UK minister signals rethink on ‘guided distribution’ performance management

By on 07/09/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Rupert McNeil is the UK Civil Service's chief people officer

The use of ‘guided distribution’ in civil service performance management – introduced just two years ago – is being reviewed, a minister has told the UK’s Parliament.

In a written statement to Parliament published today, Ben Gummer, the minister responsible for the civil service, argued that the current system has “brought consistency and helped improve managers’ ability to differentiate between levels of performance.”

However, he added that the civil service is “reviewing its approach to performance management to ensure that we are keeping up with external best practice and internal changes.”

This review involves “trialling ways in which we can build on the success of the current system,” Gummer said, explaining that from April 2017 senior leaders will make “an evidence-based decision on the future of performance management in the Civil Service from 2018/19; this will include how the Civil Service will take forward the guided distribution element of the current system.”

The phrasing lays the groundwork for the government to make substantial changes to the current system, which has encountered resistance ever since its introduction. A March 2014 blog on the topic by then-head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake attracted more than 600 comments – the vast majority highly critical.

Hints of a U-turn have been emerging from Whitehall since June, when Rupert McNeil – the civil service’s new chief people officer – told Global Government Forum in an exclusive interview that the government was running a number of “trials and pilots of different ways of doing performance management.”

McNeil added that “there’s a strong appetite at every level [for reforms], and we’re talking to our union partners to see if we can make it as relevant as possible.”

“Globally, in performance management systems, probably the greatest problem is that there’s too much attention on the process and the mechanics and not enough on the critically-important human interaction,” he explained, arguing that performance management “should be happening throughout the year, as part of the regular relationship between the line manager and the employee.”

Outside the civil service, he said, many organisations are saying that “we’re going to really focus on the frequency of feedback and interaction, and less on the mechanical stuff”.

This article has been amended since its publication

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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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