Bureau of Global Talent Management leaders meet with Marcia S. Bernicat, director general of the Foreign Service and director of global talent, Nov. 15. Those pictured include (from left) Michael B. Phillips, Nina Maria Fite, Bernicat, Philippe A. Lussier, and Jeanne M. Juliao. Photo by Isaac Pacheco
By Kim R. Bruner and Lisa A. Vickers
While Foreign Service and Civil Service performance management systems differ in important ways, the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s (GTM) overarching goal is to make performance evaluation a fair, inclusive, and effective process for all employees, regardless of employment category.
“Managing and continuously elevating [the] performance of individuals, and the team, is one of the most critical things we can do as managers,” said GTM Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Lussier.
In recent years, GTM’s Office of Civil Service Talent Management (GTM/CSTM) and Office of Performance Evaluation (GTM/PE) launched separate, comprehensive performance management reform initiatives to review performance management processes for the Civil Service and Foreign Service. While the two sets of reforms are distinct, the offices engaged strategically to find opportunities for collaboration on their respective reform initiatives and to share lessons learned. Through these interactions, it became apparent that while there are structural differences between the two services, the guiding principles remain the same: performance management, when done well, is a critical tool for talent development, retention, and achievement of organizational and individual professional goals. It also became clear that for there to be greater workforce unity, common expectations for performance were needed. This led to the development of Civil Service competencies that align with the new Foreign Service precepts and a decision to harmonize the lists of inadmissible comments for both services.
GTM launched the Foreign Service Performance Management Reform initiative in December 2020 as a data-driven, collaborative, and sustained effort to assess the Department of State’s current strengths and shortcomings. In partnership with the Una Chapman Cox Foundation, GTM/PE conducted a benchmarking study of industry comparators to guide the reform process. In early 2021, GTM/CSTM launched an ambitious review of the Civil Service performance management program by evaluating existing policies and best practices, benchmarking against other agencies, and conducting extensive consultations throughout the Department. This included convening 20 focus groups with diverse representation from a wide range of bureaus, occupational series, grades, and levels of supervisory responsibility.
As a result of these efforts, GTM announced new revised Foreign Service core precepts in January 2022, which took effect in the 2022-2023 rating cycle. The new precepts are more user-friendly, more reflective of the qualities that are needed to meet 21st century challenges, and include a new core precept focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). To truly leverage the competitive advantages that come with a more diverse workforce, it was necessary to incorporate DEIA into how the Department evaluates performance and ensure DEIA is more than a box-checking exercise. In addition to the roll-out of the initial reforms, GTM also began reforming the DS-5055 U.S. Foreign Service employee evaluation report to address content most frequently cited by employees, raters, reviewers, and selection board members as problematic or ineffective in their current form. Effective with the April 2022-2023 rating cycle, the area for development section was deactivated, and the instructions were revised to disallow recommendations for promotion. The list of inadmissible comments was also updated, and employees are now permitted to write about their participation in employee organizations, which can help highlight their work to advance DEIA principles. The team is currently developing further reforms to the DS-5055 and will soon communicate with the workforce to discuss these changes and seek input.
“Performance management is not just about the evaluation at the end of the rating period,” said former GTM Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeanne Juliao, “It is the effort made throughout the year to provide regular and robust feedback that truly develops the talent of our people and strengthens our institution.”
In January 2023, GTM is launching targeted enhancements to the Civil Service performance management system that aim to cultivate a high-performing, goal-oriented culture and ensure that evaluations play a larger and more substantive role in an employee’s career development and upward mobility. New toolkits and training will support supervisors and employees throughout the performance cycle to ensure that Civil Service performance management is more than a routine yearly exercise and is viewed instead as an initiative where performance goals are thoughtfully developed by supervisors and employees in clear alignment with Department goals.
The refined system highlights the critical role of supervisors in creating an environment conducive to a high-performing Civil Service culture. In response to frequent calls for greater accountability, GTM created a mandatory performance goal for supervisors. This new supervisory performance goal emphasizes a manager’s duty to engage in the process fully, support staff development, manage awards effectively, and ensure their employees are on track to achieve mission goals by monitoring performance and carrying out effective performance management. Additionally, the rating scale has been expanded and two of the four mandatory competencies will now emphasize DEIA principles. These changes are scheduled to go into effect for the 2023 cycle.
Michelle Lee (left) and Yuliana Anderson (right) from the Bureau of Global Talent Management provide expert support remotely during the pilot of Performance Next-Civil Service, Nov. 18, 2022. Photos courtesy of Michelle Lee and Yuliana Anderson
Perhaps one of the most significant reforms for both services is the transition away from ePerformance to a new performance management platform called Performance Next. For the 2023 Civil Service and 2023-2024 Foreign Service performance rating cycles, employees (except for some exempted groups) will use a new online platform, which provides employees, supervisors, and human resource professionals a more modern, agile, and accessible user experience. One of the more notable improvements is the creation of audience-specific dashboards that lay out all performance management-related tasks required of the user. Dashboards will serve as the hub for actions, resources, and inquiries, and system notifications will inform users of pending tasks. Performance Next is an extension of the GTM Next platform, which creates opportunities for future interconnectivity of services. Supervisors will have a snapshot of all their direct reports to assist with award planning and ensure timely submission of appraisals. GTM has actively involved stakeholders in the design process—to include employees, raters, reviewers, and human resource officers—and looks forward to offering training opportunities and toolkits to familiarize employees with the new platform.
Director General Marcia Bernicat recently reflected on the efforts to strengthen performance management in a message to the workforce.
“These reforms are part of the Secretary’s broader efforts to modernize the Department for the 21st century, and they are critical to the President’s goal of ensuring an accountable government that delivers for the American people,” said Bernicat.
GTM continues to explore opportunities and innovative ways to better develop and promote its most valuable resource: its people. Civil Service-related questions on the performance management reform initiative can be sent, via email, to the Civil Service team. Foreign Service-related questions can be sent via email to the Foreign Service team.
Kim R. Bruner is the director of the Office of Civil Service Talent Management, and Lisa A. Vickers is the director of the Office of Performance Evaluation.