Issues of Merit


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Issues of Merit

  1. 1. insights & analyses for Federal human capital management Issues ofSeptember 2011 MeRIT a publication of the U.S. Merit Systems Incorporating Choice into Protection Board, Office of Policy Performance Reward Systems and Evaluation Improve the impact and timeliness of awards by involving employees in designing the reward and recognition program. WhaT’s People like choice. Whether it’s Merit Principles Survey results indicate InsIde selecting friends, picking out a new that only 51 percent of Federal employees car, or selecting a type of cereal at the agreed with the statement, “I am satisfied Director’s Perspective grocery store, individuals appreciate the with the recognition and rewards I receive Page 2 opportunity to choose among alternatives. for my work.”1 This preference for choice occurs in the In light of these challenges, agencies workplace as well. Individuals self-select may want to consider alternative Merit System Principles Education into certain jobs or careers and typically approaches to rewarding employee Page 3 want autonomy in how they do their work performance. One way is to design a tasks. Despite this desire to make tailored reward system that appeals to individuals’ decisions, individuals often have little demonstrated desire for choice. This couldDetermining Who Should say in how they are rewarded for their include widening the range of available Telework performance. This is especially true in the rewards and offering non-monetary Page 4 Federal Government which has historically options to supplement traditional relied on monetary rewards of a modest monetary rewards. These rewards couldOPM’s Training Evaluation nature, delivered once a year at performance include items such as time-off, public Field Guide appraisal time. There are several challenges recognition, lunch with a leader, or gift Page 5 with this approach. certificates to local businesses. First, while monetary incentives may Having a wider range of rewards and The Role Performance be desirable for some individuals, others allowing employees to make personalized Plays in may not find them very motivating. Second, decisions about the rewards they would Conduct-Based Actions to the extent that such rewards are given like to receive for their performance will Page 6 only once a year, individuals may not help ensure such rewards are actually see the connection between their efforts meaningful. Further, the availability of and such outcomes. Third, given budget non-monetary rewards not tied to year-Perceptions of Prohibited Personnel Practices constraints and shortages across many long performance could help supervisors Page 7 Federal agencies, the availability of funds 1 In addition to the 51 percent who agreed, 27 percent to serve as worthwhile rewards has been of respondents disagreed with the statement and 22 and may become increasingly limited. percent neither agreed nor disagreed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the 2010 continued, page 5
  2. 2. insights & analyses for Federal human capital management DIRecToR‘s PeRspecTIve Issues of Lessons Learned: Making MeRIT Strategic Hiring Decisions U.S. Merit Systems In a downsizing environment, there are steps you can take to ensure your Protection Board organization is positioned well to carry out its responsibilities. CHAIRMAN In the 1990s, the Federal 2000s, there was a steep learning curve for Susan Tsui Grundmann Government downsized a considerable some HR staffs. VICE CHAIRMAN portion of its workforce using such For this reason, careful thought needs Anne M. Wagner strategies as attrition, buy-outs, early- to go into what positions are critical to the BOARD MEMBER out retirements, and some reductions- agency’s performance. While retaining Mary M. Rose in-force. It then went through a period expertise is important, so too is building Office of Policy and Evaluation of limited hiring during which agencies bench strength for the future. While were not able to develop much bench cutting support positions often seems to DIRECTOR strength in their key mission-critical be the easiest cuts to make in a resource- John Crum, Ph.D. and support occupations. As the deprived environment, agencies need to DEPUTY DIRECTOR Government likely faces another period plan for how they will fill the voids left by Laura Shugrue of downsizing, we need to take a look at those reductions. the lessons we can learn from the 1990s A second important lesson is thatOur Mission experience. selection processes matter. When hiringThe MSPB Office of Policy andEvaluation conducts studies to First, organizations have to make officials are approved to fill a vacancyassess the health of Federal merit more strategic decisions about what during a period of downsizing, it is criticalsystems and to ensure they are freefrom prohibited personnel practices. positions they will fill and at what to fill it with someone who will be highly levels. In the 1990s, a popular reduction successful. If a bad selection is made,Issues of Merit strategy was “last in, first out” in hiring officials may not get a secondWe offer insights and analyses ontopics related to Federal human which agencies focused on retaining chance to rectify the situation. There arecapital management, particularly their most experienced employees and several steps agencies can take to improvefindings and recommendationsfrom our independent research. de-emphasized the need to fill lower- the effectiveness of their recruitment and graded training positions. This strategy selection processes.Reprint Permission contributed to an aging workforce A good recruitment