Improving Performance: The Role of Contextual Behavior

In good times and in tough times, Federal agencies need employees to direct their capabilities, energy, and effort towards more than just their core job duties. Mission success requires that employees also recognize—and seize—opportunities to support the agency in ways not necessarily specified in their position descriptions (PDs) nor tied to their formal job tasks. Indeed, agencies need employees to think and behave “outside the box” of formal job tasks and to do, support, or help with what needs to be done in the name of broader mission accomplishment. Agencies need employees to direct their effort towards both task and contextual performance.

What are Task and Contextual Performance?

Employees’ performance at work can be divided into task and contextual performance[1]. Task performance is the “meat” of an employee’s job: the technical, core duties that directly feed into creation of an organization’s products and services. Meanwhile, contextual performance behaviors are the “gravy” or those employee actions that season the work environment where task performance occurs. In essence, contextual performance behaviors make the work environment more conducive to the generation of task performance. There are five general categories[2] of contextual performance behaviors: …..

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Leaders: “Recognizing” Employees Requires More Than Just Knowing Who Works for You

Results of a 2012 American Psychological Association (APA) survey of working Americans indicate that feeling valued was a key driver of engagement and job performance[1]. For example, among employees who indicated that they were valued, 93% agreed that they were motivated to do their best at work and 88% reported that they felt engaged. In sharp contrast, employees who thought they were not valued indicated agreement levels of only 33% and 38%, respectively, to these same questions about motivation and engagement.

MSPB’s research confirms that appreciation is similarly important to Federal employees and Federal agencies. Our analysis revealed that employees who believed that their effort would result in higher performance and that they would receive recognition for that performance were more likely to perform well[2].

For these reasons, appreciation and recognition for a job well done are more than a matter of courtesy. Unfortunately, the trend in Federal employees’ experience of recognition is not positive, …..

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The Federal Civil Service Hiring System Is Out of Balance

There is widespread dissatisfaction with the system for hiring into the Federal civil service. Perhaps it is worth examining how well the Government is living up to what I call the four core values of that system. They are:

  1. Hiring must be merit-based, with selection “determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills.”
  2. There must be “fair and open competition” for Federal jobs “which assures that all receive equal opportunity.”
  3. The Government should “endeavor to achieve a workforce from all segments of society.”
  4. Military veterans shall receive preference for Federal jobs[1].

Few would argue with the wisdom of these values in the abstract, but in practice, the first three values appear underemphasized.

Before looking at outcomes in federal hiring, however, it is worthwhile to recount how the environment for Federal hiring has changed in recent decades. Key changes include: ….. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree that the first three values appear under-emphasized? If yes, which of the following–competition for Federal jobs should be more fair and open, the under-representation of women and non-veterans should be addressed, and managers should have more opportunities to select the best-qualified applicants–do you feel are most essential to bringing the four core values into balance?


The How and Why of an Effective Performance Improvement Plan

As explained in our [MSPB’s] 2009 report, Poor Performers and the Law, title 5 of the U.S. Code currently provides two avenues by which agencies can demote or remove poor performers. The first avenue is codified in Chapter 43, while the second is in Chapter 75. Chapter 43 requires that agencies offer assistance to employees in an attempt to improve their unacceptable performance prior to implementing a performance-based adverse action[1]. Chapter 75 does not require agencies to provide such assistance. However, under Chapter 75, an adverse action’s reasonableness depends, in part, on the extent to which the employee was on notice of the required behaviors[2]. Therefore, a performance improvement plan (PIP) and a reasonable period of time to improve under the plan is necessary under Chapter 43, and can be helpful under Chapter 75.

An effective PIP will typically: …..

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Did any of this content surprise you? Have you seen it put into practice? What would you emphasize if you were advising a supervisor on the use of a performance improvement plan?