I just OPM's John Berryread a talk by the head of the US government’s Office of Personnel Management, John Berry.  He provides a concise and cogent summary of the new management thinking that I hope will become a major influence in organizations around the world. This shift in management is, I believe, the result of two major trends. First, the crash of 2008 made it very clear that we had been placing too much emphasis and confidence in our top leaders while day-to-day quality of life for the rank-and-file stagnated or declined. Second, a huge wave of research in behavioral economics and positive psychology is shifting management practice toward methods that are tested and proven rather than anecdotal and heuristic.

Below are excerpts from the speech that illustrate some of my favorite points, the practices I emphasize with my own CEO executive coaching clients.

But don’t read my excerpts.

I recommend that leaders of organizations, particularly chief executives, read his entire speech by clicking here. Try to forget that he is speaking about government employees. Ignore references to the President and Congress. Imagine, instead, that you made this speech to your managers and employees. What would the impact be of making these changes in your own leadership style, in your company’s performance review process, in your day-to-day life?



Selected remarks of OPM Director John Berry
Interagency Resource Management Conference
Kellogg Conference Center

What if, when setting performance standards, we engaged our employees and got clear about expectations? What if we made sure performance standards were detailed, objective, aligned to agency mission and goals, and had employee buy-in – that they weren’t just dictated from on high?

Consider the four essential pieces of how we currently manage performance:

  1. Performance standards,
  2. Performance reviews,
  3. Performance ratings and
  4. Performance awards.

I’m sure that all of these processes were created with the best of intentions, but over time, they have dehumanized management to a degree that we can no longer ignore.

I stood in the lobby to greet employees coming into work my first morning, and they just seemed downtrodden – afraid to even make eye contact. I met our career senior execs, and saw a group of talented, creative people – but they had been stifled.

So I did two things:

  1. Set out a vision
  2. Change the culture … to get our employees and managers excited and engaged with the new vision

…the path to the best results at the lowest cost is to build [a] high performance culture inside government, through a new performance management system. One that unleashes our employees’ creativity and productivity.

  1. We can do that by giving them clear, measurable goals aligned to their agency’s mission.
  2. We can do that by giving them constructive, prompt, and continuous feedback to help them improve every aspect of their work.
  3. We can do that by fairly and appropriately recognizing their successes in immediate and concrete ways that spur even greater achievement.
  4. We can do that by recognizing their merit and promoting them accordingly.

The key to improving performance is frequent, consistent feedback. Specific, constructive feedback tends to be a far more powerful and predictable motivator than pay, in even in the private sector. … Let’s give the well over 80 percent of people who are doing a good job three things:

  1. A pat on the back,
  2. Frequent feedback about how they might improve further, and the
  3. 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. [For proof, see Bonus Better than Raise on this blog.]

Talk is cheap; action gets results.

Our people are hungry for respect; hungry to be treated like adults. Empower and include them through your actions and they’ll walk through fire for you.

Next, put systems in place to hold people accountable. Many people have highly measurable jobs in the government, such as those who adjudicate benefits claims at OPM. For them, a measure of production, timeliness and accuracy is relatively easy, and managers should get real with their employees about what constitutes a good job. For employees with harder to measure tasks, a good manager can still create processes where deadlines are set and quality is measured.

… we do have one thing going for us, what some management gurus consider the most important motivator of all: purpose.

Every day, in the hallways, in the cafeteria line, in every meeting, I try to convey passion and joy for the work we’re doing – and how privileged I feel to lead our team and serve.

..the time is now right for us to compete aggressively and unashamedly for the best minds in America – from high school students looking for internships to late-career executives looking for a capstone challenge to a distinguished career.

Each of us in this room is part of something great, but we can, we must, and together we will, do more.

–OPM Director John Berry
Interagency Resource Management Conference
Kellogg Conference Center



See also, on this blog, Performance Review Process: Needs Improvement and Terminate Performance Reviews.