Merit System Principle

What is Merit System Principle?

The Federal Government's merit system principles, according to popular belief, are intended to ensure fair and open recruitment and competition, as well as equal employment practises free of political influence or other non merit factors. Although this is correct, a closer examination of those principles reveals a much broader policy goal that is directly related to ongoing performance management of the Federal workforce.

Indeed, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which incorporated the merit system principles into the law at section 2301 of Title 5, United States Code, stated as national policy:

“…to provide the people of the United States with a competent, honest, and productive workforce...and to improve the quality of public service, Federal personnel management should be implemented consistent with merit system principles."

The Congress intended for those principles, which were expressly stated in statute, to guide Federal agencies in carrying out their responsibilities to administer public business.

Merit System Principles

With the deregulation of performance appraisal and awards, agencies have gained the authority and freedom to effectively manage performance. Delegation, deregulation, and simplification, on the other hand, imply increased accountability. The principles of the merit system provide a framework for responsible behaviour and are critical to mission success. Some key merit system principles are highlighted below to reinforce and directly support the five component processes of effective performance management: planning, monitoring, developing, appraising, and rewarding.

Why Merit System Principles are important

1. Concern for the welfare of the public

A fundamental performance management process for managers and employees is planning and establishing clear performance goals. Recognizing and involving customers as stakeholders in the development of those performance plans and goals can help to keep the public's interest at the forefront. Agencies can properly focus employee effort and performance by planning and communicating the performance outcomes and results that will meet the public interest. Whether those plans and goals are used to establish individual appraisal standards or agency wide strategic objectives, they must show concern for the public interest.

2. Effectiveness and efficiency

Ensuring that the workforce is used efficiently and effectively is not a once-a-year or even a once-in-a-lifetime event. It necessitates ongoing monitoring and improvement of performance plan, financial and programme performance in relation to plans and standards. Leaving inefficient or ineffective performance unchecked and uncorrected is contrary to basic merit based system principles. A merit-driven organisation is defined by continuous assessment and improvement, thats why merit system principles are important.

Performance Management under the Merit System Principle

Planning – "All employees should maintain high standards of integrity, conduct, and concern for the public interest.”

Monitoring – "The Federal work force should be used efficiently and effectively.”

Developing – "Employees should be provided effective education and training in cases in which such education and training would result in better organizational and individual performance.”

Appraising – "Employees should be retained on the basis of the adequacy of their performance, inadequate performance should be corrected, and employees should be separated who cannot or will not improve their performance to meet required standards.”

Rewarding – "Appropriate incentives and recognition should be provided for excellence in performance.”

- excerpted from 5 U.S.C. 2302

1. Education and Training

The ability to perform was not taken for granted by the founders of the meritocracy. Providing appropriate development and training to improve individual and organisational performance is regarded as a fundamental aspect of conducting public business under a merit based system. Agencies should use their broad powers to provide their employees with a diverse range of training and educational opportunities, especially when a work process or technology has been reengineered to improve public service delivery.

2. Retention vs. Separation

Poor performance is not tolerated in a meritocratic organisation. Individual accountability must be maintained in order to match the individual opportunity that the merit system protects. The appraisal requirements established by law and regulation for all employees lay the groundwork for accountability. Employees must be told what is expected of them, given the opportunity to perform, evaluated on a regular basis, and held accountable when they fail to perform. Assuming adequate performance management is incompatible with the concept of paying close attention to ensuring merit in the workforce.

3. Recognition and Incentives

The underlying values of a meritocracy include a strong sense of fairness. This sense of fairness is realised not only through due process safeguards and open competition, but also by establishing that higher performance merits higher reward and recognition. Agencies can create a wide range of incentive and recognition programmes by utilising their broad, deregulated incentive award authorities. When it comes to distributing rewards, a meritocracy of diversity requires that differences in performance be used to make reward distinctions rather than other non-merit factors.

Performance management themes pervade all good management practises. The merit system — the most fundamental foundation for good management practise and accountability in the Federal Government — reinforces and sets standards for the effective use of performance management processes. When agencies examine their values and practises to see how well they have implemented merit system principles, they must also take a close look at how well the performance management processes are implemented.

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