The worst-performing civil servants will be given a timeframe for improvement under Whitehall reforms announced today.
As part of a wide-ranging civil service shake-up, a tougher appraisal system is to be introduced to identify the top-performing 25% and the bottom 10% of staff.
The best will receive better recognition while under-performers will be given a period in which they must show improvement, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said today.
They may also be encouraged to apply for redundancy when jobs have to be cut.
The Civil Service Reform Plan, designed to equip Whitehall for the challenges faced by a scaled-down workforce, also includes measures designed to improve accountability on big projects and to share services across departments.
There is also to be a review of civil service terms and conditions to identify those "beyond what a good, modern employer would provide".
Mr Maude said: "Most civil servants are dedicated and hard-working, but like all organisations the Civil Service needs to address long-standing weaknesses and build on existing strengths.
"Taken together, and properly implemented, these actions will deliver real change and are the first stage in a programme of practical actions for reform."
Mr Maude said ministers should have a "stronger role" in the recruitment of permanent secretaries, the top civil servant in each department.
The Government would consult the Civil Service Commission on how that could be done, he told MPs.
"A frequent complaint of civil servants themselves concerns performance management," he said.
"They feel that exceptional performance is too often ignored and poor performance is not rigorously addressed."
Those in the bottom 10% of the senior civil service would have to "show real improvement if they are to remain in the service". A similar appraisal system is already being introduced for grades below senior civil servants.
After cuts already announced the Civil Service will be reduced from 500,000 to 380,000 by 2015.
Mr Maude said that sharing services would "become the norm" and productivity must improve.
Head of the Civil Service Sir Bob Kerslake said: "The Civil Service of the future will be smaller and more unified. It needs a culture which is pacier, more innovative and less focused on hierarchy and process.
"Civil servants around the country have told us that they want change and I believe that they will embrace this plan fully.
"It will enable them to carry on doing what they do best, which is to deliver essential public services which make a real difference to people's lives."