The real challenge is, defining what constitutes 'performance' in a government set-up. And if you don't know this, then what is the appraisal for
Due to lack of clarity in terms of what is an important result and what is not, the existing system has some fatal flaws in appraisal
Implementing robust performance management systems will revolutionalise how government departments function, Dr. Prajapati Trivedi, Secretary, Performance Management in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, tells Gyanendra Kumar Kashyap
Dr. Prajapati Trivedi is a man in a hurry – and it is understandable. He has only a few months left as the Secretary, Performance Management, in the Cabinet Secretariat, an office he is scheduled to demit in August, 2013. But over the past four years, he has been busy driving the efficiency and productivity agenda in babudom.
He and his staff of about 60 have put together Results-Framework Documents (RFD) for 80 government departments, 800 responsibility centres, and 13 states of the Indian Union. They have managed to shift the emphasis in performance evaluation from process-orientation to outcome-orientation, from subjective measures to objective measures, and managed to introduce performance incentives (which can go up to 40% of salary) for those who meet their objectives – changes that have long been on the agenda but with nobody to drive them, until Dr. Trivedi landed on the scene.
A distinguished academician, Dr. Trivedi worked for fourteen years (1994-2009) as a Senior Economist for the World Bank in Washington, DC. This is his second stint in the government, having been Economic Adviser to the government of India from 1992-94. He has published five major books on various aspects of public sector management and privatization. In this exclusive interview with People Matters, Dr. Trivedi talks about the challenges of introducing a professional performance management system in the government. Excerpts:
What is the problem with the existing performance appraisal system for government servants?
The Fourth Pay Commission [notified in 1987] had suggested a performance-related incentive. This was endorsed by the Fifth and the Sixth pay commissions. But 25 years hence, we are still to implement it.
In fact, in every Pay Commission, two things are said: First, they have all said that they will increase our salary in Government to match the market structure, and second, that they wanted government employees to be held accountable for performance. One part of the recommendation is invariably swiftly implemented: we quickly raise the salaries each time. But the hard part – holding employees accountable for performance, is not.
When I joined the Government of India as Secretary, Performance Management, the Cabinet Secretary wanted to know why we can’t do this, and I quickly discovered that the real challenge was defining what constitutes ‘performance’ in a government set-up. It’s not an easy question to answer. And if you just don’t know what the big goal is, then what is the appraisal for? It instead becomes an end in itself, and not a means to an end.
Can you illustrate this with an example, let’s say, the health department?
First of all, the minute you ask the Health Secretary what you are doing, typically, he might say, health is a state subject, I’m not doing much. Then what do you appraise him for? You ask him about the schemes, and he’ll say the state governments are implementing it. There is a fundamental lack of clarity about the overall objective.
So you think there is a lot of passing the buck in government?
That is there, of course. The other problem is one of multiple principles with multiple objectives, which are often conflicting. Everybody feels that they have a right to supervise the government department. This shouldn’t be a problem, because in the private sector too, there are thousands of shareholders. The difference is that in the private sector everybody has the same bottom-line - profit or financial health of the company. But in the government, there are people working either for efficiency or equity or some other political goal.
So we have worked hard on clarifying what is meant by performance, and how we hold people accountable. Things are beginning to fall in place, and this has been the revolution we have been able to bring about.
Have you tried to define performance in a generic sense, or is it department-specific?
Over the past 4 years, we have managed to codify performance measures for different government departments. We asked each department about their objectives, how they prioritise them, what actions they propose to achieve the said objectives, and what would be appropriate success indicators to measure the progress in achieving their objectives. This is a typical performance appraisal framework at the departmental level and is referred to as the Results-Framework Document (RFD). This then also reflects the expectations from the secretary to the government of India responsible for this department. Today, RFD policy covers 80 departments, 800 responsibility centres, and 13 states of the Indian Union.
Can you sum up the three ways in which the Results-Framework Document (RFD) you’ve introduced will help bring about ‘result-orientation’ in departmental functioning?
Thanks to the RFD, for the first time in the history of independent India, we have been able to define the results or outcomes for a given government department. If you don’t know what the results should be, then how can you have a result-orientation? Secondly, for the first time, we have institutionalised a system to make government departments result-oriented.
