e-KSF Countdown

There are just 31 working days until the national contract for the e-KSF comes to an end on the 31stMarch 2012. For organisations not entering into local contracts with Radcliffe Solutions for the ongoing use of the e-KSF, we need to stop storing and processing organisation’s data before that date in order for us to fulfil our supplier responsibilities under the Data Protection Act.

Over the last couple of months we have been writing about a number of different options that we think NHS organisations should consider for recording performance appraisal in light of the national contract coming to an end. We have also been having detailed discussions with over 200 NHS organisations on what their plans are moving forwards. We would like to take this opportunity to summarise these discussions and provide you with links to all of the articles in our series in case you have missed any.

If you would like us to explain in more detail how these options may fit your organisation, or help you with the design and implementation of new systems, please do contact us for an informal, no-obligation discussion.

The Minimalist Approach

We’re still seeing a “minimalist” approach to recording performance appraisal and development review outcomes at the moment, with organisations looking to simplify their whole appraisal process and make it easier for managers and staff to have constructive discussions regarding performance and capture only core information centrally for critical reporting needs.

For organisations looking at adopting a minimalist approach to performance appraisal we would encourage you to look at what information managers and staff need prior to an appraisal and what they need to produce as a result of an appraisal. Of the information they need to produce as a result of their appraisal, how much needs to be formally written down and how much needs to be recorded in a centralised system?

We would also encourage organisations to consider how their performance appraisal processes fit within their wider workforce development strategies. Since one of the outputs of a good appraisal discussion is a Personal Development Plan – how does your appraisal process link with your learning and development provision?

We believe the key aspect of adopting a minimalist approach is that the process organisations adopt is effective to start with, before looking at which system to deploy.

Introducing a simple KSF Post Outline database

For organisations who may not want the full functionality that the e-KSF can offer but want to be able to reference their KSF Post Outlines (and continue to evolve these over time) one of our partners has developed a robust database using Microsoft AccessTM to enable you to easily manage ALL elements of your existing KSF Post Outlines centrally within your organisation, in the absence of the e-KSF. You will be able to import all Post Outline data that has been exported via the e-KSF, so none of your data will be lost if you decide not to use the e-KSF in the future.

If you would like more information on this solution please click here to access the product fact sheet. Or alternatively our Regional Account Management team are familiar with this cost effective solution and can provide you with an online demonstration or show you the full extent of the functionality at a meeting.

A Focus on ESR and Oracle

The benefits of ESR as a performance appraisal system are well known, it is strongly supported by the Department of Health, part of an integrated suite of HR tools, and is licence free to organisations. However, we think that the main considerations around ESR are less technical/functionality focused, and more to do with local and national strategy.

Since the publication of our first article on ESR, the pilot of the Performance Management Plan (PMP) functionality being developed for ESR has now been completed and findings are being reviewed by the Department of Health.

Our overall impression of the PMP functionality is that it is feature-rich, but complex; the potential flexibility and configurability offered by the functionality needs to be balanced against the administrative effort required to create and manage the Plans and Templates. Our other findings are:

  • The system is capable of simultaneously managing multiple appraisal processes and approaches (using a combination of Objective and Appraisal Templates within separate Performance Management Plans, targeted at different staff populations), but our view is that the system’s current usability/navigation issues make these tasks quite complicated.
  • Some advanced Talent Management practice is possible (e.g. suitability matching by role/competency); but this requires significant amounts of PMP data to be present in the system before it becomes practically useful.
  • The functionality seems to have been designed with a highly structured, performance-related pay, corporate context in mind, and therefore does not readily fit with the traditional public sector model of developmental review and CPD recording; however, a growing emphasis on performance management and workforce efficiency/productivity could make elements of this approach increasingly relevant to NHS staff groups.
  • The User Guides are fairly comprehensive, but the range of possible approaches and applications of the functionality make careful project/outcome planning and robust rollout methodology a necessity.

If organisations require any detailed advice on the future of ESR we recommend you discuss this with the national ESR team themselves.

A Focus on the Totara Open Source Solution

Totara is a custom distribution of Moodle, which adds ‘corporate functionality’ including department structures, positions/work structures, competency management, objective setting and powerful reporting. This makes it a viable enterprise wide solution for NHS organisations. Totara is generally used to enhance learning processes, but also works well as a performance management system.

