Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry wants federal employees to be evaluated through a new performance management system that would replace the current program of performance reviews, which he said are “infrequent and rote.”

In remarks prepared for delivery to the Interagency Resource Management Conference on Wednesday, Berry said “Employees may be getting useful feedback from their manager, but the formal review process seems to take place in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average. If that doesn’t make our performance ratings suspect, I don’t know what would.”

He said he is discussing a new system with the Chief Human Capital Officers’ Council and will take plans to the National Labor-Management Council. A new evaluation system, as outlined by Berry, apparently would not do away with the current General Schedule that categorizes federal employees and is favored by federal labor unions.

Berry agreed with labor leaders when he said: “We have flexibility under current law to encourage and reward excellence and eliminate mediocrity.” Later in the speech, he offered “a basic blueprint for changing the way we manage personnel performance, and ultimately organizational performance, without changing the law or the pay system.”

That blueprint includes setting performance standards that would be “detailed, objective, aligned to agency mission and goals, and had employee buy-in” and not “just dictated from on high,” Berry said. Systems to hold people accountable would be created. Immediate feedback to workers involved with collaboration or creativity is essential, he added.

Berry outlined how good workers, top performers and slackers would be treated under a new system:

“Let’s give the well over 80 percent of people who are doing a good job three things: a pat on the back, frequent feedback about how they might improve further, and the training they need to get there. If we can give them something on the spot when warranted, like a gift card to take their family out to dinner, even better.

“And let’s call our true top performers outstanding and recognize them in a way that incentivizes better performance. Sometimes, instead of a little cash, a self-motivated high performer will be more inspired by increased public recognition and greater opportunities to innovate. Cash shouldn’t be the default reward.

“And for that very small group of employees who make the rest of us look bad, we need a clear, appropriate rating, and a consistent organizational commitment to get rid of them quickly, but fairly. Failing to remove poor performers disrespects and de-motivates the entire team. And what’s more, we don’t have a position to waste.”