OPM chief says employees need more frequent feedback

Federal managers should provide positive feedback to employees at least once a week, the government's human resources chief said on Monday.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said employees should receive frequent recognition and praise for good work from their bosses to keep them motivated and to ensure lines of communication remain open.

"This doesn't mean managers should give praise to people just for showing up on time, but it does mean that written evaluations once or twice a year aren't enough," Berry said in prepared remarks for the Excellence In Government conference sponsored by Government Executive in Washington.

Berry has been a frequent critic of the current federal performance review process. During a congressional hearing in April, Berry told lawmakers that federal managers are "too timid" when it comes to disciplining poor performers in the workforce. In public remarks in March at Gallaudet University in Washington, Berry called the government's current personnel performance reviews "infrequent and rote," and said the formal review process "seems to take place in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average."

On Monday, Berry presented his vision for federal hiring reform. "Let's think of it in terms of the life-cycle of employment -- an agency identifies its needs, recruits accordingly, sets clear expectations for each employee, then gives them the tools and training to meet those expectations and advance in their careers," he said.

OPM launched a federal hiring reform initiative in May 2010, based on a directive from President Obama to hire faster and smarter. Reforms so far have included eliminating lengthy knowledge, skills and abilities statements in favor of resumes and cover letters, and posting information about open positions in plain language.

Berry emphasized that more communication between managers and employees does not mean extra paperwork. "I'm not suggesting that managers need to do paperwork every week -- that would not do wonders for my popularity. Let's just have simple, frequent communication -- when our workers are doing well, yes, but especially if they're not doing well," he noted.

Mentoring is another important aspect of the federal employment life cycle, Berry said. The agency in June completed a pilot mentoring initiative and plans to roll out in August a permanent program throughout OPM. "It happened because one of our early-career staffers asked me if such a program was possible, and I said, 'Go build it,' " Berry said.

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