The Trump administration drew significant controversy for several of its proposals to address poor performers in the workforce by making federal employees easier to fire, but President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Personnel Management has an opposite approach for improving performance.

“What I have seen in most cases in executive roles is that oftentimes poor performance shows up because of lack of employee engagement, or a mismatch of talents and skills for that position, or there just isn’t really clear metrics for those performance evaluations,” said nominee Kiran Ahuja at an April 22 Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing.

“I think it’s key to think about and focus on what OPM can do, if I was confirmed, around supporting agencies around performance management guidance, supporting managers and understanding those processes.”

There is no doubt that the federal government has challenges with poor performers, or at least the perception of those challenges.

The 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that only 34 percent of feds believe that steps are taken in their work unit to deal with poor performers, and over half of respondents said that poor performers continue to remain in the work unit and underperform.

And while that metric doesn’t determine how many employees are actually performing at a sub-par level, it does reveal workforce frustration with how poor performers are managed.

Ahuja said that OPM should work to support managers, as many may be more focused on accomplishing whatever work assignment they have rather than the day-to-day needs of managing people.

She also said that agencies should be “hyper-focused on professional development” so that employees have a clear path for progression and growth in their jobs, as senior leaders reach retirement age.

And though Ahuja did not comment directly on the value of the Trump administration decision to suspend diversity training in the federal workforce that taught critical race theory and white privilege, she did emphasize that expanding diversity in the upper and lower ranks and fostering workforce acceptance for diverse people would be an important part of OPM’s work.

“The [diversity and inclusion trainings] that I have been exposed to and familiar with have really encouraged understanding people from all walks of life, really creating an inclusive work environment. I think especially for the younger generation, that is what they’re looking for: not only individuals who look like them, that there is a diverse workforce, but that there is an understanding and value for the experiences that people have had,” said Ahuja.

President Biden revoked Trump’s order upon entering office, citing a similar need to promote respect for diverse experiences in the workforce.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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