Management & Labor

Making Performance a Priority in Georgia

Performance measurement isn't a once-a-year event -- it's an ongoing process.
by | April 2011

During his tenure, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue made it a goal to create the “best managed state” and “employer of choice.” That meant the outdated, paper-based, inconsistent performance-review process for employees needed to be changed—significantly. In its place, Perdue wanted a standardized system that would not only provide year-round feedback on employee performance, but also would help employees and managers work toward statewide and agency-wide goals.

During initial planning for the ePerformance Management System, the goal was to create “a more central and cohesive process for evaluating performance,” says Ann Phillips, director of the Workforce Services Division of the State Personnel Administration (SPA). As part of the transition, Georgia also wanted to transfer employees from a standard compensation system to a pay-for-performance system.

To achieve this, Perdue brought in outside help. “The governor saw the need to bring in field experts to talk about state government in general and how we could do things differently and better,” Phillips says. “So he brought in experts from across the board.” These experts came from the federal government, local governments and the private sector, and they sat on boards created by the governor that looked at a variety of state functions. The board’s recommendations were evaluated, and some -- like the performance measurement system -- were put into action.

The old employee performance measurement system developed goals based on individual job responsibilities, and, because no electronic record existed, failed to provide employees with access to their performance plan or written manager feedback throughout the year.

With the state’s goal of standardizing performance measurement across all agencies and moving to performance pay, a set of measures that could apply broadly to anyone in the state had to be developed. These goals also would need to be tracked year-round by employees, managers and HR representatives.

The best way to achieve this, officials decided, was to create a performance measurement system based on core competencies that could be applied to all employees no matter their agency or position. The new system would send a message to employees: Working in Georgia state government isn’t just about doing your job well, it’s about having the skills and knowledge that can advance statewide missions.

The competencies on which employees are evaluated stem from an employee’s knowledge, skills and abilities, to name a few factors. Using these, the state honed in on five key competencies: customer service, teamwork and cooperation, accountability, results orientation, and judgment and decision-making. Managers also were given the opportunity to choose from 11 additional competencies to evaluate their own employees. These managers, who would be held accountable for the performance rating of each employee, would also be reviewed on two additional competencies—talent management and transformers of government. These competencies were evaluated in conjunction with individual goals developed for each employee, which were meant to aid in achieving the core competencies.

Before the ePerformance Management System was created, Georgia evaluated employees on a three-tier performance management system, which ranked performance on whether an employee met, did not meet or exceeded expectations. Incorporating this concept into the new system, the ePerformance developers created a five-tier rating system that placed employees into one of the following categories: unsatisfactory performer, successful performer-minus, successful performer, successful performer-plus or exceptional performer.

Measuring each employee’s performance breaks down into four phases. First, the manager and employee meet to develop a performance plan based on the identified core competencies. A path toward achieving agency and state goals through personal goals is created, and then reviewed during midterm and annual performance evaluations. Next the manager and employee have discussions throughout the year to review how the employee is progressing. The manager can use an online performance diary offered by the ePerformance system to record notes or thoughts on an employee’s daily performance. The third phase in the performance management process is the actual review, during which the employee completes a self-evaluation form, which the manager reviews. Then the manager completes his or her own review of the employee’s performance against the core competencies and performance plan. In the fourth phase, the employee can be recognized for achieving his or her goals. This recognition can include a flexible work schedule, additional responsibilities or a chance to develop new skills to help that employee work toward career goals.

To transition from the paper-based, nonstandardized system to the electronic, streamlined system efficiently, the state ran a pilot with nine agencies beginning in July 2008 that consisted of approximately 25,000 employees. All of the executive agencies that report to the governor, or the remaining 63,000 employees, were brought on board in July 2009.

As for moving to a pay-for-performance system, the decentralized nature of Georgia government allowed the state’s more than 120 separate agencies to individually decide whether or not to compensate employees in this fashion. Because of this, some agencies have already shifted to pay-for-performance based on the core competencies while others are using the core competencies and goals strictly for measuring employee performance.

One result of this new system is that it will help the state maintain a streamlined process thanks to the consolidation of job descriptions. With all employees working toward the same competencies, the state decreased the number of job descriptions from 3,500 to 750.

A number of states have expressed interest in Georgia’s competencies-based performance system. Whether these governments can be successful, however, depends on whether they have the funds available to devote to it.

With a start-up cost of approximately $450,000, Georgia’s performance measurement system costs $60,000 annually, which covers one full-time employee and system maintenance. The program is funded through assessed fees that state agencies pay directly to SPA. “It’s really all about funding,” says Phillips. “At the time, we had the resources to [build this system] and that’s where we placed the resources.”

More than a year after full implementation, the state continues to upgrade its performance measurement system and work through challenges that have arisen. “It’s an ongoing process,” Phillips says. Meetings are held regularly with ePerformance system users to discuss day-to-day issues, as well as system changes that could help its overall functionality, such as allowing managers to delegate performance measurement responsibilities to another manager during an extended absence.

The good news for Georgia is that these changes, and the system as a whole, will continue under Perdue’s successor, Gov. Nathan Deal.

As for implementing and running the system, the state continually reminds both managers and their employees that performance measurement isn’t a once-per-year event -- it’s a process through which the employee, agency and state can achieve common goals.

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