How do we Improve Employee Performance?

A while back, I introduced 3 tips for managers to increase employee performance.  But I now want to build more on the foundation and criteria rather than just simple tips (although that’s always a good place to start!). This article is the first of a 3 part series on Performance Management.  So we will dig deeper to understand how it all fits together.  But as this topic is often on a Managers mind, I thought I would start with .. How to Improve Employee Performance.

This could be taking poor performers to satisfactory levels, average employees to high performing levels, and high performers to excellence.  There’s always room for improvement!  And while the responsibility to take action lies with the individual employee, there is a lot you can do as a Manager to enable this transformation and improve employee performance.

Remember that performance management is not a disciplinary process. Our goal is to help the employee to improve their performance.   We assume that most people actually want to perform well at work.  However, things may have gotten in the way to block their performance (including their own attitude).  Once a person feels unsuccessful, it can set up a viscous cycle of low self-esteem, avoidance and defensiveness.

So we want to remove barriers and provide the necessary tools and processes to allow employees to be successful.  Over time, these successes can build the cycle in the other direction – confidence, enthusiasm, excellence.

Through my research, practice, feedback and observations, I have distilled this down to 3 essential pillars to improve employee performance:

  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Provide meaningful feedback (both corrective and reinforcing)
  3. Apply appropriate motivation

Let’s look at each of these:

Set Clear Expectations:

I talked about this in an early article 5 Tips for employee performance planning

I will also cover more on this topic in my second article in this series, where I’ll talk more about the Performance Planning and Management Framework.   But a couple of things to reinforce is:

  1. Make sure the employee understands HOW they will be evaluated (and stick to that agreement). Too often we give vague goals. And when it comes to evaluation time, the employee may be surprised and feel misled if we give them a poor evaluation based on criteria that they were not even aware of.
  2. Make sure that the goals are REALISTIC. There is so much talk out there about “stretch” goals. And that can be a great motivation for some people (those that are already confident, high achievers). But consider the employee that is already frustrated, or perhaps apprehensive. Maybe they are new to the job and still learning?

The bottom line is to ensure that you take the time to do performance planning, and that you include your employee in those discussions. And on the other end, make sure that performance evaluations are based upon the performance plan.

Provide meaningful feedback

You need to let the employee know when they have done something well (reinforcing feedback), and what they need to change (corrective feedback). We can’t just assume that they instinctively know what you want.

In both cases, it’s important to be specific. Not just say “good job” or “you’re doing that wrong”. In the case of corrective feedback, make sure you tell them what needs to change. And be aware of when they may need training, coaching or mentoring to bring their skills up to an acceptable level. Sometimes we attribute performance problems to laziness or the person being “difficult”, when in fact, they just don’t have the skills.

Also consider the timing of your feedback. Obviously, it should be done during a performance evaluation. But the evidence shows that providing immediate feedback is usually most effective. That is, being able to observe and either reinforce or correct immediately.

So with employees that are having some difficulty, consider breaking bigger goals down into incremental targets and meeting regularly to review their progress. For those that may be lacking in confidence, the smaller goals can help ease their fear.   They can feel successful in achieving small goals, building their confidence and more success.

Apply Meaningful Motivation

We often equate motivation with financial incentives (bonuses, commissions, etc.). But studies show that it is not necessarily the most powerful motivator. Some even suggest that it can have a negative impact on performance! The bottom line is that motivation is very individual, and can vary with a person’s circumstances. And the true motivation is often unconscious.

In my course, we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and consider how different types of motivation could apply to people at different levels in the hierarchy. So, it’s important to have a range of different types of motivation that you can apply to individual employees. We look at a potential “toolkit” that you can your employees can pick from depending on the situation.

What Else Can Managers do to Improve Employee Performance?

In my next article, I will talk about how the Performance Planning and Management Framework can help you and your employees by setting, monitoring and evaluating specific and measurable goals.  But perhaps the most important thing you can do is to start learning performance management techniques now!

Develop GREAT Management Skills at your own pace

Our online Leadership Development Training System provides a convenient and affordable solution for training current and future managers and team leaders.  Participants work at their own pace, schedule and convenience.  And with unlimited 24/7 access, you can go back and refresh your skills at any time!

We have two performance management courses:

The first, Optimize Business Results with Performance Management provides a comprehensive introduction to the concepts and terminology, how it links to strategic planning, setting and managing targets at all levels within your organization

The second, Engage Employees to Improve Performance provides more specific techniques on how to develop individual performance plans and work together with each employee to build on strengths, resolve problems and motivate them to higher levels of performance.

Convenient and affordable training solutions

Courses can be purchased individual OR you can get access to all 6 of our advanced management courses for only $39 per month!  Learn about these options in the brief video, and visit our site to view our courses.