OPM's Berry: Performance and pay need not be linked

OPM director promises to revamp performance evaluation system

Performance reviews in the government are too “infrequent and rote” and the system needs tobe improved, said Office of Personnel Management Director  John Berry during a speech today at the Interagency Resources Management Conference.

He said a new system would aim to harness federal employees’ creativity and productivity, set clear measurable goals that align with an agency’s missions, and facilitate constructive and regular feedback from managers.


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Berry identified performance management reform as one of OPM’s three long-term goals, which also include examining the federal pay system and promoting innovation.

Berry said he thinks the government must first get performance right before it starts discussing federal salaries or the possibility of implementing a federal pay-for-performance system.

“They don’t have to be linked,” Berry said about pay and performance. “There’s a lot of literature out there that says what drives performance really isn’t pay.”

The first step in fixing performance management is to understand the missions of the federal workforce and to recognize what kind of workforce the federal government wants to build, he explained.

The Chief Human Capital Officers Council has formed a working group to begin deliberations on performance evaluation. The CHCO Council is being led by two senior executives – one from the Energy Department and the other from the Housing and Urban Development Department – and coordinating its effort with the National Labor-Management Council, Berry added.

The existing method for evaluating federal employees includes performance standards, reviews, rating and rewards. Berry said these tools have “essentially dehumanized our management. For many employees, performance standards are unclear and too subjective.”

He also said not all federal employees should receive above-average ratings, as is often the case.

“Failing to remove poor performers disrespects and demotivates the entire team,” Berry said. “In declining budget times, we don’t have a position to waste.”

Berry proposed that the government change the way it manages personnel performance by engaging employees in the process of setting clear expectations and promoting constant feedback, or what he called a “far more reliable motivator than pay.”

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

Reader comments

Fri, Mar 18, 2011

“Failing to remove poor performers disrespects and demotivates the entire team,” Berry said. “In declining budget times, we don’t have a position to waste.”

Yes, and it makes the rest of the workforce look bad. This is something the Unions should understand and not fight.

Fri, Mar 18, 2011 George Wash Dist

Next month I will be at 40 years federal service. As I reflect, I contend that "poor performers" do not exist. The term is bantied around loosely, especially amongst management and supervisors. I cannot recall any new employee coming aboard with the attitude of doing as little as possible for the most pay possible. No! They come aboard wanting to make a positive contribution to the mission, make an impact on the nation's security, and maximize the use of their particular skill sets. However, after a fashion, they become discouraged, disenchanted, and even disenfranchized. Not through lack of wanting to be the best, but through POOR MANAGEMENT! Cliques, nepotism, buddies, etc. get recognized fow what? For being able to schmooze. It has very little to do with ability. You get the point, I'm sure. There are no poor performers, just poor managers! Now, this is not to say there are no good managers, there are a lot of them. What I'm saying is look at an individual branded 'poor performer' and before subscribing to the monicer, take a very close look at that person's leader(s) and I'll show you lack of qualification to lead; someone(s) who concentrate on their subordinate's weaknesses (and we all have them) and not instead capitalizing on their strengths. Thank you for listening.

Thu, Mar 17, 2011

This is like Active Duty OERs. Great idea, but misused. Either the leader does not understand and wants a vent for blame, because they demand doing something their way, or it becomes a career blackmail tool. The system needs change, but I have seen change mean insulting senior personnel and demanding more when workers are doing the work of three people. Dont' even go into the subject of pay pools!

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 Jaded Southern CA, USA

I have been part of NSPS, part of GS, and now I'm under the Interim Performance Management System for GS (IPMS) which is just NSPS with greater destructive latitude for management. All these systems deny the employee any actual say in their performance review. The supervisor's word outweighs the employee's 1000 to one. Where is the feedback mechanism for the managers to be rated? Poor management skills and unclear performance metrics potentially demoralize the motivated workforce far more than lack of bonus cash.

Thu, Mar 17, 2011

I have been threatened by a manager when I was trying to go above and beyond in my duties. I am known as one of the few in my group who add value- it has been stated many times by external organizations. The government limits an employee's ability to excel by placing more priority on who can scream "racism" or state some other excuse for not performing and being otherwise accountable for their work product. Managers are scared stiff because even if they had enough guts to do the right thing- upper management won't support them because of political or other concerns. DC is the worst because "entitlement" rues the day when it comes to who gets, and keeps the government jobs.

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