New Keys to Employee Performance and Productivity

By Luthy, John | Public Management, March 1998 | Go to article overview

New Keys to Employee Performance and Productivity


Luthy, John, Public Management


The process of employee performance evaluation has assumed an expanded meaning over the past decade. No longer can it be merely an annual exercise to justify compensation decisions. It is a critical management tool that must become one of the central initiatives within every public agency.

Almost 20 years have passed since public managers began recognizing that traditional performance measurement and employee evaluation systems were inadequate for a rapidly evolving workplace. Even with this realization, however, more than 80 percent of surveyed government organizations still use outdated performance evaluation processes that are insufficient to motivate, encourage, or recognize employees. To say the least, progress has been slow.

Thirty years ago, the work of Frederick Hertzberg and others demonstrated that money alone does not motivate employee performance; nor does it reinforce loyalty or devotion to various organizational initiatives. Rather, it is a "satisfier" that enables an employee to satisfy personal and family needs and, to some degree, to reflect his or her status in the workplace. Even with the information provided by these early studies and by many studies since, public organizations have floundered among simplistic approaches to employee performance evaluation and correspondingly weak attempts to link performance with pay.

This mix has produced a variety of systems that encourage "bracket creep," badly skewing pay systems while discouraging personal initiative, performance, efficiency, dedication, and productivity. Longevity continues to drive far too many compensation decisions, encouraging almost an implosive survivalist mentality rather than collaboration, lateral movement, personal growth, skill transfer, and continuous improvement.

Work over the past two decades has consistently indicated that individual contributions must be based on clear direction, personal planning, individual and team assignments, and well-articulated knowledge, skills, and personal attributes. Without such clarity, employees have no expectations to meet; nor are they able to follow patterns that constitute standard performance ideals in the organization. Only when time is taken to develop a job model for each employee, with detailed assignments and an opportunity for peer review, will evaluation be worthwhile and provide a sensible basis for personal and professional development, career advancement, and merit compensation.

Employee Contribution And Development Planning

After reviewing dozens of evaluation systems, this author believes that there must be an approach that allows dear evaluation based on desired attributes, necessary technical knowledge and skills, and accomplishment toward established objectives. Formal and informal research consistently reveals that employees desperately want to be judged on their accomplishments and to seek new opportunities based on their own abilities to perform. They certainly don't want to be put into a categorical box or compared with fellow employees as the central means of evaluation. Rather, they want to be recognized and rewarded for their unique contributions as they relate to specific job duties, professional capabilities, and overall performance in the organization.

Here are some important questions now being debated more openly by public managers: How can we deal with employees who work hard for two or three years, receive healthy pay increases and even promotions, then begin coasting? When money is tight, are there alternative means of rewarding employees for making consistent and meaningful contributions? What is a logical method of linking employee and/or team performance with compensation? What kinds of compensation are there, and how is each type calculated? What should the relationship be among strategic planning, performance budgeting, and employee evaluation? And, ultimately, how can the evaluation process contribute to teamwork, morale, productivity, initiative, creativity, efficiency, and workplace harmony? …

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