and selectionWe invite you to reprint any of ourarticles. If you do, please include with a limited pipeline of talent and process starts with having a goodthe following attribution: Reprinted predictions of a “retirement tsunami” understanding of the job. Prior tofrom Issues of Merit, a publicationof the Office of Policy and Evalua- in which critical Government functions advertising the vacancy, hiring officialstion, U.S. Merit Systems Protection would not have been able to keep up should identify what they expect fromBoard. with mission requirements. the person filling the position and ensureFor More Information In addition, many critical support that the job description accurately reflectsContact us at: occupations were ultimately pretty well the expectation and requirements of decimated and had to be rebuilt in the job. This information will convey a clear202-254-4802, ext. 4802 early 2000s. For instance, the number description of the job duties and talent1-800-209-8960 of Federal Human Resource (HR) requirements for successful performance.V/TDD: 202-653-8896(TTY users may use the Federal professionals was reduced by 20 percent Based on this input, hiring officialsRelay Service, 800-877-8339) between 1991 and 1998. Both HR and can work with their HR specialist to line managers complained that the develop a recruitment strategy that targetsU.S. Merit Systems Protection Board expertise of HR Specialists had eroded. qualified applicants. This strategy willOffice of Policy and Evaluation Therefore, when agencies did start to likely differ depending on the type of1615 M Street, NWWashington, DC 20419 increase hiring in the early- to mid- continued, page 32 Issues of Merit July 2011
  3. 3. Director’s Perspective(continued from page 2)job. For general skills, a more broad-based recruitment of the assessment process (see our report Referenceapproach might work, or alternatively you may need Checking in Federal Hiring: Making the Call, 2005).to target your recruitment sources for more specialized Since many assessment tools rely on information reportedoccupations. Providing potential job applicants with a by applicants (e.g., resumes, occupational questionnaires,realistic job preview of what will be required in the job interviews), reference checks may be needed to verifyand the conditions under which they will work (e.g., the information provided, as well as to assess job-relatedposition telework eligible, amount of travel required, competencies not adequately assessed through othernight work only) may help narrow the applicant pool to means.those who are a good match for the organization. Although a well-planned recruitment strategy The most critical step is choosing assessments and careful use of multiple assessment tools can go athat will best identify high potential employees. Our long way in providing hiring officials with valuableresearch has demonstrated that agencies have historically information about candidates, they do not guarantee aoften used ineffective assessment tools, such as low good selection. For this reason, it is important for hiringlevel training and experience measures. The Office of officials to monitor the performance of a new employeePersonnel Management (OPM) has been working with during the probationary period to assess how well theagencies to improve these assessments. Ultimately, employee performs the job. If there are any concernshiring officials and HR specialists need to have a better about performance, the probationary period is the time tograsp of what assessments are better predictors of address and resolve them.future performance and use those instruments to assess While staff reductions are generally a painfulcandidates. For instance, structured interviews are much experience, this focus on strategic workforce decisionsmore predictive than unstructured interviews and provide and good assessment strategies will help minimize themore in-depth detail about the applicant’s competencies shrinking pains. for the job. We have also found that, when performed correctly,reference checks can be a valid and useful component Director, Policy and Evaluation Merit System Principles Education and Awareness Are you familiar with the merit system principles? The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) thinks you should be. The merit system principles are nine basic standards that govern the management of the Executive Branch workforce and form the basis of Federal merit systems. The principles were codified in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and can be found at 5 U.S.C. § 2301(b). In addition to conducting merit systems studies, MSPB’s proposed 2012-2016 Strategic Plan emphasizes our responsibility to educate the public and Federal employees about the fundamental characteristics of a merit system. We have already taken some steps in support of this initiative. In January of 2011, MSPB launched a new series, “The Merit System Principle of the Month,” which can be found at You will find a page devoted to information about each principle and their purpose in a “Frequently Asked Questions” format, along with other relevant information. We will follow this series with another monthly series on the prohibited personnel practices. So be sure to visit our website at The MSPB is also offering a free educational session to EEO practitioners on October 19, 2011 at MSPB’s headquarters in Washington, DC. This session will provide an overview of agency jurisdiction, mixed cases, prohibited personnel practices, and recently issued studies. Participants will also learn about MSPB’s appeals and hearing process and have an opportunity to speak directly to an MSPB Administrative Judge. We have already received positive feedback on previous educational sessions held. Any Federal Sector EEO practitioner interested in attending the October session should contact Jerry Beat, MSPB’s EEO Director on (202) 254-4405 or at of Merit September 2011 3
