Six federal agencies (The Veterans Affairs, Housing & Urban Development, Energy Department, Labor Department, Coast Guard and the Office of Personnel Management), will pilot test GEAR, which stands for goals, engagement, accountability and results.

The purpose of GEAR is to create a culture of ongoing, continuous feedback between managers and employees. As part of GEAR the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations recommends that the six agencies do the following:

  • Hold quarterly performance reviews, called progress score cards
  • Improve how they select supervisors, and require mandatory training on how to manage their employees’ performance

The task force in charge of reforming performance management in the federal government concluded that “the government’s current culture doesn’t encourage regular feedback between employees and their supervisors, and doesn’t require documentation of that feedback.”

In my 17 years of local government employment, rarely did I experience or see continuous feedback between managers and employees. Annual performance reviews rarely if ever took place. Supervisors were typically selected based on politics and did not receive any training on how to manage employee performance. All of which typically creates poor performing agencies and chaos in general. (I support implementing a City/County Manager form of government, where a professional manager makes hiring decisions and not politicians, but that is a whole other topic.)

Annual Performance Reviews simply do not work, as having a conversation between a supervisor and an employee once a year is completely inadequate. A better approach is requiring a quarterly discussion between supervisors and employees to discuss performance issues. The scoring or ranking process in the final analysis is not as important as creating a culture of ongoing, continuous feedback between managers and employees.

In my government experience it was shocking to me how little discussion took place on improving agency performance and how little effort was made to tap into employees’ for ideas on how to do things differently.

Perhaps newly elected officials at the County, City, Town and Village level could follow the lead of the federal government and advocate for a performance management model in their jurisdictions? What do you think about the GEAR performance model and is it something worth pursuing at a local level?