Chief Counsel: Use Balanced Scorecard to Measure Staff Performance

Posted October 15, 2008 at 2:03pm


Q: What is the best way to reward great staffers? What performance metrics should we use to evaluate employees?

[IMGCAP(1)]A: There is no “best way” to reward staffers. Instead, your reward system should reinforce the behavior that will enable the Member to meet his or her goals. To do that, I recommend offices adopt a performance and awards system first introduced in the early 1990s called a balanced scorecard.

A balanced scorecard is a way to make performance metrics reinforce the performance objectives an office values. In a nutshell, it ensures that you do not evaluate and reward staff solely based on one job factor, potentially to the detriment of other equally valuable behaviors or goals. For example, if you reward a legislative correspondent solely based on the quantity of letters sent to constituents, you may sacrifice the quality of the letters or encourage the LC to shirk other responsibilities. A balanced scorecard forces you to consider what makes an LC great and a contributor to the overall office goals from multiple perspectives.

While Capitol Hill offices may differ in certain areas, the following objectives are worth considering as part of a Congressional office’s balanced scorecard:

• Productivity

• Work quality

• Constituent service

• Attitude and teamwork

• Leadership and initiative

• Growth and development

Be sure to set (and communicate) the specific goals for each category at the beginning of the year to enable staff to work toward those goals prior to being evaluated. Within each of these categories, the performance goals should be relevant for the individual staffer and his level of responsibilities. Goals for your legislative director and systems administrator would be very different, even though the categories remain the same.

For example, a teamwork goal for your LD could be to initiate and oversee projects that require collaboration from both legislative and casework staff. But the teamwork goal for the SA would look very different: Perhaps you would ask her to exhibit a greater willingness to chip in and help out colleagues when needed.

Does This Sound Familiar?

Multiple chiefs of staff have recently brought me the following challenge: An exceptional legislative staffer does a great job managing his issues and writes really well. But his attitude is really negative, he sometimes disrespects other members of staff, and he may be affecting the work ethic and overall environment in the office. There are also concerns about how he might be treating staffers in other offices or possibly constituents, given his somewhat unpredictable attitude. But the chief of staff does not want to lose him. He knows his stuff and the boss likes him.

My advice to these chiefs is to make sure the staffer understands all the ways he is being evaluated. So, going back to the scorecard, does he think that as long as he covers his issues well and writes good mail he is off the hook? What behavior does he believe will be recognized and rewarded by you and the Member? What does he understand to be the values of the office regarding how your staff should treat each other, other offices and constituents? What expectations have you communicated?

If I sat down with this staffer, in addition to the productivity goals that he has mastered I would communicate the less tangible goals of contributing to a respectful work environment in the office, developing positive relationships with key constituent groups (name them if possible) and seeking out opportunities to collaborate with other staff members to improve overall work quality in the office.

This approach gives you a common language to use when discussing some of his more destructive behaviors and an opportunity to provide feedback on his progress toward meeting these goals. Most importantly, you will make this staffer aware of how he can be successful in the office.

Rewards Should Reinforce Office Goals

So, let’s go back to the reward system. A scorecard places percentage values on the different objectives. Then bonuses reflect how successfully the staffer met these objectives. For example, you might choose four categories and weight them as follows:

1. Work quality (40 percent)

2. Constituent service (30 percent)

3. Teamwork (20 percent)

4. Growth and development (10 percent)

Then rank the staffer’s performance in each category measured against his overall bonus potential. So if the staffer’s maximum bonus potential is $5,000 and he mastered Nos. 1 and 3 but met Nos. 2 and 4 only halfway, calculate his bonus using a weighted average as: (.4 x 5) + (.15 x 5) + (.2 x 5) + (.05 x 5), which equals $4,000 of the possible $5,000. Implementing such a system also gives you a process for discussing strengths and areas of improvement for your staffer. If you simply pay out a percentage of the overall salary to each person, you lose the opportunity to give a strong message on goals and expectations, and maximize the reward for your star performers.

I hope I have filled your brain with lots of math and metrics to consider. Performance metrics can be as complicated or as straightforward as you wish. Your scorecard may simply be “work stuff” and “people stuff,” with each weighted at 50 percent. Either system gives you a chance to set specific goals about both work product and the person’s relationships within and outside the office that will benefit your entire operation.

Your Behavior Is a Metric for Staff

You should also be aware that you and your boss continuously send messages to staff about what constitutes success in your office. Who gets hired and promoted? Who gets complimented and thanked publicly? How do you and your boss treat staff and visitors to your office? What value do you place on staffers’ personal health and family needs? Do you admit when you are wrong and acknowledge your own weaknesses?

The values you want exemplified by your staff begin with you and your Member. So the next time a constituent demands to speak with the Member immediately, instead of hanging up and exclaiming, “Can you believe that person’s nerve!” brainstorm with a staffer about how to end a future conversation with the constituent raving to her friends about the fabulous service your office provided.

Reward Tools at Your Disposal

Finally, you may have more “reward and recognition” tools at your disposal than you realize. Certainly financial rewards, including salary increases and bonuses (either spot or annual), go a long way with staff. However, other actions can reward star staffers such as promotions and/or title changes, or elevation of responsibilities. While staffers will expect, or at least hope, that additional duties will also bring financial reward, the increased learning opportunities and exposure to new networks and tasks can serve as a great motivator and retention tool.

Some of you may be wondering how to win over your boss to a new performance and rewards system. The key challenge for chiefs is balancing the duty to manage down (to your staff) and up (to your Member). I hope to give tips on how to succeed in this difficult task in a future column.

Meredith Persily Lamel is director of training and consulting for the Congressional Management Foundation. She works with chiefs of staff to implement strategic plans and improve their management and operational effectiveness. Click here to submit questions.