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using capability frameworks for performance management and performance development

3 ways Capability Frameworks can overcome performance management challenges

By Nicola Vass - 8th August 2018  |  Capability Framework , Government

Public sector organisations are subject to exceptionally high rates of change in response to the ever-shifting sands of the political environment. Given the level of resilience and adaptability this requires from their workforce, public sector HR Directors and Managers have their work cut out for them when it comes to meeting the challenges of performance management and development for their staff. The good news is that your Capability Framework can help you meet these challenges and deliver on your workforce management goals.

We can all agree, annual performance reviews don’t work

As HR managers knew long before the statistics were compiled to prove it, the days of the annual “Performance Review” are numbered. A yearly check in with each of your staff cannot accurately reflect all that has happened since the previous review. Equally planning a year ahead is also problematic. Most importantly though, not only do your staff prefer receiving regular feedback, behavioural science tells us that frequent, timely and specific feedback results in your staff being both more engaged AND more productive.

Frequent, informal feedback is best

Many organisations have already evolved beyond the yearly review, with managers opting for informal, regular conversations that respond to issues as they arise. This enables managers to cultivate a strong connection with their staff and to stay in touch with daily operations. Often though, these conversations arise outside of the organisation’s formal people management processes, rather than being recognised as an excellent performance development strategy in itself. Your best people managers will already be doing this. Others will need support and training to see the value and adopt this approach. Merely telling them to do it will not be enough.

Challenge of getting managers to give feedback well

For all our collective progress, difficult performance management conversations are still challenging. For many this is the biggest hurdle to being a good people manager. Most people prefer to avoid conflict and confrontation as much as possible, and managers are no different. Even the most otherwise effective people managers can demonstrate a crippling reluctance to discuss challenging behaviours with their team members. So much so that counter-productive, underwhelming and even anti-social behaviours often go unaddressed. Without improving your managers feedback behaviours, your organisation will have a ceiling on performance. This can create sporadic and often unhealthy symptoms. These symptoms might include the emergence of a culture of lack of respect for management and an increase in stress-related claims by staff.

Moving forward with Capability Frameworks

This is where Capability Frameworks come in to save the day and it’s the reason for their rise in popularity across the globe in recent years. Generally, Capability Frameworks like the one introduced by the NSW State Government in 2013, articulate organisational expectations for employees with respect to their knowledge and skills, their demonstration of organisational values and their behaviour in their professional capacity. They describe how staff should carry out their duties, providing detailed descriptions of what it looks like to meet organisational expectations.

Using Capabilities to overcome performance management challenges

When an organisation adopts a Capability Framework, people managers get a standardised, quantifiable list of parameters to use when they are addressing undesirable behaviour. Additionally, staff have a measurable reference point for how they can meet and exceed performance expectations. This is great news for managers AND staff.

The three top benefits of using Capability Frameworks in your performance development processes are:

1. A Common Language

Capability frameworks create a new common language for your organisation and this can be a direct route to positive cultural change. Discussions between managers and staff are centred around the capabilities and the descriptions of their indicators. This new language creates an opportunity to discuss the kinds of attitudes and values that are reflected in the framework and are often at the centre of behaviour-related performance challenges.

2. Behavioural Indicators

The behavioural indicators in a Capability Framework are the map for navigating potentially difficult terrain. Managers can clearly identify where performance is not meeting the behaviour standards set out by the indicators. Further, managers can provide feedback using neutral, non-confrontational language.

Taking an example from the NSW Government’s Capability Framework, a manager can point to a capability that an employee requires development in, such as, “Customer Service” and highlight what kind of approach the employee might use to improve, with reference to a relevant behavioural indicator for example, “understanding customer needs and perspectives.” In this way the framework can be used to provide specific guidance on how an employee can lift their performance in any given area.

3. Performance development

Capability Frameworks offer a new focus for performance development that staff are embracing as a welcome new direction for both their personal, and their professional development. With activities identified to develop not only their skills, but also, for example, their ability to “Influence and Negotiate” or to “Think and Solve Problems”, staff have the opportunity to develop and enhance attributes that have more transferability in the ‘real world’ and go beyond their current role.

What will it take in your organisation?

This isn’t to say that from the first day you introduce a Capability Framework into your organisation, that your managers will automatically know how to make use of it in their performance management and development conversations. Educating and empowering your people leaders is an integral step in your implementation process. The adoption of your capabilities won’t be complete until your managers have integrated capabilities as a natural part of their work.

These frameworks work best for organisations and their workforce, when they are well understood by management and their HR teams. They are particularly effective when they have been carefully and thoroughly articulated through a comprehensive engagement strategy with staff. Adopting a new language takes time, as does any cultural change, and managers will need to be supported to understand the framework and its application to staff management and development strategies. Ultimately if your organisation elects to implement a capability framework and takes the time to do it properly, your managers and staff will be very glad you did.

For more information on how to get started with the LGNSW Capability Framework, read our implementation guide.


Article written by Sherryn McCarthy

Assessment & Facilitation Manager

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