Accountability is the New Watchword

So holding employees accountable is a topic that has been in the news lately and, of course, is always on my mind as I teach federal supervisors how to best respond to employee performance and conduct issues furthering three important goals:

  • Improving an employee’s performance and/or conduct;
  • Failing that, creating a foundation from which progressive actions can be taken; and
  • All the while, doing so in a way that is defensible if there is a complaint, grievance, or appeal.

My summer reading on this topic includes Crucial Accountability, Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior. While not specifically focused on the federal personnel system, this book explains why accountability conversations are so difficult in any setting and offers a number of excellent ideas addressing both the importance of having the conversations and tips for how to have the conversations in a manner that creates the best outcomes. If it’s not on your professional reading list, it should be.

Also under the heading of Accountability, I’ve been following and talking about a MSPB case that I think is very important. The case is Talton vs. VA. Mr. Talton was the Director of the Central Alabama VA Healthcare system, and he was fired for failing to ensure disciplinary action was taken regarding allegations of serious misconduct by two subordinates. The agency charged him with “neglect of duty.” In November 2014 that charge and his removal were sustained by an MSPB Administrative Judge.  The AJ found that it was the director’s duty to ensure timely and appropriate disciplinary action was taken after he was briefed about allegations of employee misconduct. The accusations against one of the subordinates were particularly egregious: a VA peer support specialist drove a VA patient to a crack house and left him there for 2 days. The patient relapsed and was removed from the VA’s substance abuse treatment program as a result. Disciplinary action was not taken until after the matter hit the press more than a year later. While the real issue was probably with lower level supervisors as well as HR, the case makes clear that a senior official is ultimately responsible for subordinate employee discipline.  I’ll be keeping a watch on this case if the full MSPB takes it up on appeal.  You can read the Talton case here.