CHCOs: Supervisors must do better on poor performers


Federal supervisors aren’t doing nearly enough to hold poor performers accountable — or keep them from ending up as poor performers in the first place, two chief human capital officers said today.

Reginald Wells of the Social Security Administration and Jeri Buchholz of NASA, speaking at Government Executive’s Excellence in Government conference, agreed that managers need to be more willing to take action when an employee isn’t cutting it. Maybe that means retraining that employee to get him up to snuff, Wells said, or punishing him. But a manager might only need to “call it as it is” and let the employee know he’s falling behind, Wells said.

But supervisors also need to look at themselves, and consider whether they’re managing the employee properly, Wells said:

Very often they end up poor performers because we fail them. We don’t engage them, or they get put on the back burner. There are all kinds of reasons why people become poor performers. We really do have to put an emphasis on how to reach them, give them an opportunity to cure, and if not, encourage them to want other careers or leave government. Because with things being so lean, the days of putting somebody on that back burner are gone. We need everybody engaged, and committed to the mission.

Buchholz said that while she thinks Congress needs to pass legislation making it easier for managers to hold poor performers accountable — though she didn’t say what that should be — she said managers already have many tools that they’re not using:

We have the ability to remove people under [Chapter] 75 actions for performance — we don’t do it. We have the ability to downgrade people, to get them into a job that they can do well. Never seen that in 30 years. So I think there are things that we could do that we’re not actually doing, and we should really contemplate.

But it all starts with better training of supervisors, Wells said.


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  1. jim jackson on

    I know of an employee who only comes to work once a week at the most. she is always complaining of being hurt or not feeling well but nothing is done about it.

  2. How many times do we have to hear ” we have to do better” referring to dealing with non-performers? Govt tends to promote people to the level of their incompetence and the incomptents hire people like themselves. Training management to “man-up” and do the job would be the first step. There is a process in place to weed out the dead wood; however, in addition to it being a time consuming and painful process, most management won’t engage since the dead wood usually perks up enough to get the union involved and anyone else who will work to protect them. The fed also tends to encourage a culture of laziness. They place more hiring emphasis on diversity, veterans preference, etc., rather in capability/competence and frequently end up with employees who have an attitude of entitlement ( you can’t fire me, I am a …..) Not all preferential hire candidates are poor employees, but there are enough bad apples to demoralize work groups.

  3. Unfortunately, this is a problem that is rampant in the Government. Oftentimes, not only is the union (which I support) an impediment to disciplining poor performers but, upper management can be as well. People are afraid of doing the right thing because it’s EASIER to ignore it and hope it goes away. The good news is, if the employee is a poor performer there is nothing the union can do about it if you [as the manager] properly document it. Poor performers not only reflect badly on the organization but, they drain resources and discourage those who do work hard. So the masses are right – it is time for managers to “Man-up”. But, how do you get them to do that?

  4. Human capital is by far the government’s biggest asset (and the single largest line item in most agencies’ operating budgets). Anecdotal evidence that many managers don’t do enough to address poor performance is easy to uncover. Coaching employees is a key part of leadership—and not the easiest part. There’s lots of progress to be made in developing leaders to manage people—and proven methods for doing it. Often, though, “problem performers” are a manifestation of underlying systemic problems that started with hiring. Effectively addressing human capital management requires looking at the whole system—i.e., selection, employee/leader development, engagement/motivation, retention—and explicitly linking this to mission performance. Otherwise, to use an old analogy, there’s a risk that we carefully close the barn door—after the valuable horse got out.

  5. Perhaps a large part of the problem is that promotion is usually about the “good old boy network” as opposed to qualifications and experience, the result being alot of the “deadwood” not doing their job is the management.
    Additionally as people move up through the ranks how much training in leadership and management skills is provided, very little from what I have seen. Adequate training is usually provided for the job requirements but not for management performance skills. Maybe the real sub-performers are the ones at the top. There not being held accountable gives them little reason to hold their subordinates accountable. If the skipper is a fool you will have a ship of fools.

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