What You Need to Know About the Federal Performance Appraisal System

The federal performance appraisal system is somewhat similar to performance reviews in other job sectors. It’s an assessment of how well you’re performing your duties, whether you’re meeting expectations, if your skills still align with the job you have, how well you communicate or work in groups, etc. Such appraisals come into play when its time for promotions, bonuses, or termination. If you’re new to government, here’s what you need to know about the system and how you’ll be graded.

Who oversees the federal performance appraisal system?

OPM is in charge of regulating the performance appraisal system and setting specific benchmarks to which each agency must adhere. Agencies are given some leeway as to how to establish their own appraisal guidelines, but these performance plans require OPM’s approval.

How often are performance appraisals conducted?

Performance appraisals will be conducted each year. Most agencies run on an October 1-September 30 calendar year for appraisals. There is a minimum amount of time that you must be on the job before one can be conducted. It can be no less than 60 days, although some agencies have opted to require more time on the job before you go through the process.

What will the performance appraisal review?

The federal performance appraisal is based on what are known as “critical elements.” These are the different assignments or responsibilities you have as part of your regular job that are integral to you performing your duties in an acceptable fashion. Each person must have at least one critical element in their performance plan, and these elements must be linked solely to individual and not team performance.

How will I be rated?

There are five possible categories on the rating scale: Exceptional, Superior, Fully Successful, Minimally Successful, and Unacceptable. There is some variation in the terms, and some agencies use Minimally Satisfactory/Acceptable, Unacceptable, etc.

What do the categories mean?

Exceptional: You can’t do too much better than this. Having you in your position performing at this level means that the agency is able to achieve the goals it may otherwise not have been able to had you not been working there. You can take on difficult assignments with ease, conduct creative problem solving, finish projects ahead of deadline, and communicate effectively with peers and supervisors.

Superior: You exceed expectations and help the agency work toward its goals. Your work has improved the quality of the agency, and you have established practical, cost-effective problem solving methods. You can handle difficult problems while producing high quality work. You work well with others and can communicate well on a variety of levels.

Fully Successful: You are a good employee and you meet your personal goals set by your organization. You complete work in a timely manner, and handle challenges as they come your way. You can effectively apply your skills where appropriate, and you communicate clearly.

Minimally Successful: Your work is deficient in a number of areas and needs to be corrected. You often have an inability to complete work on your own, and require close supervision. At times, deadlines are missed because of the level of rework or supervision required. You misunderstand general office policies or assignments, do not appropriately use available services, try to work around established procedures, and cost the office time or money in the completion of assignments. You lack an ability to work well with a team, and have difficulty communicating.

Unsatisfactory: You can’t produce work worse than this. Your skills are not well matched to the position, and you do not meet minimum expectations. Your work does not contribute to the agency’s goals, you disregard policies and procedures, and often miss deadlines or complete poor work. You have failed to respond in a positive manner to previously offered corrective action.

Practically speaking, why do I need to hit these levels?

If you’re interested in a promotion, transfer, performance award, or in keeping your job, you need to be above the Unacceptable level. These ratings also come into play during a reduction-in-force. Most transfers or incentives require you to be performing at the Fully Successful level (and this tends to be where the greatest number of federal employees are ranked). Should you fall into the Minimally Successful category, you will likely be offered a plan of corrective action, and should be informed of how to avoid falling into the Unsatisfactory category. If you fail to respond positively to the corrective action, you will likely fall into the Unsatisfactory category during your next evaluation.

Will I know how I’ve been rated?

Once your appraisal has been completed and it is reviewed through the traditional channels, you will be able to see how you were ranked. If you have questions or concerns, address them with your supervisor. Especially if you believe you should have been ranked higher, instead of being combative, ask what you could have done differently, and how you can improve prior to your next appraisal.

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