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Bringing the best new people on board and weeding out the worst are both the most important and the most difficult tasks faced by any employer. For federal managers, the challenge is even greater. Not only does government bureaucracy often make hiring a cumbersome, slow-moving process, but poor performers enjoy more protection from losing their jobs than their counterparts outside of government. The Complete Guide to Hiring and Firing Government Employees is filled with tried-and-true strategies that will enable government managers to cut through the red tape and take advantage of the best talent available, as well as efficiently document and deal with those who don’t make the cut. Readers will learn how to:
• Take an anticipatory approach to recruiting
• Decide who to target, and where and how to advertise for open positions
• Screen and interview candidates
• Counsel a poor-performing employee
• Use progressive discipline
• Document a case
• Write a charge
• Develop internal political support
• Prepare for and win a third party hearing
• And continuously maintain an entire department of exceptional performers.
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
STEWART LIFF (Saugus, CA) began his career with the federal government in 1974. He is a winner of the President’s Council on Management Improvement Award and the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Service. His books include Managing Government Employees and Managing Your Government Career.
Read an Excerpt
THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN to address two of the most important issues that government managers will ever have to face: how to hire and fire a government employee. Neither of these is easy, but in all probability, you will need to do both in order to succeed.
Most likely, you will hire far more employees than you will fire—if not a something is definitely wrong. After all, if you spend most of your time correcting bad hiring decisions, what does that say about your hiring process?
Moreover, you will find yourself devoting far too much of your precious time looking for ways to get rid of bad employees instead of performing your day-to-day job responsibilities.
In the course of a long career, you may hire dozens if not hundreds of people, and make no mistake about it, the quality of the people you hire will go a long way toward determining how successful you are as a manager.
Unfortunately, in my experience, government managers often spend an inordinate amount of time bringing in large groups of new hires without devoting enough time to strategizing how to bring in the best possible group of new employees. As a result, these managers find themselves hiring a mix of candidates a many of whom prove to be less than optimal selections. Eventually, the managers wind up scrambling to try and deal with the problems inherent in a weak workforce. These problems range from a wide variety of training challenges to employee relations issues to performance problems, many of which could have been avoided had managers taken more time to plan properly and had they possessed the skills needed to hire an excellent group of new employees in the first place.
That is not to say that it is easy to hire top-notch government employ-ees. It most certainly is not. The government’s laws, rules, regulations, and procedures for hiring, regardless of whether it’s at the federal, state, or local levels, are for the most part complex, convoluted, time-consuming, and in many cases highly frustrating—to both government managers and the people trying to get jobs with the government. In addition, the requirements of factoring in veterans’ preference, the legitimate concerns about equal employment opportunities (EEO) for all, competition from the private sector (which can hire more quickly and doesn’t have the same procedures as the government), centralized pressure to hire quickly when recruitment authority is granted, unanticipated budget crunches, rigid pay systems, hiring freezes, and others all make the hiring process challenging for government managers.
According to the United States Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) a which serves as an independent, bipartisan guardian of the merit systems under which federal employees work, “There are barriers to recruiting a high quality workforce. . . . First-line supervisors and other managers still indicate that they have problems recruiting highly qualified applicants. These problems may be due to insufficient recruitment strategies or incentives, the slowness of the hiring process, or the use of inadequate measuring instruments a and agencies should examine them further.”1
That being said, government managers can take many steps to enable themselves to hire excellent employees, and that is part of the basis for this book. Having been a government employee for more than 32 years, and a government manager and leader for 28 years, I know firsthand what it is like to try and hire employees within the constraints that exist.Moreover, during nearly my entire career, I have hired people while working in high-cost areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., which only made the challenge even greater.
The first half of this book is devoted to showing readers how to hire excellent government employees in a logical, integrated, and comprehensive fashion. It is intended to be a road map for hiring quality people within a government personnel system, regardless of the level of government. It is based on both my experiences as a government human resources management (HRM) expert and my many years as a government line manager and senior executive.
This book is not meant to provide a “one-design-fits-all” approach to recruitment. Rather, it offers a series of philosophies, strategies, and recruitment tactics based on a deep understanding of the government’s HRM systems and many years of working in the real world of government staffing and line management that can then be customized to a specific, local situation.
