Vance civilians approach NSPS with cautious optimism

Vance Air Force Base, Okla. -- Vance AFB is half way through the first year under the new National Security Personnel System, and after interviewing a few base civilians it would appear that some of the base's government civilian employees are accepting the new system. 

To conduct these interviews, I borrowed some of the more interesting questions from an assessment recently released by the Office of Personnel Management, and developed a couple questions of my own, to gauge employee assessment of NSPS. The OPM assessment was meant to determine the progress made in the Department of Defense to convert to NSPS. 

To conduct the assessment, OPM developed a set of criteria "that are essential to the successful implementation of significant human capital system reforms...the results of the assessment are presented as a "snapshot" in time of the Department's efforts as of April 3, 2007." 

My willing subjects were asked to answer the questions in order to get a "snapshot" of the progress made at Vance. While I may not have followed the same stringent rules of scientific study that OPM followed, the information gathered can be useful as Vance continues to move forward in the brave new personnel world. 

To summarize the sentiment of the civilians interviewed, the view is that NSPS is a well developed tool. Perhaps you recall your first day in shop class when the teacher warned you about chopping your fingers off in the table saw, or the famous line from "A Christmas Story" about Ralphie not getting a BB gun because he would shoot his eye out. Like any other tool NSPS can be used to do good, but if used improperly it can do serious damage. 

The intense NSPS training conducted on base was effective - people know what the system is about and what it should do. On the other hand, until everyone goes through the full cycle of appraisal and reward, some employees may not be fully confident the system will work the way it is designed to work. 

The first question asked of civilians during the interview was, "overall, what type of impact do you think NSPS will have on you and the other civilians at Vance?" 

The common theme among the answers given was the pay-per-performance aspect of NSPS will have a significant impact, with mixed reviews as to whether it will be a good or bad impact. 

For the "bad," some individuals felt the system could be unfair because there is room for subjective feelings from supervisors in determining how well someone performed. Also, people felt they may not receive fair consideration for all the things they do. 

Other people felt the pay-for-performance system will be a good thing. One person said she felt the system will encourage people to be more active in their job, pursue more education and look for extracurricular activities to become more competitive. Another said he felt Vance already has a higher-than-average number of high performers, and he - along with others - expressed that NSPS will give a clear path for improvement for those who are not at that high level. 

The second question asked was, "do you feel that NSPS is a fair and equitable system?" 

Although some people expressed skepticism about the system's design, most felt it is the use and not the design that will determine its fairness. A key opinion given was that continued training - especially for supervisors - is critical to making sure the system is used correctly. 

The rest of the questions asked came directly from the OPM assessment and only required an "agree" or "disagree" response. 

To show how Vance employees view NSPS, I will give the percentage of "agrees" from my interviewees in comparison with the percentages from the Spiral 1.1 group surveyed by OPM. 

When asked if they agreed that NSPS will improve processes for hiring new employees, 57 percent of Vance employees sampled agreed compared to 42 percent of the Spiral 1.1 group. When asked if they agreed that NSPS will improve processes for disciplining/correcting poor work performance, 86 percent of Vance employees agreed versus 48 percent for Spiral 1.1 people. 

Fifty-seven percent of Vance sampled employees agreed that NSPS will improve processes for rewarding good work performance, while only 50 percent of Spiral 1.1 people agreed. With regard to agreeing on whether NSPS will improve processes for linking pay to performance, improve communication between employees and supervisors and ensuring individual performance supports organizational mission effectiveness, 57 percent of Vance employees agreed versus 51 percent of Spiral 1.1 personnel. 

For those who disagreed on the questions, it primarily came back to the possible subjectivity that can influence the system. Other reasons included the wait-and-see factor and not knowing how everything will play out until everyone went through the whole cycle. Also, with the question regarding communication, some disagreed because they felt communication with their supervisor or subordinate did not need improvement. 

So, a majority of those polled have a positive impression of NSPS and the direction it is taking us. However, all Vance people must continue to make sure we have a strong working knowledge of the system. I'll admit it, I don't always read the instruction manuals for the tools I buy, but maybe that is why some of them are sitting in my garage collecting dust. We all know that NSPS will not sit around and collect dust, so the only option is to learn to use it the right way. I am sure that is a concept a training base can get behind.