Excessive bureaucracy hinders performance management.

‘HR gets in the way of public sector line managers’.

It is not the poor quality of line-management in the public sector that needs to be addressed for public services to be capable of responding to the challenge of budget cuts (News in Brief, 11th February 2010), it is the bureaucracy that prevents line-management from being effective.

The CIPD’s report building productive public-sector workplaces, acknowledges that, “at the workplace level, top–down rules-based management has often left managers and staff feeling disempowered, disengaged from their work and distrustful of senior management.” It also points out that, “there is an inadequacy of public sector line-management capability in a range of performance management areas that have a direct impact on service delivery, including absence, stress and conflict management.”

In my experience, the key difference between line-managers in the private and public sector is the HR culture that is there to either support or hinder them. I have encountered numerous cases within the public sector of a line-manager who addresses poor performance issues rapidly becoming the victim of their organisation.

The first thing that happens is that the member of staff whose performance is being addressed claims they are being picked on as this is the first time (allegedly) they have been spoken to about their performance. This is rapidly picked up by HR and is usually followed by the line-manager having to produce inordinate amounts of evidence about the member of staff’s poor performance.

This, in turn, leads to either one or all of the following happening: the member of staff goes sick due to the stress they are allegedly being put under; they put in a grievance against the line-manager or they are put under a different line-manager, sometimes in a different department. This final practice, where a poor performing member of staff is passed around the organisation rather than being dealt with, is referred to by one of my colleagues as the ‘misery-go-round’.

The CIPD’s report highlights that, “almost two-thirds of public sector respondents stated that their organisation had a culture that turned a blind eye to poor performance.” I agree there needs to be major culture change within the public services, however the report suggests providing more training to line-managers.

Given that nearly every health authority, police service, fire service and local authority either has a leadership development unit or invests in huge amounts of leadership training, ‘sheep-dipping’ their staff, I would suggest that stopping this is where millions of pounds could be saved. Let line-managers manage and then address any properly identified development needs accordingly – we could call it ‘performance management’.

Article by Alan

This article has been featured in the CIPD people managment section and can be viewed here.. Article link