  4. 4. Want Successful Telework? Choose GoodTeleworkersThere are certain factors that supervisors and telework-eligible employees should consider whenmaking decisions about who should and should not telework. Successful telework requires organizations to identifyand implement the approach that is most appropriate Questions supervisors and employeesfor their situation. Therefore, organizations and theirleaders need to make judicious decisions that take into should consider when making teleworkaccount anticipated telework benefits, concerns, and eligibility determinationsimplementation considerations. One such decision isdetermining criteria for teleworker eligibility. While Is my employee able to... Am I able to...criteria must be consistent with the law, the specificdetails fall under the purview of each organization. • Independently plan and organize the necessary work to Although an organization may determine that fill telework days?telework is appropriate for a specific work unit, that does • Reliably meet performance expectations from a non-not mean it is appropriate for every employee in that duty station location?work unit. Supervisors are probably in the best position • Maintain discipline, focus, and self-motivation in theto make good decisions about who should and should absence of direct supervision?not be allowed to telework, and they should base those • Work effectively without the structure of the daily office decisions on job-related information obtained through routine?good performance management practices. • Use technology to effectively maintain communication, Dovetailed with good supervisor decisions about teamwork, and work relationships while teleworking?telework eligibility criteria is the personal readiness of • Be available and responsive for timely contact andan employee to be an effective teleworker. Participation other work unit needs such as remote participation inin a telework arrangement is voluntary, and not everyone meetings and contribution to unexpected assignments?is right for or interested in teleworking. Therefore, • Be flexible in the scheduling of telework days and it is important for employees to conduct an honest willing to come to the office to meet work unit or office self-assessment to determine whether or not they are coverage needs or supervisor requests?personally prepared to telework. • Abide by standards for information and data integrity, Interestingly, the kinds of questions supervisors need privacy, and security?to ask about their employees’ preparedness for telework • Resist temptation to engage in non-work or personalare the same types of questions that telework-eligible tasks while teleworking at home?employees should ask themselves, as shown in the • Ignore or prevent distractions that could stem from theaccompanying box. Supervisors’ use of sound telework home environment or family members?eligibility criteria can work in concert with employees’honest self-assessments to ensure that those who areteleworking can—and should be—teleworking. Goodeligibility criteria and good self assessments should resultin good teleworkers who will support the organization’s • The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 availableability to accomplish its mission. at For more information on how to make effective PLAW-111publ292.pdfdecisions about telework for your organization, see • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s AprilMSPB’s upcoming report, Telework: Weighing the 2010 Guide to Telework in the Federal GovernmentInformation, Determining an Appropriate Approach. In available at, two valuable resources to help you make the legislation/telework_guide/telework_guide.pdf. most of telework in your organization are:4 Issues of Merit September 2011
  5. 5. New from OPM: Training Evaluation Field GuideOPM provides a new resource to help agencies evaluate the effectiveness of their training programs. Federal agencies are required to evaluate their emphasis on best practices in Federal agencies makestraining programs each year to show that these programs the guide’s advice accessible to Federal employees, evenmeet the agency’s goals and contribute to its long-term if they are new to training evaluation. It allows themmission.1 Training officers, HR specialists, and others to focus on establishing the “return on expectation” oftasked with this reporting responsibility now have training in their public sector setting rather than try toan additional resource. This year, the U.S. Office of adapt “return on investment” strategies designed forPersonnel Management (OPM) released the Training business environments.Evaluation Field Guide that describes best practices from The guide’s value to Federal training professionals15 Federal agencies.2 is its focus on evaluating training specifically in Federal OPM’s guidance is consistent with a widely-used agencies. For example, it describes how to documenttraining evaluation model that distinguishes between four a chain of evidence about training effectiveness thatlevels of information: satisfaction with training, learning communicates training impact to agency leaders. Therefrom training, transfer of learning to job performance, and are also suggestions about how to divide responsibility forpositive impact of that performance on the organization.3 training effectiveness among agency personnel and howIt also draws upon evaluation guidance from the training to create a “dashboard” of