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PMR BOF and Christmas

Monday, December 12, 2016

News Update




And finally …


In this News Update we bring you the updates and story of PMR and the recent announcement and for delectation and delight over this holiday period -  the “Tale of BoF” – the origins , timeline and current situation – it is a tale you could almost not believe if it was not a fairy tale.




Everyone should have now seen the PMR update posted to the intranet.


The abolition of guided distribution has been warmly welcomed. However in must be seen in context with what we have reported over the past few year. We do note that the comments from staff that came with the announcement were mostly grateful to the CEO – and rightly so – but we want to refer to our past articles on this most insidious of subjects.


From February 2015


The concerns and issues we have been made aware of are as follows:


  • Markings being changed by managers in the line management command who are not the immediate line manager.
  • Hard Targets in PMRs (some of which are subjective or outside of the direct control of the reportee).
  • Validation Groups (the time they take up, the pressure put on members to change markings, the less than objective decisions that are made and the lack of real and comprehensive notes to supports decisions).
  • The appeal process has no line management independence.
  • Imposition of “guided distribution” as “forced” and taken down to team level ( also what has be seen here is markings that are changed using the path of least resistance to meet the “guide” ).
  • No clear link in PMRs to the Civil Service Competency Framework (CSCF) allied to the actual job and grade being reported on.
  • Behaviours and the link to CSCF wilfully misinterpreted and confused with Conduct and Discipline issues.
  • The inability to group certain jobs generically where they should exist (even allowing for the need for a degree of individualism).
  • The focus on a minor point to “achieve” “must improve” even where there are extenuating circumstances, lack of proportionality and a refusal to see that performance was exemplary in other more important measures – a failure to concatenate – deliberately or otherwise.
  • A plethora of “measures” in PMRs designed to allow the “wriggle room” for a “must improve”.
  • The sheer time it takes for all to manage a bureaucratic over-burdensome discredited process and the impact on operational productivity as a result.
  • There must be full and objective Equality Proofing.



From June 2015


Forced Ranking with Forced Distribution?


A recent RCTU new article referenced comments from the outgoing Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude made in an interview with Civil Service World. In this article speculation was raised by the minister that to prevent “management gaming” (that is giving “must improve” to those about to leave or those just joining a team), there needs to be “forced ranking”. Basically you list the team , say of 10 , from 1 to 10 – based of course upon objective and business linked indicators completely within the control of the individual to deliver ( Editor’s note : It appears our contributor here may have found the mythical hoard of Tipp-Ex thinners – for younger readers please see recent HMG moves to ban all psychoactive substances ) linked by grade , profession group and appropriate competency cluster in the CS Competency Framework….( steady on ! ) .


Sounds concerning - does it not? The reality is that an already discredited system will come a’ tumbling down under its’ own weight of total ennui. To cap it all, in the same interview and repeated as a quote in a final interview the following month – Maude states “forced distribution”. This means that either senior management in HMRC has been economical with the truth as they are on record time and again as saying “guided distribution” or the minister has himself been “gamed”?


What HMRC staff know is the system is overly bureaucratic , time consuming , divisive , poorly run through less than robust guidance and coupled with an appeals system that is , frankly, pathetic ( joke is not the word to use ) means an inefficient system that destroys business delivery , lacks governance and encourages , at worst , excessive control stifling diversity and new thinking. This is, of course, the polite version of the system.


Recently I had the pleasure of talking to an extremely intelligent young man who has a master’s degree in all things system analysis allied to Pacesetter and PMRs et al ….. He said what he saw in HMRC was “quite frightful” …. I like to think he was protecting an older colleague (me) from his real horror at what we are not doing properly.


On and on it goes. Hard targets creeping in – ones that the individual does not have full control over ; quality measures ( 10 or 12 or even more ) that require managers to check 1 in 8 cases and just one failure of one quality measure on one case means “MI” – ignore the productivity decrease or even the actual yield and the fact that some “quality measures” are less than “robust” ; an appeals system that is frankly to use the word of one member “weird” ; all pretence of “guided” gone with managers telling us they are forced to stay are the ever more surreal “validation” meetings until the quota is met regardless of objectivity  ( see also our previous news item regarding “forced” ) ; no central negotiations for years by the “recognised union” ; behaviours that do not reflect CSCF , the grade of the individual or the actual competency that aligns with the job ; staff and managers subsumed by paperwork ; staff and managers risk adverse because ….  ; ….. Your correspondent could go on and on …


When is someone going to stand up and say the truth – the emperor has no clothes?




It was “forced”. Managers have been told to make the “distribution fit no matter what” and that these practices continue. In out most recent article (Nov 2016) on this subject we said:


The RCTU has had brought to our intention some inconsistencies in the application of the changes recently announced to PMR and also some of the “same old same old”. Firstly let us go to the inconsistencies.


Different sections are applying different rules as was always the case. We have been told of instances where a statement is required of no more than 500 words even when you are “achieved” contrary to the new “guidance”. Similarly we see also sections where the new guidance is being applied to the enhancement of all. It is these inconsistencies that breed discontent. Why do they exist? There is no governance from outside of sections.


When we come to the same old same old we have instances where staff are being told they are “achieved”, then “moderated” and then told “needs development” – complete with a PIP/Poor Performance (not formal of course as that can be appealed unlike informal procedures and a “moderated mark”) and also even instances where people are told they “need development” against a statistic that is not even in their PMR. One instance reported to us even was where the officer was told that performance was “unsatisfactory” due to output (not that hard targets should exist especially where – but not exclusively – the volume of work was outside of an individual’s control to influence AND not in that person’s PMR)- shambolic is too kind a word.


