Welcome changes to the PMR system, but further improvements are needed!

PCS DCLG has previously issued guidance to the 2016-17 End Year PCS PMR Guidance.

However members will be aware that from 2017-18 the PMR system will change in important and welcome respects which PCS has long argued for. Additionally PCS will be seeking further changes to the way in which staff in DCLG are performance managed.

Changes to the DCLG PMR system for 2017-18

From PMR year 2017-18 the following important changes will be made to the PMR system, all of which PCS has advocated for a very long time:

An increased focus on staff development as a key principle

PCS has long argued that the excessive focus on the backward looking ranking of staff is unhelpful on any level and the management of staff should be fundamentally focussed on development.

Abolition of the Nine Box grid

Contrary to original claims the Nine Box Grid was predictably never an aid to development but instead became a way of further differentiating between staff, and to a ridiculous extent, compounding the unfairness and inequalities apparent in the PMR system. We do look forward to its removal next PMR year.

Abolition of “Guided distribution”

Many staff believe that Guided Distribution is a way of forcing down box marks, sometimes against the recommended mark submitted by the reporting officer. PCS agrees with that view, not simply in regard to its application in DCLG but across the civil service. Within DCLG it produced pressure for new staff to be identified as Development Needed as other staff with this marking either left on terms (too often under management pressure) or got the marking upgraded (often with PCS assistance). Guided Distribution was predictably associated with gross inequalities in box mark allocation and its abolition is long due and very welcome.

New PMR Form

We have provided management with significant observations on the design of the new form, and they have already made some changes as a consequence. However management may make other changes in due course so PCS will therefore report on the form in detail, and provide advice to members, when the final design is known to us and staff.

Additionally management has agreed not to proceed with PMR bonuses for end year 2016-2017 or in the future, a necessary decision given the truly awful year on year inequalities in box mark allocation. We will comment on this matter further in our next pay bulletin.

Further change needed

The changes that management have announced to the PMR process are a welcome start but more needs to be done and PCS will be pressing for the following further reforms.

Responsibility of Reporting Officers (ROs) for determining box marks must be explicitly stated

Under questioning from PCS management has acknowledged that the RO is responsible for deciding the job holder’s rating and that the role of the moderation meetings is advisory. We have repeatedly quoted management’s statement to PCS members. However staff will not find the same explicit statement on the DCLG intranet, an omission which reinforces the opaqueness of the PMR system.

Abolition of moderation meetings

The corollary of genuinely empowering reporting officers, establishing transparency, and reducing bureaucracy and costs, is that moderating meetings should be abolished, apart possibly from the start year meeting which is supposed to test the suitability of performance objectives. Moderation meetings do not always include the reporting officer, are not properly recorded nor audited for equality and consistency, and take a tiny amount of time to discuss individual job holders, and there are too many reports of job holders being criticised on matters that have not been raised with them during the relevant reporting period.

Halt to practices associated with stress and unfair treatment of staff

At present there is a conflation between “Development Needed” (DN) and inefficiency justifying dismissal; widely varying understanding of what constitutes “DN”; a direct, structured, and fast track route from DN to PIP to poor performance dismissal procedures; a woeful under resourcing of support for staff; and a lack of accountability for poor line management practice.

Specific assessment of Individual objectives

Under the current system staff do not receive an individual written and marked assessment of performance against each objective, which denies transparency to the overall mark and assessment. This significantly reduces transparency in assessment as you receive an overall box marking but no indication of the contribution your performance against individual objectives has contributed to that overall marking.

Development to be the fundamental purpose

PCS welcomes the agreement that there should be an increased focus on the development of staff but we believe that this should be the fundamental focus of any performance management system. Going forward the Department therefore needs to design a different performance management process and develop a very different culture, considerably enhancing the coaching, training and mentoring capability of all staff.

Can further reform be achieved?

Yes – even if it takes time. Yet until recently the official management position was that the PMR system is not broken. However other departments did begin to announce changes to their PMR systems, in response to Union and staff criticism, and these changes added weight to PCS’s long standing calls for reform within DCLG. Similarly the exceptional degree of criticism directed at the DCLG system by staff, including many PCS members, also increased the pressure for change. The consequence was a number of constructive TU-HR meetings to at last discuss what changes to the PMR system the Department was willing to adopt. PCS DCLG representatives will show the same commitment and, if necessary the same patience, in pursuing further reform.

If you have views on any of the issues raised in this bulletin please e-mail PCSDCLGMailbox@communities.gsi.gov.uk or David.Jones@communities.gsi.gov.uk & Chris.HickeyTUS@communities.gsi.gov.uk. If you work with colleagues who are not in a trade union please pass this bulletin to them and ask them to join PCS by initially emailing the above PCS mailbox.