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Developing a Culture of Excellence in Managing Performance at GSA

The client’s perspective

In summer 2013 GSA took the first steps to overhaul its culture of managing performance—appraisals, recognition, performance planning, coaching and mentoring, development and training—to better meet the needs of its workforce and align GSA’s mission, goals, and priorities with organizational commitments. 

The problem was that the old performance management system was not driving the organization-wide culture and behaviors GSA wanted. The system lacked standardization and transparency, which in turn introduced too much subjectivity into the performance review and remediation processes. For example, without real, measurable goals, commitments, and competencies, two people may have been performing the same job—and yet were rated against much different criteria. Moreover, limited development opportunities and recognition for high performers had eroded morale and left both employees and managers alike frustrated with the system as a whole. 

Impressed with our recent success with the workforce transformation effort, GSA felt confident entrusting Eagle Hill to provide strategic planning and change management expertise to revamp the agency’s culture of managing performance. 

A new view

We immediately recognized that while the program was, in name, a performance management transformation, it also included critical change management and communications components as well. For GSA to succeed, those employees and supervisors most impacted would need to be involved.

Every aspect of our strategy and every one of our recommendations was driven by carefully listening to our GSA stakeholders, as well as by our deep understanding of best practices. The Eagle Hill team began by conducting numerous focus groups and interviews to get GSA employees’ perspectives on the current state of GSA performance management. From there, we developed a comprehensive assessment to understand the key performance challenges and gaps GSA was currently facing. This was our first step to developing an ideal “future state” of performance management. 

Working closely with GSA’s Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) and as a result of the current state assessment, Eagle Hill developed the overall performance management strategy and phased implementation plan, including 18 proposed recommendations aimed at preventing the adverse outcomes GSA had previously seen. For example, we recommended decoupling individual performance awards from the annual performance appraisal in order to encourage real-time, results-based awards throughout the performance year that would motivate employees to continue demonstrating GSA’s desired behaviors. 

We also initiated a competency model framework to identify the core, professional, and technical competencies required of all employees, to further assist supervisors with performance planning and ensure that employees were demonstrating the required skills and behaviors to achieve GSA’s mission, goals, and priorities.  

In addition, we developed an entire suite of job aids and guidance to assist supervisors and employees with their end-of-year appraisals. This suite includes such topics as “How to Write an Effective Self-Assessment” and “How to Have a Performance Management Discussion with Employees.” Among the most notable of the tools we supported was the creation of the Performance Management Learning Portal on GSA’s online university (OLU). This portal provided a centralized location for these job aids and a broad curriculum of mandatory supervisory training for performance management that were selected and/or developed by GSA. 

A breakaway approach

With Eagle Hill’s help, GSA developed a path to break away from its past performance management issues. The performance management framework the Eagle Hill team developed promotes standardization and clarity in defining expectations and provides a critical centralized repository of vital performance management, appraisal and planning tools that GSA can use to develop a new culture of excellence in managing performance.