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4 Ways the Public Sector Can Incorporate Learning Into Performance Reviews

Steve Dobberowsky

Director, Strategy and Value Service, Cornerstone

Bacon and eggs. Peanut butter and jelly. Chocolate and peanut butter. Learning and performance? Some things are just better together!

Certainly you have heard of the trends going on in performance management; specifically the move towards doing away with ratings and focusing in on how best to truly develop employees. Some companies, like Amazon, T-Mobile and Deloitte, are foregoing the ratings part of performance reviews all together. This trend is likely far-off for any public-sector organizations for any number of reasons: compliance concerns, union negotiations, aversion to change, you name it. But what we do know is that a strong focus on employee engagement is critical to public sector agencies.

In today’s public sector environment, where agency missions are being scrutinized and staff are being reduced, it’s critical to focus on efforts that increase employee engagement and retention. We want to focus on solutions that are low to no-cost and yield high results in increasing employee engagement. Employees want to know their organizations appreciate them and recognize their career needs. Agencies want their employees to be engaged and willing to do more to achieve their goals and the overall mission.

This is where the opportunity to combine learning and performance really takes shape for the public sector. By focusing in on learning needs in a performance discussion, we shift the conversation from one that is looking in the rear-view mirror to one that is looking forward out of the windshield. The traditional performance management process is often an annual event that is process-driven and emphasizes the appraisal and the rating. By combining learning and performance, agencies can shift the performance process to be ongoing, people-centric and focused on leadership development in real-time.

Here are four ways public sector agencies can incorporate learning into their performance processes.

1) Help Employees Understand Their Career Path

Most employees feel that their agencies aren’t open to having discussions about the next step in their career. We also know that as a society, the ones we turn to for career advice are our family or friends. It’s important that agencies recognize that in today’s world of work, the average employee will have several jobs during the course of their career. It’s a fact that if agencies can embrace and actively promote career paths, they’ll be able to create opportunities for their employees—and boost retention. Agencies should be reinforcing these career paths with visibility and transparency to ensure their employees are aware of them and that it’s abundantly clear what’s required for the transitions.

2) Set Goals for Your Employees

In development as in performance, setting goals is important to ensure your employees know their direction and are set up to achieve their goals on a regular basis. Setting goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented, Time-Bound) ensures that employees know your expectations and exactly what they’re working towards. Agencies need to know that their investment in development is having an impact. When supervisors discuss development opportunities, they should also address accountability; including performance metrics and establishing benchmarks to ensure a shared responsibility for success.

3) Create and Leverage Development Plans

Most of our employees and supervisors don’t think that current performance development processes are effective. Twice-yearly conversations (mid-year and end-of-year reviews) are increasingly not a best practice because they don’t reflect the needs of modern workers, or the fact that goals can evolve.

By creating a development plan and leveraging it in conversations between your employees and supervisors, you can shift the focus of the conversation to one of development. By having these discussions with our own employees, we let them know that we care about their development and we’re making efforts to constantly improve their skills.

As supervisors, you should be identifying your employees’ learning styles, strengths, and development opportunities. Then, leverage the content and the processes that will meet these developmental needs. Be sure to blend formal training (instructor-led classroom sessions, virtual learning platforms, and mobile-responsive courses) with informal, social learning that allows your employees to collaborate to learn. When employees feel that their agencies are investing in their success, they’ll be more likely to take ownership of their growth and performance—and be more engaged!

4) Feedback, Feedback, Feedback!

Continuous feedback is all around us thanks to FitBit, Yelp, Amazon reviews etc. We’re constantly giving and offering feedback. We also consume this feedback to make determinations. Why then, would we limit our conversations about performance of our employees to twice a year and think it’s effective? These periodic processes are too late to impact performance in any significant matter. By having more conversations on a regular, more frequent basis, supervisors and agencies will know where their employees are in their development and will be able to improve performance of their employees. Which, in the end is the goal of effective development initiatives.

Photo: Creative Commons

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