The book is also designed to help you look at your entire process, ranging from the time before vacancies even exist to the moment you begin your recruitment process through rating and ranking candidates and up to the final selection process and its aftermath. I am confident that if you adopt this holistic approach, it will greatly aid you in building a first-class government workforce—and preclude you from having to deal with too many poor-quality employees down the road.
While building your workforce, it is quite likely that you are going to find that one or more of your employees are simply not working out. They may be holdovers from the past who have never been good employees and have not been dealt with, they may be good employees whose performance has suffered due to personal problems or other reasons, or they may be recent hires who turned out to be poor selections despite your best efforts.
Regardless of the reason, most organizations, including high-performing ones, have some poor performers. The difference is that the best organizations deal with these employees, and the more marginal ones do not. This seems to be especially true for government, given its myriad rules and culture a wherein far too many problem employees are allowed to coast through their jobs.
From my perspective, this happens because many, if not most, government managers have bought into the perception that you can’t fire a bad employee. They believe that it is too difficult, too time-consuming, and too much work so they often give up before they even get started. Personal experience a or the lessons they have learned from others, has taught managers that there is no point in trying to remove a bad apple because in the end they will not prevail. So why go through all of the pain and suffering that the government’s personnel system will impose on them?
The problem with this type of thinking is that it perpetuates the widespread belief that you can’t fire a bad government employee. Once the public believes this myth, it undermines their faith in government. Once your employees believe this, it ruins their morale and makes them conclude that they are working for a less-than-stellar organization that is not interested in high performance. When your problem employees see that management is not prepared to deal with them, they will be emboldened to slack off even more and will try to influence marginal employees to take the same approach. In short, you will be encouraging a cancer to metastasize in your organization at a rapid rate.
This does not have to happen in government, nor should it. However, it has been happening for decades because government leaders have done a relatively poor job of building accountability into its personnel systems; leaders have not taught their subordinate supervisors why it is so important to deal with problem employees up front; and supervisors do not really know how to go about actually dealing with a poor employee.
According to the MSPB, “In many Federal organizations, there is a culture that sanctions not dealing effectively with problem employees. This must be changed for the Government to effectively hold employees accountable for their performance.”2
Make no mistake about it, changing the culture is not an easy thing to do. The system is definitely complex and requires a high degree of technical knowledge, which most supervisors do not possess.Moreover, going through the process is not a pleasant experience because you will likely experience pushback from the affected employee(s), which may very well entail one or more complaints being filed against you. You may also get second-guessed or overturned by upper management at some point in the process, which will make your experience even more frustrating.
Herein lies the problem: How do we change the way that government operates so that its management officials recognize that it is in their best interest to deal with their problem employees? According to an MSPB report,
. . . despite the claims of some supervisors to the contrary, we believe that the current system can provide the means to deal with problem employees. This does not imply that changes to the current system should not be considered; it only implies that managers should not wait for systemic adjustments before they take appropriate action in this area.
The current system does not, of course, make the process of dealing with problem employees a particularly pleasant experience.
Nor does the system work well unless management creates an organizational climate that makes it clear to all employees that poor performance or misconduct will not be tolerated.3
I fully agree with that conclusion, which, by the way, was reached about
10 years ago. Since the time that MSPB report was issued, there have been no significant changes to the system. The key continues to be to change the mind-set of government managers by showing them the way and providing them with the skills necessary to deal with poor employees, which includes firing employees when necessary.
That is the purpose of the second part of this book: to teach readers how to successfully terminate poor employees within the system that currently exists.When appropriate, it should be and can be done.
Before I continue, let me be clear about one thing: You should fire a government employee only as a last resort and only when it is the right thing to do. Never fire someone because it is expedient or because you are trying to show that you are a “tough guy.” Only take this step when it is appropriate and will promote the efficiency of the government. Remember, your organization has already invested an enormous amount of time, energy, and money in the employee, so you should fire the person only when there is no other reasonable alternative.
Please note that I do not consider a reasonable alternative to be moving a problem employee from one team to another without addressing the root cause. Otherwise you are merely perpetuating the problem, creating headaches for the employee’s new supervisor, and sending a message to the rest of the workforce that you are not serious about dealing with difficult employees.
Also, I do not consider giving a well-known problem employee a “slap on the wrist” because that is not going to change his behavior either. As you will learn later on in this book, in order to successfully deal with a true problem employee, as opposed to a good employee whose conduct or performance problem is merely an aberration, you need to let the employee know that if he doesn’t change his performance or behavior, you are prepared to remove him. That is the only way to let the employee know you are serious.
