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Bob Copyright © 2017 by Robert D.

Behn

Behn’s Performance Leadership Report


An occasional (and maybe even insightful) examination of the issues, dilemmas, challenges,
and opportunities for improving performance and producing real results in public agencies.
“What were they thinking?”
On why there is a significant difference between Vol. 14, No. 9, May 2017

Firing Poor Performers and Producing Results


No one creates a mere “plan” any- lines or online eyeballs. Mulvaney writes. But, he emphasizes,
more. Today, public managers must Still, Mulvaney’s desire “to maxi- these managers should also “move
create a “comprehensive plan.” mize employee performance” deserves quickly to address employees who are
Last month, Mick Mulvaney, direc- attention. Indeed, his effort to focus not meeting performance expecta-
tor of the U.S. Office of Management federal agencies on maximizing per- tions”—which includes, “if necessary,
and Budget issued his “Comprehen- formance is important. Yet, what he removing poor performers.”
sive Plan for Reforming the Federal means by the word “performance” let Mulvaney does highlight several
Government and Reducing the Fed- alone by the phrase “to maximize” management practices that help to
eral Civilian Workforce.” In this 14 may not be obvious in his memo. improve performance. But a clear
page memo, he uses the words plan, After all, at the Departments of subtext is a focus on poor (individual)
plans or planning 86 times. Mulvaney Veterans Affairs and Agriculture, the performers. Thus, an agency’s June
must love plans. meaning of the phrase “maximize plan to maximize employee perfor-
Most of the response to this memo- performance” would be very different. mance “must include a process for
randum focused on OMB’s plan “to The “Agency Reform Plans” that fed- reviewing and updating (or creating, if
prepare a long-term plan to reduce eral departments are required to sub- one does not already exist) the
the size of the Federal workforce.” mit to OMB in September might in- agency's policy, procedures, and guid-
Moreover, by June 30, OMB expects clude approaches that are very simi- ance on how to address poor perfor-
all federal agencies to provide it with lar—indeed might include words that mance and conduct.”
a report on “progress on near-term are very similar. But their plans for Indeed, to “Provide Transparency
workforce reduction actions.” Reduc- maximizing performance will, neces- around the Performance Improvement
ing the number of federal employees sarily, have to be quite different. Plan (PIP) Process,” an agency’s June
starts now. The agency plans that Mulvaney plan “must include a timeline for
In January, President Trump im- seeks are not, however, designed to providing all supervisors a copy of the
posed a hiring freeze that might well maximize agency performance. He rules and guidance regarding perfor-
make sense. After all, it isn’t obvious seeks plans “to maximize employee mance improvement plans (PIP) pur-
whether every federal agency has the performance” [emphasis added]. suant to 5 U.S.C. Chapter 43.” This
correct number of employees. Some may sound innocuous. But to any
might need fewer. Some might need federal employee, it is threatening.
more. For each agency, its staffing Any new administration might This is because Chapter 43 of Title
needs depend upon the results the want to sort out: What results 5 of the United States Code deals with
administration wants it to achieve. should each agency seek to steps required to terminate or demote
Thus, at the beginning of any ad- achieve? What strategy should it a federal employee. And a PIP is one
ministration, it might make sense to use to do this? Then, what kind of of the ways many federal agencies
sort that out: What purpose should people does it need to implement meet these requirements.
each agency seek to achieve? What this strategy? But that is not the To Mulvaney, one way to improve
level of results should it produce in rationale for OMB’s hiring freeze. the performance of the federal govern-
four years? What strategy should it ment (and reduce the size of the fed-
use to do this? And what kind of eral workforce) is to focus on individ-
people—not just how many—does it This phrase seems odd. After all, uals with “poor performance.”
need to implement this strategy? no federal employee produces his or Discarding the bottom of any dis-
But that is not behind this hiring her own results. The performance of tribution will clearly raise the aver-
freeze. Its purpose is to prevent agen- the U.S. government—of any govern- age. But it will certainly not “maxi-
cies from adding employees to their ment; indeed of any organization—is mize” the collective performance of
baseline before it must start cutting. collective performance. No employee the entire agency’s employees. d
Lost in the reactions to Mulvaney’s of General Motors produces an entire
“long-term plan to reduce the size of car. No teacher is the sole educator of Robert D. Behn, a lecturer at Harvard
the Federal Government's workforce” a child. University's John F. Kennedy School
has been his charge to agencies, to Mulvaney, however, did not use of Government, chairs the executive-
“develop a plan to maximize employee the phrase “maximize employee perfor- education program “Driving Govern-
performance by June 30.” Compared mance” to focus attention on “perfor- ment Performance: Leadership Strate-
with the phrase “workforce reduc- mance.” His key word is “employee.” gies that Produce Results.” His book,
tion,” the word “performance” doesn’t “Certainly, it is important that man- The PerformanceStat Potential, is
produce as many newspaper head- agers recognize high performers,” available in paperback.

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