Performance management | Public sector v private sector

Steve Miller:

Public sector HR professionals must learn from the private sector.I am aghast at the lack of practical and timely approaches when it comes to managing performance in the public sector. In fact, I find it laughable. Only recently I was in discussion with a public sector HR practitioner who discussed with me a number of performance issues he was managing, When I asked how long the employees had been performing so poorly, he went rather pink and said: “Around six months”. I nearly choked on my Yorkshire pudding… Is it no wonder our public services are in such a state when HR bureaucracy stands in the way of disciplining poor performers and dismissing them? I recall my own time working in the NHS and how much time was wasted talking about ridiculous HR initiatives such as the inclement weather policy. HR managers in the public sector need to get more proactive when managing performance, which is actually very simple.

I met with Linda Head, group HR projects manager at Archant, a few weeks ago and sounded her out on how she would manage performance. Quire rightly she commented that:

“Ignoring poor performance is never a good idea in the long run – it will lead to discontentment within the team and affect the motivation of the higher performers, and possibly even result in a time-consuming grievance being raised. It will have an impact on the manager’s credibility within the team and among peers. More importantly, over time it could lower the performance of the whole team as standards drop.”

I agree totally with Linda, and she explained how she managed performance matters fairly yet proactively. A lot can be learned from private sector practices. Perhaps if public sector HR chiefs take note, we will begin to see gradual efficiencies in the way we are treated by the doctor’s receptionist and local authority employees.

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7 Responses to Performance management | Public sector v private sector

  1. Wilma Foot 17 August 2007 at 4:09 pm #

    Well said, Steve!

    The main difference between the public and private sector is that in the public sector time is of no consiequence and money is unlimited.

    Without these pressures, there is no incentive or reason for the public sector to perform.

  2. Patrick Gallagher 22 August 2007 at 4:03 pm #

    Suprising to get a Public Sector bad – Private Sector good message.

    I’d also like to take issue with the previous respondent.

    Money in the Public Sector is not unlimited. Hence we often try and manage people out of an organisation in the worst scenario. This is in preference to throwing money at the problem, as many Private Sector employers do.

    On another note: is that the same Dr’s receptionist who is probably paid less than the Author’s live in nanny?

    Anyone worth there salt will know that there are issues around performance management in the Public Sector.. Not least among them, is that we generally aspire to follow the law and adopt a ‘best practice’ approach.

  3. Steve Miller 23 August 2007 at 6:24 am #

    Patrick, many employees do a cracking job in the public sector, however my experience is that many do not. Public sector HR processes are long winded, touchy feely, and lack commercial alignment.

    I think the public at large are fed up with the lack of delivery in the public service due to the poor capability and conduct of public sector employees. This lack of performance is in my opinion a result of HR practitioners lacking a proactive stance when it comes to dealing with performance issues.

    Your comment on the doctor’s receptionist is typical of left wing do gooder philosophy making excuses for people not to perform and aspire to do better.

  4. Patrick Gallagher 23 August 2007 at 9:52 am #

    Politics notwithstanding.

    It is important for any HR person to recognise that we all come to work with different degrees of buy in to our employer, and different motivators. It should inform what we do.

    My point is made in a slightly flippant manner, but in all seriousness there are issues of morale, absence of ‘authentic’ leadership, industrial relations, and politics with a large and small ‘p’ which inhibit movement and action in the Public sector.

    The absence of a proactive stance is as much about what HR is allowed to do, as to what it aspires to.

    The Public Sector appears to be answerable to more bodies than the Private one. So much of our time is spent justifying and defending our existence, that it has given rise to it’s own cottage industries to cope with the latest means of measuring our performance.

    So, I’m confused as to how it’s been determined the Public Sector is underperforming?

    I know this forum doesn’t lend itself to a great deal of detail, but it’s a bit of a sweeping position to take.

    Final point is that my organisation was very slow to dismiss staff in the past with a tremendously elongated appeals process that occasionally yielded strange results.

    This process has been rationalised and there is now a much more streamlined approach.

    Hopefully as a member of the Public we serve, this will be satisfactory?

  5. Hazel Rowell-Peverley 23 August 2007 at 11:41 am #

    Not my experience as Head of HR in the NHS.
    Public sector bodies are highly targeted and robustly performance managed nationally, regionally and locally.

    Being subject to public scrutiny for obvious reasons. Various audit mechanisms can often result in the bearing of financial and loss of reputation, resulting in organisational financial/resource re-adjustments to bear the loss.

    Pressures to performance manage staff are significant, as the agenda is often subject to the latest media/political opinion rather than patient care.

    It is extremely unfair to make generlisation of the private sector; there are good, bad and indifferent managers in all sectors.

    All managers/staff in my experience are trained, monitored and reviewed in line with business process.
    There are always lessons to be learnt and continuous improvement would require all best practice to embody this approach.

    Having work experience in all sectors, I have experienced various methods for avoiding the management of performance.

    The fundamental reasons for this need to be established addressed and integrated into business performance management process.

  6. Steve Miller 23 August 2007 at 4:37 pm #

    Patrick and Hazel – Perhaps we can therefore expect to see great improvements in terms of the service us tax payers receive if what you say is true.

    My own experience of working in the NHS was that performance management was not customer focused, HR people failed to manage performance proactively and not enough was done to remove dead wood.

    Performance management is about action and not textbook theory. Let us hope we see common sense and private sector strategy soon so that improved efficiency delights us all.

  7. Jason Middleton 11 September 2007 at 8:42 am #

    Interesting that the NHS is used as an example of where taxpayer funds are used inefficiently. The NHS is an efficient provider of health services compared to private providers in the US. The US is the only country in the OECD without a national health system and most service delivery is through private sector providers. Per capita 3 times as much is spent on health of an American compared to an Englishman (price parity adjusted). This may be off topic but it indicates that the NHS must be doing something right, including with its HR processes.