measures that monitors trainingprofession.4 effectiveness over time. The guide presents case studies and example MSPB’s 2010 report, Making the Right Connections:materials from several agencies. Information for the guide Targeting the Best Competencies for Training, highlightswas gathered from participants in a cross-agency working the role of effective training evaluation in developing agroup hosted by OPM in 2010. These participants high-performing Federal workforce. In this report, and incontributed important materials and perspective. This previous Issues of Merit articles5, MSPB has encouraged agencies to evaluate training and to use this information1 5 CFR 410.202 to improve the training options available to Federal2 Available at employees. The Training Evaluation Field Guide is an3 Kirkpatrick, J.D., & Kirkpatrick, W.K. (2010). Training on Trial. NewYork, NY: AMACOM. informative resource that may help agencies improve their4 American Society for Training and Development. (2009). The Value of practice of training evaluation. Evaluation: Making Training Evaluations More Effective. Alexandria,VA: ASTD. 5 “10-Minute Training Evaluation for Busy Supervisors,” (April, 2009). Issues of Merit, 14(2).Rewarding Employees(continued from page 1)make more timely and continuous decisions regarding occurs, albeit in a non-monetary manner.recognition. Together, these features could engender more Naturally, managers would need to exerciseemployee satisfaction with the reward system. discretion in determining who gets rewards and when. There are various approaches to customizing a Fair treatment of employees is paramount for the successreward system. As an example, managers could ask their of any reward system. Although attractive, it is importantemployees to work together to develop a list of cost- to note that such a reward system may not be appropriatesensitive, non-monetary rewards that would be desirable. in every situation. However, it underscores that employeesThese items—once approved by the manager—could then can be involved in determining the rewards that would bebe organized into “reward tiers” that would designate meaningful and motivating to them. Further, it highlightsdifferent levels of performance to be recognized. that a reward system can complement employees’ desireAs appropriate, employees could then be rewarded to make personalized decisions. Finally, it acknowledgesthroughout the year in a more personalized and “on-the- that achievement-oriented rewards may enable managersspot” fashion by choosing from the reward list. This could to be more timely and continuous in recognizing andhelp supervisors better link rewards to performance as it reinforcing good performance when it occurs. Issues of Merit September 2011 5
  6. 6. Conduct-Based Actions: Why Performance Matters In 2009, MSPB surveyed proposing and deciding whose employees were in the above average performanceofficials who were involved in enacting suspensions category reported that the quality of the employee’sof 14 days or less and removal actions to get a better performance was very important when deciding thesense of the factors impacting management’s decision to penalty. However, only 28 percent of respondents for thediscipline an employee for misconduct. The result? The less than average performance category reported that theemployee’s performance may not matter in the decision quality of the employee’s performance was take a conduct-based action, but even in cases where Thus, performance is more likely to be a mitigating factorperformance was not one of the charges, performance than an aggravating factor in the selection of a penalty.does matter when it comes to determining the penalty. Not surprisingly, an employee’s performance level Survey results show that of those employees who also played a role in the predicted quality of the employeehad a conduct-based action taken against them, poor in the future. We asked respondents if they thought thatperformers were no more likely to be disciplined than the employee in question would be a “good Federalaverage or above average performers. Twenty-two percent employee in the future.” Respondents predicted that 77of respondents indicated that the performance level of the percent of employees who were considered better thanemployee they disciplined was above average, 23 percent average performers would be good Federal employeesreported a level of less than average, and the rest reported in the future, compared with only 6 percent of belowa performance level of average. average performers.2 While employees of all performance levels were For removal actions, respondents were even lessdisciplined for misconduct, respondents’ estimation of likely to predict the individual would be a good Federalthe employee’s performance level had an apparent impact employee if given another chance elsewhere. Of thoseon the penalty implemented. For those employees who respondents who removed a below average performer,received short suspensions, there was little difference not one indicated that the individual was likely to bein performance level—24 percent were categorized as a good Federal employee if given another chance.3 Ofbetter than average performers and 22 percent as less those whose performance was average, 54 percent werethan average. But, there was a large difference in the considered unlikely to be a good Federal employeeperformance level among those employees who were elsewhere. However, only 27 percent of better thanremoved—only 14 percent were considered better than average performers were considered unlikely to be a goodaverage and 31 percent were worse than average. Federal employee elsewhere. These results