Long Term Benefits need to be built on Culture
I recently wrote an article on How to create a culture of Performance Excellence. While that article focused on the “big picture” of performance excellence, I now want to provide some specific practices and actions for managers to start building this culture. This article is the first of a 3 part series on implementing Performance Management. 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 – developing a culture of confidence, enthusiasm, excellence.
3 Pillars to Improve Employee Performance
So where do we start? Let’s first consider the actions that enable high performance for employees. Through my research, practice, feedback and observations, I have distilled this down to 3 essential pillars to improve employee performance:
- Set clear expectations
- Provide meaningful feedback (both corrective and reinforcing)
- Apply appropriate motivation
Let’s look at each of these in more detail:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
Build Skills for Performance in Your Workplace
One of the most important duties for managers and supervisors is to ensure that each employee performs well. And most employees want to feel successful. So how do we address those gaps or failures with performance?
In our course 5 Steps to Improve Employee Performance, we introduce a 5 step process to address poor performance, and also help high performing employees reach new heights. You will learn how to:
- Communicate clear expectations on what you expect for performance
- Engage with each employee to set measurable goals
- Monitor and evaluate each employees performance
- Prepare for performance review and provide effective feedback
- Collaborate with employees to remove barriers, coach and motivate
This course includes easy to use tools and techniques that you can start applying immediately. Through practical examples, exercises and case studies, you will learn how to apply these tools in your workplace.