Managers Can Fire Bad Feds, They Just Don’t

Federal managers could easily fire most poor performing employees early in their career, they just don’t. They also could quickly remove new supervisors from positions for which they turn out to be ill suited and return them to the non-supervisory roles at which they excelled. But they rarely do. That’s according to research compiled by the Merit Service Protection Board and released Tuesday.

In “Adverse Actions: The Rules and the Reality,” MSPB aims to give federal managers a guide to better managing the workforce by more quickly shedding poor performers.

For starters, new employees and new supervisors almost always serve in a probationary capacity for one or two years. During that time, they can be fired with no advance notice and very limited or no right of appeal, depending on the position.  (For more, click here.)

Do hiring managers at your agency use the probationary period as intended? What situations have you seen where proper use of probation would have eliminated a performance or disciplinary problem before it mushroomed?


OPM’s Guidance on Firing Bad Employees Will Remind You That It’s Complicated

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday reminded federal managers that they have several tools at their disposal to discipline poor performers or employees engaged in misconduct.

OPM released 22-page guidance — not intended to be “comprehensive” — outlining the various disciplinary procedures for Title 5 employees, depending on whether the issue is performance-related, or a result of misconduct. The guidance walks agencies through the proper steps, including notification and documentation, required for suspending, reassigning, demoting and firing employees and members of the Senior Executive Service.

“Maximizing employee performance and addressing misconduct, when appropriate, is a critical responsibility of managers and supervisors,” wrote acting OPM Director Beth Cobert in an accompanying memorandum. “If the available management tools are used appropriately and when needed, managers and supervisors have an opportunity to deter future performance or misconduct challenges, and employees have an opportunity to improve their performance or correct their behavior, all of which will benefit the agency.”

The OPM guidance, as government documents go, is pretty informative and jargon-free. But the guidance, which outlines an extensive process for many disciplinary actions, also is a … (For more, click here.)

Have you ever been involved in having to deal with misconduct or poor performance? What tips would you have for others having to do the same?

Beware Attempting to Fix a Difficult Employee

New(er) managers often step all over this issue of fixing people. I know I did. Twice. Both situations ended in disasters. The lesson: it’s never your job to fix a difficult employee.

It turns out that regardless of your great intentions, powers of moral suasion, and investment in time, sweat, and tears, you cannot fix a person. The individual in question has to want to change. You can set the stage and provide the opportunities, but you have a lot less influence on this situation than you might think. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with what the author says he should have done in the case he describes? Do you agree with his statement that “You are not in the business of fixing people. You are accountable for driving results.”?

3 Ideas for Dealing with Problem Employees

Three recent publications raised the issue of dealing with problem employees. The Office of Personnel Management released the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, highlighting the perception among employees that their agencies do not do enough to deal with problem employees.  The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report, Tables of Penalties: Examining Sexual Misconduct in the Federal Workplace and Lax Federal Responses, that addressed inconsistencies in and among agencies on dealing with problem employees, in general and specifically on the issue of sexual misconduct. The Merit System Protection Board released a study on performance management, Building Blocks for Effective Performance Managementthat focused on the relationship between the agency’s “Agency Performance Management Environment” and employee performance and the ability to deal with poor performers. The MSPB report made the news because of a singe sentence that said having a small number of employees removed for poor performance could be a good sign. That statement was not the point of the report.

The three reports addressed the government’s ability to deal with problem employees, but from different perspectives. The OPM FEVS report simply reported the data. In one of many questions, it showed that employees generally do not believe their agencies do enough to deal with problem employees. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with the author’s 3 ideas? Which do you think would be most helpful at the agencies you have worked for?



The Performance Revolution Government Needs

In a recent column, Terry Gerton, President of the National Academy of Public Administration, noted that government will not be able to solve many problems until the civil service system is reformed. NAPA’s new white paper, “No Time to Wait:  Building a Public Service for the 21st Century,” spells out the need clearly.

I have made the same argument many times in this publication, although my background is very different from that of Gerton’s or the report’s authors. I have never worked in government. The qualification that’s relevant here is the realization that people who look forward to going to work in the morning are lucky.  I’ve known too many government employees who are frustrated and angry about their experience at work.

But several comments added at the end of the column raise an important issue. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree or disagree with the author’s premise that there is a need for a “revolution”? Why or why not?


Agencies Could Learn a Lot from Tennessee’s Shift to Pay for Performance

Federal agencies will certainly not be the first public employer to switch to pay for performance. The most recent may be Tennessee, and by all standards it’s demonstrated one of most successful transitions. The stat’s civil service reform efforts offer many lessons for the federal government. For more, click here.

What aspects of the Tennessee pay-for-performance plan do you think would work at your agency or organization? Which would not?

4 Perceptions (and Realities) about Federal Adverse Actions

Perception 1

It is impossible to fire a Federal employee.

Reality: From FY 2000-2014, over 77,000 full-time, permanent, Federal employees were discharged as a result of performance and/or conduct issues[1].

Perception 2

Agency leaders have no authority to serve as proposing or deciding officials in title 5 adverse actions.

Reality: Title 5 empowers the agency to take an adverse action. If agency leadership chooses to delegate the proposal or decision authority to lower levels, then it cannot interfere with the decision-making process of those delegees. But, prior to the assigned decision-maker’s involvement in a particular case, current statutes permit delegations to be abandoned or modified at will by the agency[2].

Perception 3

There are no legal barriers to firing an employee in the private sector.

Reality: Many of the laws that apply to removing employees in the Federal civil service also apply to private sector employment or have a similar counterpart, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII – Equal Employment Opportunity), and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), both of which permit private sector employees to pursue litigation[3].

Perception 4

An agency must pay a salary to an employee who has been removed until any appeal has been resolved.

Reality: An employee is not paid while appealing his/her removal to MSPB. If the action is found to have been unwarranted, then reinstatement and back pay may be awarded. But, there is no pay while removed[4].

Reprinted from Issues of Merit, a publication of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.



[1] Analysis of data from U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Central Personnel Data File (CPDF), FY 2000-FY 2014.

[2] Goeke v. Department of Justice, 122 M.S.P.R. 69, ¶ 23 (2015); see Boddie v. Department of the Navy, 827 F.2d 1578, 1580 (Fed. Cir. 1987); Ward v. U.S. Postal Service, 634 F.3d 1274, 1279 (2011); 5 U.S.C. § 7513.

[3] See 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301-4333 (USERRA); Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pub. L. No. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241, § 706(e)-(g) (authorizing discrimination litigation in Federal courts).

[4] See 5 U.S.C. § 5596 (b)(1)(A).

Effective Performance Discussions: Don’t Forget to Look Forward

Much of the guidance on performance evaluation focuses on measurement— developing standards of performance, evaluating performance against those standards, and documenting the results. Performance evaluations matter greatly to employees as a factor in pay decisions and as a lasting reflection of the organization’s valuation of employees’ work contributions. Thus, it is important that they be done carefully rather than casually.

Performance evaluations and performance discussions should not focus exclusively on the past. The purpose of performance evaluation—and the employee-supervisor discussion of an evaluation—is not merely to look back. It is also to look forward—to think about what should be done to sustain or improve performance. Indeed, one of OPM’s warranty conditions for a performance management program is “commitment to… conscientious development of employees.” That look forward should include both performance (What results do we want?) and the person (What skills or support does the employee need to achieve those results?). …

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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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