Due to lack of clarity in terms of what is an important result and what is not, the existing system has some fatal flaws in appraisal/evaluation. So, by prioritising results, we have brought in goal-orientation. People are now focused on the important results as opposed to the unimportant results. Let me illustrate this with a simple example. Say an officer is given 15 tasks to perform and he or she achieves targets for 12 of them. How are we to judge his performance? Well, it would really depend on which 12 tasks were completed successfully. If the three targets not met represented the core tasks, then it can not be considered good performance. By introducing prioritization for the first time, we have enhanced goal clarity in Government.
We have also done away with subjectivity in performance evaluation, which has been at the root of a lot of our problems. In Government, like many private sector organizations also, we have a practice of giving single point targets. We typically say that you have to build 700 KMs of road. Now if the officer completes 670 KMs of road, is it good or bad performance? In the past, the answer depended on the subjective judgement of the superior officer or manager. If he liked you, he would say that it is OK. If not, the same person could say something negative. People in Government quickly figure out that performance doesn’t matter and what matters is keeping the boss happy and therefore, they start doing things that, beyond a point, become unethical if not illegal.
Is the primary objective of your performance appraisal system better career planning for bureaucrats (an internal need) or citizen satisfaction with the performance of government servants (an external requirement)?
There is a difference between a performance appraisal system and a performance evaluation system. Appraisal is individual-centric, evaluation happens at the departmental level. In fact, it has been observed while all civil servants are marked ‘excellent’ in their individual appraisals, the department as a whole does not get the same rating. This is because the alignment between the individual and departmental performance is missing, and there is no clarity on the overall performance of the department.
A performance appraisal system can begin only if you know what the department is going to do. This works automatically in the private sector, since everybody knows what to do, and one can be appraised. But if the larger objectives are not clear, how do you begin the appraisal? In such a case, you just hope that there will be good people who will do the right things, which has been the case till now.
In one of your proposed reforms, you have suggested that as far as possible, the department should focus on outcome objectives. Isn’t process equally important?
Process is important. But, the reality is that citizens want outcomes (for example, reduction in poverty) not processes. During our research, we found that 66 per cent of the existing performance measures were process-oriented and only 33 per cent were outcome-oriented. Our goal is to make this 50:50, if not reverse it to 33:66.
We have asked the departments to list their outcomes in Section 6 of the RFD. The question we asked every department is: ‘If you did not exist, how would India miss you?’
Soon, all the departments are going to get an ISO 9000. We are re-engineering the processes to cut down waste. We are sorting out redundant, duplicative and contradictory processes, so that the system becomes more efficient. Wherever a process exists it must be world class and benchmarked to the best.
Does your proposed appraisal framework have scope for incorporating corruption cases/allegations against departments, when evaluating the overall performance of department?
Our focus is on prevention. All the 80 departments have been asked to identify potential areas of corruption and suggest mitigation strategies. This year, we have asked them to implement the strategy. We should not wait for CBI, CVC or other authorities to fix the problem.
For government employees who deal directly with citizens, (say, at BDO level or at passport office or RTO), should not the satisfaction or rating of a citizen be a part of the appraisal framework?
Yes, in fact, many departments and states have incorporated citizen feedback as a part of the evaluation process. Those departments which address grievances quicker get extra points in the rating system. We have also asked departments to develop Citizens / Clients’ Charters. They are all on our website: www.performance.gov.in.
Did you face any resistance from government officials in implementing your ideas?
Forget resistance, every government department and officer has welcomed this whole initiative to reward good performance and hold everyone accountable – they want it far more than anyone else. This has made my job a lot easier – I did not have to do any canvassing or advocacy.
Unless you get an extension, your term ends in August 2013. What are your immediate priorities?
The top priorities will be: Getting the Citizen Charter in place, and properly evaluated by ‘mystery’ citizens; institutionalising the office of Secretary, Performance Management, so that once I am gone, there is a long line of secretaries wanting to take up the job; creating an ecosystem that will be self-sustaining; and mining the minds of colleagues for insights and putting it all up on our website.