indicate that One possible reason why there are fewer above respondents consider their employees’ performance to beaverage performers in the removal category than in the a critical factor in whether someone is a good employee,short suspension category is that agencies do not want even when there is an act of misconduct so severe that itto do without the employees’ services. Their removal results in removal. This may be because they think poorwould be the permanent loss of good performance, even if conduct is easier to rectify than poor performance.retention increases the risk of more misconduct. Management officials should continue to consider Considering an employee’s performance when the extent to which an employee’s performance isdetermining the penalty for a conduct-based action is an aggravating or a mitigating factor and to informencouraged under the Douglas Factors. The Douglas employees that this will be taken into considerationFactors are a list of 12 items that agencies are expected when considering the appropriate penalty.4 In the end,to consider when determining what penalty is most if an employee engages in misconduct, a history of goodappropriate for a particular situation. Specifically, officials performance may be the best defense available. must consider whether “the employee’s past workrecord, including… performance on the job” is relevantto the penalty, and to what extent it is an aggravating or 1 Douglas v. Veterans Administration, 5 M.S.P.R. 280, 305 (1981).mitigating factor.1 2 For employees with average performance, 42 percent were predicted to be good and 30 percent to not be good. Our data also show that good performance is more 3 83 percent of respondents disagreed that the below average performerlikely to matter to the proposing and deciding officials would be a good employee if given another chance elsewhere. 4 Ward v. U.S. Postal Service, 634 F.3d 1274, 1279 (Fed. Cir.than bad performance. Forty percent of respondents 2011).6 Issues of Merit September 2011
  7. 7. Avoiding Prohibited Personnel Practices IsGood BusinessPerceptions of the prohibited personnel practices have declined dramatically in the last 18 years,and avoiding these practices can be important to ensuring good business practices. The prohibited personnel practices (PPPs) are a management official has granted an unauthorizedcodified in 5 U.S.C. § 2302 and are a list of prohibited advantage to an individual in a recruitment action alsomotives for taking a personnel action. As a part of our dropped dramatically from 25.3 percent in 1996 tostatutory responsibility to assess the health of Federal 7 percent in 2010. PPPs in the Federal Governmentmerit systems, MSPB regularly conducts Government- are serious, but they also appear to be increasinglywide surveys in which we ask about employee perceptions uncommon.regarding whether PPPs are—or are not—occurring in the However, our 2010 survey data also show that thereworkplace. may be a business case for continued efforts to reduce the In our upcoming report, Prohibited Personnel frequency with which employees perceive occurrencesPractices: Employee Perceptions, we provide an of PPPs. As can be seen in the chart below, employeesexplanation of what each PPP means and the frequency who perceived a PPP, whether observed or personallywith which the PPPs have been observed from 1992 to the experienced, were less likely to be engaged at work, aspresent. measured by MSPB’s engagement index.1 In addition, Our survey results show that perceptions of the more PPPs an employee reported observing, the lessoccurrences of PPPs have declined dramatically since likely the employee was to be engaged. In fact, as shown1992. For instance, the percentage of employees reporting in the chart below, those employees who observed twothat they were discriminated against based on race/ PPPs had a lower level of engagement than those whonational origin decreased from 13.4 percent in 1992 to personally experienced one. Thus, while avoiding PPPs is5 percent in 2010; sex-based discrimination perceptions a legal requirement, it can also be argued that it is a goodwent from 12.2 to 3.9 percent; perceptions of interference business practice. with the right to compete have steadily dropped since For more on the engagement index, see MSPB’s report The Power of 11996, from 17.6 to 4.8 percent; and perceptions that Federal Employee Engagement, available at Employee Perceptions of PPPs and Levels of EngagementIssues of Merit September 2011 7
  8. 8. FIRST CLASS MAIL POSTAGE & FEES PAID MSPB 20419 PERMIT NO. G-113U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board1615 M Street, NWWashington, DC 20419 Issues of September 2011 MeRIT Volume 16 Issue 4In ThIs Issue * In ThIs Issue * In ThIs IssueIncorporating Choice into Reward Merit System PrinciplesSystems. Explore how agencies can Education. Find out more aboutbetter use performance and reward MSPB’s efforts to increase awareness Conduct-Based Actions. Doessystems to motivate employees in of the merit system principles. performance play a role in conduct-tough times. (Page 1) (Page 3) based disciplinary actions? (Page 6) Deciding Who Teleworks. Both supervisors and employees play an important role in determining who can effectively telework. (Page 4)Director’s Perspective. With Prohibited Personnel Practices.potential downsizing on the horizon, OPM’s Training Evaluation Field What do Federal employees think?agencies need to think strategically Guide. A look at a new resource that (Page 7)about what positions they will fill and helps agencies evaluate thehow they will select the best people effectiveness of their trainingfor those positions. (Page 2) programs. (Page 5)