Linking SES Performance and Organizational Performance
Last week the White House published an executive order aimed at strengthening the senior executive service. The Obama administration has made a priority of identifying ways to improve government performance through increased leadership effectiveness and this order is the latest move to establish agency-level requirements that look to contribute to building a SES cadre that can lead agencies to improve their overall performance. The wide ranging order calls for:
- Agencies must “establish an annual talent management and succession planning process to: 1) assess the development needs of all SES members, and SL and ST employees as appropriate and 2) inform readiness decisions about hiring, career development, and executive reassignments and rotations.”
- Agencies are also required to establish formal executive onboarding programs that provide support through their first year of service within 60 days of issuance of this order.
- Reform the SES application process to eliminate or reduce the requirement for essay responses to make the process more attractive to a broad range of candidates.
- A cap on the total dollar amount for SES bonuses at 7.5% of aggregate SES salaries for each agency.
- The order takes effect in waves – with seven agencies adopting for 2016, seven in 2017 and all others by 2018.
However, what’s missing from the order is a requirement for a systematic and holistic approach to understanding the link between SES performance and organizational performance and for measuring the impact of the Order on meaningful outcomes such as mission performance or citizen experience. Achieving the desired results of the EO will require a comprehensive measurement and evaluation strategy to ensure that the initiatives are achieving their desired outcomes.
Here are a few quick steps agencies can take to begin the process of developing a comprehensive evaluation strategy for these SES initiatives:
- Identify desired outcomes – Get specific about the effects that an enhanced SES cadre will have on organizational level performance objectives by taking a look at the agency’s strategic plan and performance measurement process. Understand the data that is currently collected and generate hypotheses about how strengthening the SES will impact the strategic priorities of the agency.
- Link behaviors to outcomes – Once you’ve identified the outcomes that the SES improvement will have on your agency’s priority goals, you should explicitly identify those behaviors (individual and organizational) that, when changed, will drive results in the targeted outcome variables. Ask yourself this question: What must people do differently if we want to see an impact in our target metrics? Then, specify how the SES initiatives will contribute to changing those behaviors.
- Document and share what you develop – For the improvement initiatives to succeed, transparency and participation will be required. It’s not enough for the proposed changes and their effectiveness to be understood and embraced by the agency’s senior leaders. Because of that, as agency leaders specify desired outcomes and identify behaviors that need to change, both for the SES members themselves and for the rest of the organization, that information needs to be shared proactively, and completely.
The SES is, no doubt, a lynchpin in enhancing the effectiveness of Federal agencies. And the administration is right to introduce methods and mechanisms for addressing challenges that the group faces. However, without a thoughtful and meaningful evaluation strategy, an agency’s ability to demonstrate their effectiveness could still limit the improvements this executive order is seeking to address.