By Dechen Dolkar

In light of the recent adoption of the pay revision Bill, civil servants have voiced their apprehension about having to confront the moderation committee as part of the performance moderation exercise. The exercise, which serves as an assessment tool for civil servants, has been cited as a cumbersome and demotivating factor by those affected.

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) implemented the Managing for Excellence (MaX) programme with the aim of enhancing the productivity and performance of civil servants in order to achieve national goals. The programme is built upon a performance system that emphasises accountability, alignment, and differentiation.

The RCSC has stated that the adoption of a forced distribution or bell curve methodology for assigning performance ratings has been in place since 2016. This methodology is commonly employed by organisations worldwide. To ensure minimal disruption to the current situation, the Commission opted for a conservative bell curve distribution. This distribution allocates 5 percent for civil servants in supervisory positions, three percent for P2 and below, and two percent for the teaching sector to be rated in the Partially Meet Expectation (PME) category.

However, civil servants have questioned the logic behind assigning 3 percent of the total employees to the PME category and rating 75 percent as good performers. They argue that all civil servants fulfil their responsibilities and workloads equally, and believe that this allocation opens the door for the moderation committee to rate employees with personal issues as PME, even if they perform well.

One civil servant noted that being rated as good is equivalent to being rated as not performing well, leading to demotivation among over 75 percent of the staff.

Furthermore, civil servants expressed concerns that being rated in the PME or good category would deny them performance-based incentives, even if they have performed well. They fear that this discrepancy will create chaos within the civil service.

The moderation pool, responsible for assessing performance, will consist of employees who were actively engaged in the agency during the performance year for a significant period. Agencies can choose to moderate staff together or separately based on specialist, PMC, or SSC categories. Moderation can occur at the division, agency, or department levels as long as the overall quota requirement is met.

Civil servants argued that despite receiving outstanding ratings in their Individual Work Plans (IWP), the moderation committee might still rate them in the PME category. They criticised the committee, claiming it lacks clear criteria for rating staff and expressed concerns about the potential for nepotism and favouritism.

In response to these concerns, an RCSC official emphasized that the evaluation of individual performance by immediate supervisors precedes the moderation of performance. The official cited analysis indicating that since 2016, supervisors have predominantly rated 97 percent of staff as outstanding or very good, suggesting minimal and inaccurate assessments of performance.

The RCSC officials emphasised that differentiation is only achieved through the moderation process, as required by the MaX system. Civil servants also claimed instances where lower-level employees were rated in the PME category despite receiving higher ratings in the IWP.

While the officials acknowledged the concerns raised, they argued that leaving performance ratings solely to supervisors risks inflating ratings, lacks transparency, and fails to ensure parity among different supervisors.

The civil servants contended that the attrition rate has been higher in recent years due to the moderation committee’s ratings, resulting in widespread demotivation. However, RCSC officials dismissed this claim, pointing to six years of data showing that, on average, only 32 individuals fell into the PME category each year, and no civil servant had been compelled to exit the system due to performance management. The officials also noted that no civil servant had received a “need improvement” rating consecutively for two years.

RCSC officials assured civil servants that the majority who received good or higher ratings continue to receive promotions and other positive human resource actions.

For civil servants with grievances, the appeal process allows them to appeal to the respective Human Resource Committees within 10 working days of the moderation results being declared.

The true impact of the moderation exercise will take time to assess, as such systems cannot be accurately evaluated immediately. However, anecdotal accounts suggest that since the introduction of moderation, staff members have become more concerned about being held accountable during the exercise, prompting efforts towards positive behavioural change.

RCSC stated that for those performing poorly, human resource actions would be reviewed, including disciplinary measures and compulsory retirement, as part of the BCSR, Chapter 12.

Conversely, many argue that civil servants should be strictly rated to ensure the smooth delivery of services, as there are still instances of inadequate service delivery.