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Quarterly performance reviews needed

Opinion & Analysis
It is true that performance-based contracts are the best way to manage public officials, especially heads of departments and senior managers, but the implementation and review part is key.

BY Emmanuel Zvada TRADITIONALLY, performance reviews were done once a year, but modern performance reviews happen quarterly or monthly and should focus on driving and improving future performance.

I recommend and feel that waiting for the year to review the performance contracts which were signed by permanent secretaries, ministers and the heads of local authorities, State-owned enterprises and State universities is too long; quarterly reviews should be done. Performance reviews are one of the best opportunities to encourage and support high performers; and at the same time demote the underperformers.

Defining performance management

The term performance management is commonly used today to describe a range of activities designed to monitor, measure and adjust aspects of individual and organisational performance through management controls of various types. Performance management integrates the management of organisational performance with the management of individual performance.

Performance evaluation of government activities is essential in any democracy. Government, no matter the level, should be accountable and responsible to the electorate and a host of other stakeholders. Accountability involves, among other things, an assessment of policy outcomes, along with the means and processes used to deliver the policies.

Zimbabwe’s case on performance-based contracts

Last year and this year Cabinet ministers, heads of State-owned entities and parastatals signed performance-based contracts and among them were various ministers and heads of local authorities, State-owned enterprises and State universities. These performance-based contracts are there to create robust public sector institutions and leadership.

It is true that performance-based contracts are the best way to manage public officials, especially heads of departments and senior managers, but the implementation and review part is key.

Performance-based contracts were long overdue

Public offices must not be taken for granted by those who assume them. Government acknowledges that over the years there has been poor performance in public sector, especially in the management of public resources which has hindered the realisation of sustainable economic growth. Some of the contributing factors that can be attributed to poor performance include excessive regulation and control, frequent political interference, poor management, outright mismanagement and a bloated staff establishment. There are a lot of factors that adversely affect the performance of the public sector and the introduction of performance-based contracts will expose those who are inefficient, but continue to hold public office.

Why we are concerned about the reviews?

It is in our interest to know exactly where our taxes are going towards the development of our country. Public officers have a duty to serve the taxpayers, who pay their salaries. More importantly, those who occupy key positions in the public service sector should deliver expected results and contribute meaningfully to the country’s development. Those who are not fit for purpose should be gotten rid of. If the Second Republic is about action and results as has been echoed always l suggest its key to have quarterly reviews, rather than waiting the whole year to review performance.

Performance reviews should happen frequently

If we want to cultivate public sector institutions’ success, we must branch beyond the traditional, annual review. So much can change in your institutions or those who lead them in one year. I recommend quarterly performance conversations, paired with a year-end review of general themes, notes, progress, and next steps. This allows those who lead to stay on the same page about goals, progress and key performance indicators in various ministries. Many are turned off by a quarterly performance review cadence because it feels like a hefty time commitment, but one of the clearest benefits of regular reviews is the opportunity to improve the overall performance.

Challenges faced in measuring performance targets

The use of targets in the public sector is not without problems. However, the larger number of stakeholders makes it difficult to decide which metrics should be used. Often, governments focus on reducing costs and this has led to situations such as hospitals refusing to buy lifesaving medicines because they are too expensive. There may be less of a direct link between effort and outcomes in the public sector. In a hospital, for example, mortality rates may depend on many factors that are outside of the control of the hospital. Individual targets may not be a fair measure of performance in such situations; however, using a range of targets may overcome these problems. It may be difficult to identify quantifiable outputs in the public sector.

The road to public sector performance

Good organisational performance implies that a public sector organisation is effective (in terms of volume and quality) and efficient in supplying public goods and services. Performance in public service delivery means that public sector outputs efficiently contribute to policy objectives. Performance measurements focus on outcomes and outputs, not merely inputs and public sector performance is about results and impact. A performance orientation in the public sector means that achievements matter, as well as probity to see if what was expected to be done has been done.

Transparency is key in public administration

The basic social contract between governments and citizens is continually changing, and therefore, there is heightened need for transparency and accountability to help citizens understand how public funds are being managed and spent; how decisions are made and why; and the evidence and information to support decisions.

Increased transparency can help deliver change in public sector performance by breaking down government silos and ensuring inter-agency information-sharing. Transparency is a fundamental requirement for the reliability and integrity of public institutions in order to promote public trust and public support.

Transparency in public administration guarantees and increases the level of legitimacy in the decision-making process. Transparency in public administration has a great impact because it promotes the level of efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness, which are the main components of the concept of good administration.

The signing of performance contracts will benefit the public more than anyone else. Service delivery will become a cause of concern for both the public chief executive officers, ministers and the public because everyone is going to be held accountable and there will be benefits and consequences.

Yes, it is key to wait for the whole year to review, but with such long gaps between performance reviews, some employees may grow complacent in the course of the year.

  •  Emmanuel Zvada writes in his own capacity. He is an Award Winning 2020 Most Fabulous Global HR Practitioner, HR Disrupter and Trusted Coach.