This is the worst excesses of the “old” system. Meet the new – same as the old?


Now CEO Jon Thompson announces that soon he will have good news after speaking to the Cabinet Office about changes (reforms?) to PMR. We await that announcement with interest however the fundamental flaws as we have highlighted above must be tackled – we remain agnostic that they will be.


We know how to tackle them and would be pleased to work with HMRC to do so.


We can now add that TWO “must improve/development needed” equals Poor Performance and managers MUST start the process (not that it is clear how that works). This is a new edict that has NOT been shared with staff in general.


We have seen situations where staff have “agreed” to such a marking to get some peace and quiet in their already stressful working environment; many of those markings justified on the most spurious ground – “you complained about the lack of car parking” , “you have not done enough evasion referrals”. The comments in the former are not allied to anything in the PMR of the person and were a passing comment to a colleague that the manager overheard out of context and was actually a joke – the explanation was refused – the officer had that year worked on a complex case for the manager that brought a commendation from the taxpayer to then Chancellor about how the officer had literally “saved my life” – still “must improve”. The latter marking is absolutely hilarious and extremely sad at the same time – the officer had a comment in the PMR about “contributing to the team’s evasion referrals”. They did hardly any that year as they were working with Criminal Investigation colleagues on case discovered by the officer that led to the imprisonment of several people attempting a complex tax fraud and therefore did less “normal” casework than usual and received the maximum amount as a Recognition Bonus – still “must improve”.


We could go on with many more examples – so when we look to this year still within the “guided distribution” parameters – how many more staff will fall foul of the “two strikes” and poor performance “rule”? What we currently see of the Poor Performance implementation is risible in the extreme – nit picking and not germane in a context of materiality of performance and in some cases – about points not even in a PMR (there are even instances where no PMR exists!).


We also have reports that “moderating” remains a hurdle for managers with a recent comment – same as the old ones – “you must meet the guided (sic) distribution and will not leave until that is accomplished” and the perennial favourite “you will be development needed if you cannot deliver the distribution.”


We made the point in November (again) about governance of the system and we note what has been said to staff in the HMRC announcement – “We’ll also ensure that we have a Performance Assurance Framework, owned by Jon Thompson, which will set out some core principles that we’ll apply throughout the performance management process.”


We also note that further changes “will be advised to staff in 2017”.


Frankly there needs to be plain talking to the employer about what is wrong with the current system and how a new system can work for all. To make one that works you must know what was wrong and then change that. We see no evidence that any other Trade Union will be able to do that. We can.


Back to start




Are we all sitting comfortably? Good, then I will begin.


Once upon a time in the land of dreams a gathering of minds, large and small, decided that after a merger of little and large, there needed to be a “cull”. Less staff and buildings. Technology would lead this, though how they could only imagine and drool and it would also reinforce certain work practices they wanted and liked and stop those they did not. This was some 10 years ago or so.


The rumours soon emerged but many then in positions of leadership knew the folly of this and with the usual aplomb that is the case and with their close colleagues, the few who could be trusted, sought to stop such madness. It was done but these things have a nasty habit of reappearing. Of course there were nightmarish times as in all things that are stopped – some fall and the beast was WFC.


So when time came for the vision of the future - only about 5 years ago - and based on so many silly notions and illusory non-facts; it came to pass that instead of seeking out and involving those who knew the truth and looking only to regurgitated thoughts, as new innovative thinking was beyond the capability of many (and the nasty ego would not permit the sharing of such outcomes that may come to pass) – the cull reappeared. That it suited others in the corridors was, of course, a bonus. Rewards were garnered and showered.


A communication was needed from one who knew this to be the false way ahead and was made to those whom it was felt could, again because they had done so before, halt the headlong rush and ameliorate the plans with logic and engagement. Alas the infernal internal struggle prevented this amelioration occurring but before they fell the question was asked “how will you do the job?” – there was no answer as they had no answer. It still is the case.


Time moved ahead as it inexorably does and still there are more questions than answers. The alternative vision which encompasses change and delivers more from yield through to compliance assurance with less carbon footprint and allied to less accommodation costs - remain unanswered. Though the tale here is a strange one indeed – where consternation broke out that the emperor was indeed naked as the alternative vision (AV) did show and they were about to be shown as folly itself to all and sundry but fate intervened. Those who wished for the AV to be answered by their leaders were summarily removed (but compensated after the usual machinations of which we cannot say more – at this time) and those who promulgated the AV were cast away to revive again in another guise.


So to today where the perversion, for that is the word continues. Technology is only a partial answer and not the all singing and dancing panacea. Where each new shiny Regional Centre will have its own identity, adrift from the whole and lacking in substance, where the folly maintains and grows. Feeding on wanton statistics; that will inexorably lead to the decline and fall.


A tale of woe and sadness. By necessity truncated.


And they did not live happily ever after.


Could the AV still save us all?


Back to start


And finally …


We wish all our or members a relaxing and happy break from work , for those luck enough to be able to have a break and we always spare a thought for our colleagues who work in this period.


The RCTU office will be closed from 20/12/16 to 3/1/17 inclusive. If any member needs to contact us in that period – please use the RCTU phone number.


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