Thumbs up for VOA performance pilot

Chief people officer gives thumbs up to VOA performance pilot

The government’s chief people officer, Rupert McNeil, has praised the Valuation Office Agency’s new approach to performance management in a letter to Prospect negotiator Rose Willis.

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McNeil said: “VOA have invested heavily in making the performance achievement scheme a success and it’s encouraging to see such positive outcomes starting to emerge.

“I have also taken a close personal interest in the trial and attended performance development review panels and manager learning interventions earlier this year.

“I have therefore seen first-hand how new ways of working have begun to make a significant difference to how people approach and value performance management in VOA.”

McNeil was responding to a letter sent by Willis in June, where she explained that Prospect endorses VOA’s new approach and encouraged him to allow other civil service employers to adopt it.

Features of VOA pilot

The VOA launched the pilot scheme in July 2016. Its key features are:

  • Objectives are set in July but encouraged to be more bite-sized and short term.
  • Line managers carry out monthly coaching conversations with each of their staff.
  • There are no box marks and no final rating.
  • Every quarter, senior managers, with HR support, discuss staff who are in categories other than “achieving”,  to jointly identify development opportunities and support requirements.  These categories are “high potential”, “emerging potential”, “new to role”, “needs support” and “underperforming”.
  • It is expected that staff will “flow” in and out of the categories.
  • There is no category for “outstanding” performance but two categories of development potential.
  • High performance individuals or teams in current roles can be rewarded through VOA’s in-year bonus scheme.   
  • Staff cannot stay in “needs support” or “underperformance” categories indefinitely – formal “poor performance” measures will be invoked.

McNeil said he and his colleagues in the VOA were “extremely grateful for the strong and sustained support which trade union colleagues have given the trial. This has been immensely helpful in starting to deliver the culture change necessary to the success of the trial”.

Rose Willis said: “Early evidence shows that VOA Prospect members have been nothing but positive about the PAS scheme. There has not so far been an increase in staff being unfairly, or overhastily, put into formal poor performance procedures, to enable dismissal.”

Next steps

Although McNeil said his team did not intend to prescribe a “one-size fits all” approach across the civil service, he did say departments were “keen to collectively agree the fundamental aspects of good practice that should be built into any system”.

He added that the final evaluation from the VOA system, and outcomes from other trials, would “inform collective discussions about performance management across the wider civil service as well as departments’ individual thinking”.

End to forced distribution

The civil service decided in December 2016, after strong pressure from Prospect, to move away from a system of forced distribution that sought arbitrary quotas for performance categories, including underperformers. Instead departments and agencies would have flexibility to develop and design their own performance management systems in future within a framework of guiding principles.