By William Wiley, February 14, 2018

When we think about writing a performance plan, we don’t usually start with the employee’s position description. We read goals and objectives passed down to us from higher up, often from people with important ideas and responsibilities, but have little to do with front line performance and accountability. For example, the US Office of Special Counsel just got a law passed that says that every federal supervisor has to have a CE that measures how much they support the employee’s right to blow the whistle. The well-intended folks working on protecting employees from civil rights discrimination sometimes require a “diversity” CE. By the time we deal with special interest groups and generic CEs that say nothing, there’s precious little room left for CEs that are customized to the employee and the work the employee needs to perform.

That’s why we need to get to the heart of the employee’s job as quickly and efficiently as possible. And the employee’s job starts with the PD. So, get that document onto your computer, preferably in Word or editable PDF. Be sure its accurate or this won’t work. If it’s not accurate, stop right now and make it accurate. Your agency’s classification office will be glad you did.

Step 1. Using the Position Description, list all significant tasks required to perform in the position.

This is easy if you know how to copy and paste. The Introductory section of a PD lists all the tasks that you expect the employee to perform; e.g., “Files all incoming correspondence,” “Plans and manages the regional XYZ Program,” “Serves as the agency’s contact point with community partners,” etc. Go through the first section and perhaps the Knowledge section of the PD sentence by sentence. If the sentence says nothing of importance and does not describe a task, skip it. If it does describe a task, but not an important one, skip that as well.

One of the good-news-secrets of a performance-based removal is that you will not have to defend your characterization of a task as important or not. If you say that it’s important, it is. A judge will not go behind that decision and ask you to prove it or to otherwise justify your judgment.

When you come to a task that you deem to be important, using your word processing program, select the sentence with your little mouse, copy the sentence out of the PD document, then paste it into a separate document. Continue through the PD, copying and pasting, putting each new task on a separate line in the new document. When you finish, you will have a list of 10-50 important tasks you expect the employee to perform in that position. Using a sample PD from one of our favorite FELTG clients, your list should look something like this:

  1. Provides access, as appropriate, to offshore energy and marine mineral resources.
  2. Oversees the environmentally sound development of these resources.
  3. Coordinates the review and analysis of offshore energy and marine mineral lease proposals.
  4. Manages the Financial Accountability and Risk Management Program.
  5. Administers lease adjudication and management functions.
  6. Conducts environmental reviews, analyses, and consultations for proposed activities.
  7. Etc.

Option:  Legally, you can use the entire list to develop a single CE. However, in your judgment, maybe some of the tasks group well with certain other tasks, and for whatever reasons, you would like to have more than one CE. If so, copy and paste the tasks from the overall list derived from the PD into whatever groupings seem to make the most sense to you. For example, maybe some of the tasks are more administrative and others are more technical. Therefore, you might choose to have two CEs, one for each grouping. Here, we’ll deal with just a single CE, for simplicity.

Step 2. Dig out your agency’s handy-dandy appraisal form, the one you’re required to use to develop the employee’s annual Performance Plan.

Find a place on the form where you are allowed to create a CE. Give your CE a nice general name; something like “Technical Expectations” should work. Depending on your agency, you may be required to develop from two to five performance standards, one for each rating level in your agency’s performance policy. Again, for the sake of simplicity, let’s say that you are required to have three rating levels: Outstanding, Successful, and Unacceptable.

Go to the Successful level and begin to define the CE as follows: “Performs all of the following tasks within established time limits, consistent with accepted practices in the field, and free of any errors in the final product.” Below this introductory characterization of your expectation, cut and paste the task list you developed from the PD.

Critical Element No. X: Technical Expectations

Successful – Performs all of the following tasks within established time limits, consistent with accepted practices in the field, and free of any errors in the final product.

  1. Provides access, as appropriate, to offshore energy and marine mineral resources.
  2. Oversees the environmentally sound development of these resources.
  3. Coordinates the review and analysis of offshore energy and marine mineral lease proposals.
  4. Manages the Financial Accountability and-Risk Management (FARM) Program.
  5. Administers lease adjudication and management functions.
  6. Conducts environmental reviews, analyses, and consultations for proposed activities.

“But, Bill, there’s a lot of subjectivity here. Aren’t employees entitled to know our specific expectations?” Yes, Virginia, they are. And we provide that subjectivity through the day-to-day feedback we provide employees as their supervisors. If we decide we must place the employee on a PIP, we will give this enlightening feedback through formal feedback sessions set up and documented weekly during the PIP. The language here is good enough to get the performance year rolling and can be built upon as necessary as the year develops.

Step 3. Define the other two levels of performance.

Outstanding – Performs all tasks as identified for the Fully Successful level, and in addition exhibits an overall degree of professionalism above that expected for the Fully Successful level.

Unacceptable – Performs any task in a manner inconsistent with the expectation set for the Fully Successful level, failing to perform one or more tasks at the Successful level.

There you have it. Room to rate above fully successful if you think that’s necessary. A bright line in the sand if you PIP the employee. Remember, you don’t have to prove that your standard is particularly reasonable, only that it was attainable and that you resolved any ambiguity in the standard by PIP counseling. Given that the level of proof necessary to uphold a performance removal is only substantial (more than a scintilla, but less than the weight of the evidence), you will not have a problem on appeal justifying a removal using this task standard. Now, get out there and hold somebody accountable. Wiley@FELTG.com

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