workforce with the requisite talents, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills to ensure that it is equipped to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals. An effective performance management system can help an organization manage the day-to-day activities that allow employees to perform at their highest levels by creating a clear linkage--"line of sight"--between individual performance and organizational success. In the current environment where federal agencies are facing the challenges of transforming themselves, some agencies have begun to create results-oriented organizational cultures where unit and individual performance is linked to organizational goals. Effective performance management systems can help create such cultures by providing objective information to allow managers to make meaningful distinctions in performance in order to reward top performers and deal with poor performers. For example, final regulations establishing the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) new human capital system state that DHS supervisors and managers are to be held accountable for making meaningful distinctions among employees based on performance, fostering and rewarding excellent performance, and addressing poor performance. Although poor performance is not defined by statute, title 5 of the United States Code characterizes unacceptable performance as "performance of an employee which fails to meet established performance standards in one or more critical elements of such employee's position." The DHS and the proposed Department of Defense (DOD) systems deny pay increases to employees with unacceptable performance ratings. The exact number of poor performers in the federal government is unknown; however, it is generally agreed that even a small number of poor performers can have a negative impact on the work environment. In this regard, general agreement exists that poor performance should be addressed earlier rather than later, with the objective of improving the performance. Surveys of supervisors and employees have identified a number of impediments to taking action to deal with poor performance. Based on a Congressional request for information on issues relating to the management of poor performers in the federal government, our objectives were to: (1) synthesize and update currently available information related to the a) magnitude of the poor performer issue in the federal government; b) tools and approaches available to agencies, including DHS and DOD, for addressing poor performance; and c) impediments identified to dealing with poor performers; and (2) present key factors for addressing poor performance, based on past work and leading practices.

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