Since writing our article on the use of the Totara Open Source solution for recording performance appraisal we have become Silver Partners of Totara. This means that we are now even better able to run effective end-to-end deployments within organisations of this leading learning platform. In addition our Partnership status gives us more influence (on behalf of our clients) on the Totara development roadmap.

We like Totara because it provides all the benefits of an enterprise-wide, integrated learning and performance system but at a low cost compared with commercial tools. It’s also highly customisable and flexible, which means that it can be implemented to support your existing best-practice processes and forms. We think that Totara will have an increasing importance in this market – the Managing Director of Totara, Richard Wyles, has deep experience of learning systems in healthcare (in New Zealand) and is very focused on continuing to provide systems that improve healthcare effectiveness

A Focus on Microsoft SharePoint and InfoPath

The NHS still has free licences to use a couple of very powerful Microsoft tools – SharePoint (which can be used to automate workflows and store  and share wide ranges of information) and InfoPath (which automates data collection through customised electronic forms, which can be delivered to employee desktops).

We are supporting a number of NHS organisations to use SharePoint to support appraisal processes. Everyone we’ve spoken to has been very impressed by its capability and flexibility. These Microsoft tools can be used to quickly and cost effectively gather and report on appraisal and development information, through the creation of forms that can be used by specific departments or across an entire organisation. More sophisticated forms can also utlise workflow sequences.

If you are looking to automate data collection, we could help you to design forms in Microsoft InfoPath and workflows in SharePoint and deploy this locally. This could involve the following:

  • A single form with configured data fields, accessible on your intranet through SharePoint and/or directly from Microsoft Outlook, with branding and instructions that match your appraisal process.
  • Multiple forms, with different instructions and information for different staff groups, with workflow to allow manager sign-offs.
  • Staff can complete the appraisal form and also record training needs, without having to enter another username/password.
  • Data is accessible for both managers and staff to comment and sign off.
  • Once appraisals are completed they are submitted and stored for future reference.
  • Central HR teams can fulfill reporting needs by running key reports.

A Focus on Mahara for Recording Performance Appraisal

We identified a need within NHS organisations for a portfolio-based approach to learning and development. Historically, portfolios may have brought to mind the “evidence mountain” of copied paperwork and written notes. Mahara is a versatile, slick and online system which gives you the ability to design your own appraisal processes and workflows within an extremely configurable, secure, Open Source framework.

We can help you to design pages based on a set of user-friendly, online templates (journals, a document library, plans, and tags), which individuals use to record, upload and classify evidence. They can then provide appropriate access to Managers, Appraisers, Peers, Mentors, Responsible Officers for validation etc. Employees control the specific information they enter into Mahara and how this is shared, and organisations control who can access the system and what types of information employees store. For example, an employee could create an e-portfolio, then share part of it with their manager as an input to ongoing appraisal; request feedback from their mentor; give access to their professional body for their CPD record for registration / revalidation, and / or share a blog with professionals in the same community of interest.

We think that Mahara can provide a good organisation-wide solution for the light touch recording of performance appraisal, along with meeting a range of emerging Medical and non-Medical CPD and revalidation purposes, to record, organise and securely share CPD and competency evidence information. In addition, due to the low cost nature of this system, we also think that it could provide an ideal solution for organisations looking for a solution for particular staff groups who are more engaged with appraisal and recording evidence for their CPD portfolios and need to have something available for use within short timescales.


As explained in our letters to HR Directors earlier in the year, we’d like to take this opportunity to clarify what will happen if we do not hear from your organisation by the 29th February 2012 regarding your ongoing use of the e-KSF. We will have to assume that you no longer wish to use the system and on the 16th March we will lock your e-KSF accounts and write all of your organisation’s data to a CD-Rom which we will post to you using recorded delivery, before permanently deleting all your organisation’s data from our system. Our preference would be for you to contact us and arrange a structured, supported download of your data. This option gives your managers and staff time to download any personal information and the data transfer can take place over a secure web link.

Finally, if you have not yet met with your Regional Account Manager please do get in touch to arrange a no obligation meeting to discuss what solution for recording performance appraisal best fit your local needs. If you are not sure who to contact please email info@think-associates.co.uk  and we will put you in contact.