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FCW : February 2013
26 February 2013 FCW.COM There once was a name for agencies with an overabundance of low- or non- performing federal employees: turkey farms. Sometimes managers would know of a particular program or directorate where leadership was lax and would send their problem employees there. In other cases, turkey farms would develop in an area within an agency where managers let poor performance slide. In either case, experts say, the root of the problem is the red tape that makes it hard to take disciplin- ary action, sometimes coupled with a personal reluctance on the part of managers to act. During the Nixon administration, a document referred to as the "Malek Manual," after the president s special assistant Fred Malek, outlined ways to deal with unwanted employees while staying within the bounds of the fed- eral merit system. For example, a man- ager could promote an employee to an insigni cant assignment, disguised as a chance to lead a new initiative out- side the agency. Another strategy was to recommend an employee for a job at another agency, promising the per- son a good recommendation along with the thinly veiled threat that ghting the Whether by intent or neglect, holding pens for poor performers are still all too common How to spot a turkey farm BY CAMILLE TUUTTI matrix helps overcome many of the common pitfalls when it comes to talent assessment, including overemphasis on current performance, overreliance on a single opinion, and a lack of assessment criteria or inconsistent criteria. It is also a catalyst for robust dia- logue. Filling out the grid is not the end goal; it s all about the discussion. Most managers are not very skilled when it comes to assessing talent and are hesitant to discuss another manager s employees or listen to feedback about their own. This tool helps provide a structured way to have those conver- sations in a professional, productive manner. Even if you lack clear, consistent de nitions of performance and poten- tial going into a talent review, if you use this tool, you will have those de nitions by the time you are done. In fact, for many managers, it will be the rst time they have heard their bosses voice their expectations, and they will often dis- creetly begin jotting down notes and assessing themselves. The accuracy of assessing perfor- mance and potential improves with multiple data points. Managers often have blind spots with their employees and are unaware of how they are per- ceived by others. These discussions can help shine a light on superstars and poor performers alike. Finally, using the 9-box as part of a talent review uncovers strengths and weaknesses for the agency as well as the individual. The grid serves as an assessment of actions needed to strengthen the organization and pro- vides a visual depiction of an agency s bench strength --- a valuable snapshot of talent and the opportunities or chal- lenges that come with it. ■ Dan McCarthy is director of execu- tive development programs at the University of New Hampshire. He's the author of the award-winning leadership development blog "Great Leadership" and "The Great Lead- ership Development and Succession Planning Kit" e-book. decision would be a bad idea. Political turkey farms --- agen- cies lled with former campaign staff- ers with thin résumés --- made head- lines in the 1990s. During the George H.W. Bush administration, the Com- merce Department became known as Bush Gardens. The General Services Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development were similarly nicknamed because political slots were lled by family members of large contributors rather than quali- ed individuals, according to a 2009 research paper by David Lewis, a pro- fessor of political science at Vanderbilt University, and Gabriel Horton, who was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt at the time. It is a strategic move to pay political debts by putting those people where mistakes can go undetected, Lewis told FCW. "Every administration has this problem of where are we putting people who politically are important for us...but practically they may not be the best quali ed," he said. In 1992, an interim congressional report called the Federal Emergency Management Agency a turkey farm in response to the agency s failure to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Executive Handbook
March 15, 2013