Monday, January 4, 2010

Performance Systems - NSPS

In 2009, Congress directed the Department of Defense (DoD) to dismantle one of Donald Rumsfeld's pet projects, the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), by October 2011. For those of you outside of the department, this system introduced pay for performance, much wider pay bands, and whole lot of extra paperwork for federal managers in the DoD. While the public employee unions may be happy, this was widely seen as payback from the Democratic Congress, as a federal manager, I am not that pleased with the system's demise.

I will be the first to admit that the system, as executed, with some fairly putrid Oracle based software, (sue me Oracle) was difficult to deal with. The amount of time spent mindlessly clicking through screens to accomplish the most basic tasks of entering and approving employee objectives was literally mind-numbing. Every six months, I calculated that I wasted a good four hours of non-value added click and wait time, and that's only because I figured out how to trick the system. (I used the back button on my browser to restore previous screen presentations, supposedly a big no-no. Actually it would error me out of the system occasionally, but was still worth it, time-wise.)

However, I really liked the systems use of performance goals for my employees. Before the start of each fiscal year, the leadership of my group would set goals that we at least attempted to align with the broader goals of our command. Then each supervisor was required to have at least three of the five objectives for employees match the group goals. The second level supervisor would review the goals to ensure compliance.

As the performance and fiscal year drew to a close, there were discussion about real problems that were preventing the achievement of some our goals. But I found that because the performance ratings of employees were tied to our group goals, there was much more focus. Now the system allows the supervisor to give "partial credit" if insurmountable obstacles got in the way of achievement. But everyone also knew that it was much easier to justify a higher rating to the performance review board if the goal was met or exceeded.

I have a talented and great team, but I found this system focused their efforts on what we all had agreed was really important for us to accomplish. We were not dogmatic either, sometimes in mid-year we changed goals as circumstances dictated. But this system helped us keep focus.

As we transition to a new system, I have the rare opportunity to have some influence on what shape it takes. (We are not going back to GS for those readers inside the federal government.) I will certainly push for a system that allows supervisors to set measurable goals for employees.

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