After all, when you are dealing with someone who is truly a problem (i.e. a someone who is in the bottom 10 percent of your workforce), the only successful outcomes are to either change the person or change the person. The one outcome that is not acceptable is maintaining the status quo, wherein the employee continues to behave and act in an unacceptable manner. That must change; otherwise, the employee will surely pollute your workplace and other employees will conclude that management is sanctioning the employee’s actions and that “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
If there are no reasonable alternatives to firing the employee, and progressive discipline has not worked (more about that topic in Section 2: How to Fire a Government Employee), then by all means go forward and take action to remove the employee. This book will show you how to fire an employee in a fair, logical, and defensible manner. It will provide you with tips on how to go about it, including how to conduct an investigation, how to document your actions, how to write charges, how to put together an evidence file, how and when to settle a case, and, if not settlement, how to prevail before a third party. It will also demystify the process for you, so you will know what you are getting into, what the potential pitfalls are (and how to avoid them), and what to expect along the way.
Table of Contents
How to Hire a Government Employee 1
1.The Government’s Hiring Process 3
• History 4
• Outlook 13
• Look at Your Own Processes 16
2. Developing Your Strategy 19
• Anticipatory Recruitment 21
• Traditional Approach 22
• Anticipatory Recruitment Approach 23
• Targeting Your Pool 24
• The Vacancy Announcement 25
• Deciding Who to Target 28
• Expect the Unexpected 33
• Where and How to Advertise 34
• Getting Out into the Market 35
• Making Your Organization More Desirable 37
• Don’t Forget the People Who Already Work for You 40
3. Screening and Interviewing the Candidates 45
• Screening 45
• Substitution of Education for Specialized
• Ranking 50
• Veterans’ Preference 53
• 5-Point Preference (TP) 53
• 10-Point Disability Preference 54
• Interviewing 55
• Preparation 56
• The Interview Itself 58
4. Post-Interview Review/Making Your Decision 65
• Following Up with Previous Employers 67
• The Selection Itself 69
• The Rule of Three 70
• Rule of Three Considerations 71
• Veterans’ Preference 72
• Objecting to Veterans 74
• Category-Based Ratings 75
• Who to Select 77
• Once the Selection Is Made 79
• Orientation 79
How to Fire a Government Employee 81
5. Handling Poor Employees 83
• Why Does the Government Not Deal with Poor
Performers as Frequently as It Should? 85
• History of Employee Protections in the Civil Service 85
• Working the System 91
• What Can Be Done to Change the Way That the
Government Holds Its Employees Accountable? 93
• Your Organization’s Mind-Set 94
• The Skills and Abilities of Your Management Team 96
• Your Advisors 98
• Your Overall Strategy for Dealing with Poor
• Identify Problem Employees 100
• Bring the Problem to a Head 102
• Take as Strong an Action as You Can 103
• Weeding Out Problem Employees during Probation 105
6. Firing for Misconduct 109
• The Investigation 110
• Deciding What to Do 113
• Burden of Proof 114
• Writing and Issuing the Proposed Removal 125
• Sample Proposed Removal Letter 130
• Considering the Employee’s Response 133
• The Decision Letter 137
• Sample Decision Letter 137
7. Firing for Poor Performance 141
• Overview 141
• Performance Appraisal System 143
• Performance Standards 145
• Communication and Feedback 150
• Sample Counseling Letter 152
• Going Forward 153
• Dealing with a Poor Performer 155
• Sample Performance Improvement Letter 159
• The Opportunity Period 161
• Sample Memo Documenting PIP Counseling Session 163
• Employee Allegations and Requests 164
• When the Opportunity Period Ends 167
• Sample Proposed Removal Letter 169
• The Decision to Fire 171
• Sample Decision Letter 172
8. The Hearing 175
• Where Employees Can Appeal Their Removals 176
• Merit Systems Protection Board 177
• Arbitration 178
• Framing the Issue 179
• Discovery 189
• The Hearing 181
• Likelihood of Success 182
• Cost 184
• Your Representatives 185
• The Evidence File 187
• Preparing for the Hearing 188
• The Hearing Itself 194
• Settling the Case 195
• Opening Statement 197
• Presenting Your Case 197
• Addressing the Appellant’s Case 199
• Closing Arguments 200