Leading Contracting Organizations

NCMA’s Government Contract Management Symposium is just around the corner.  Each year, NCMA organizes a stellar program centered on key training topics for the acquisition community.  Last year’s education track included sessions on forming successful acquisition teams, to understanding how industry conducts business, to managing contracting organizations.  This year’s symposium highlights understanding contract management, adapting to our changing environment, and leading with confidence.  A common theme is leadership, specifically leading contracting organizations.

Often times, contracting leaders are placed into management roles in contracting organizations with little training or guidance on how to be successful in their new role.  Today’s acquisition professionals are expected to combine technical expertise with strong leadership skills to achieve agency missions.  One of the fundamental roles of contracting managers is to develop and retain talent through effective performance management.  What are the best practices managers can adopt to support and manage their workforce?

Performance Management

Although performance management is ongoing, the cycle typically begins with performance planning, moves to monitoring, developing, appraising, and then rewarding.

Planning. Involves setting performance expectations and goals for your direct reports. These should be tied to organization- and agency-level objectives. Get employees involved in the planning process so they understand the logic behind the goals.

Monitoring. Is ongoing and involves measuring performance and providing feedback on progress toward goals. Conduct progress reviews with employees so they know how well their performance is measuring against elements and standards, and so they can course correct as needed.

Developing. Refers to helping develop your employees’ capacity to perform. Development of employees may involve training, stretch assignments, coaching, mentoring, and formal education (e.g., graduate degree).

Appraising. May be done formally or informally. The appraisal process helps you compare an employee’s performance over time or against other individuals and standards. It impacts pay increases as well as the assessing of valuable personnel during periods of reductions in force.

Rewarding. Means recognizing employees, individually and as members of groups, for good performance and acknowledging ways they have contributed to the organization’s goals and the agency’s mission. It should be an ongoing part of day-to-day operations and may involve cash bonuses, paid time off, and nonmonetary rewards, such as praise and other acknowledgements.

Performance Appraisals

Performance appraisals should be viewed as an integrated part of performance management. Managers who use the following basic performance appraisal values to guide their performance cycles will be set up for success:

Hold feedback conversations early and often. When there is a shared understanding of performance expectations and managers provide regular feedback, employees will not be surprised by any information in a performance appraisal. In fact, the performance appraisal should be a review of what they already know.

Balance positive and corrective feedback. It is a misconception to think that the point of an appraisal is to expose all problems, shortcomings, or deficiencies. Instead, effective managers approach appraisals as gap analysis. However, most human beings can hear corrective feedback much more clearly and openly if they are also acknowledged for what they are doing well. Consider a ratio of three positive comments for every corrective or critical comment.

Giving Feedback

Three feedback principles to keep in mind are:

  1. Positive intentions. If your motives and goals related to giving feedback are about anything other than helping someone perform well, it is not the right time to give feedback. Positive intentions are conveyed in subtle, nonverbal ways, which contribute to a sense of support and safety rather than threat and fear.
  1. Specific behaviors. Feedback is about performance, not the person or personality attributes. Behavior and performance can be changed or modified. Feedback on the whole person is a form of attack and almost never leads anywhere constructive.
  2. Open two-way communication. The more open you are to what an employee is saying, the more you create a space where that employee can be open to what you are saying. The more you keep in mind the two-way nature of what is happening, the more effective you will be. If you go to a unilateral, “telling” stance and fail to listen to the employee, you can expect resistance, argument, and deterioration of the relationship.

Stop by Management Concepts booth at the GCMS Symposium to learn more about performance management, including performance planning techniques and ways to leverage leadership skills to develop and retain your contracting workforce talent.  See you there!

Written by:

Acquisition & Contracting



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Federal Spotlight: Amira Reiss
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