Improving Performance of Employees Is Your Responsibility as a Leader
Do you know how to generate performance improvement and boast your own career at the same time? Improving performance in your organization, department, or team is not as hard as it first sounds. It’s true, you cannot make anyone work, but this page has some simple ideas, simple tools to help you improve employee performance.
Simple Ideas for Improving Employee Performance
Why don’t my people work up to their full potential?
All employees know there is a certain level of output they need to achieve in order to remain employed and to even get acceptable performance evaluations. Most also know they could work harder, faster, smarter…IF they wanted to.
So why don’t they work up to their potential? They’ll give you their physical and mental effort because they have to, but unless you have engaged their internal motivation they won’t give you their heart and soul. This omission results in performance that is marginal.
This webpage will help you learn how to engage their hearts and souls with the result that they will perform with more commitment. Good performers will perform better, and you may be able to turn your marginal performers into good workers.
So, how can I get my people to perform better?
We all want top performers working for us; we want departments that are the envy of others. If it’s not happening for you as a leader, you have both the power and responsibility to change that. Take a hard look in the mirror.
The good news is that with just some small changes, applied consistently, within six months you can completely turn things around. Yes, it will take that long, so let’s get started.
What do I need to do right away?
It’s important that you establish a personal connection with each person who works for you. The better you learn to know them, the better position you are in to know what motivates them. Learn to know what make each employee beam with pride, what sparks emotion in them, and what makes them put forth a little extra effort in their lives.
Beginning today, be present and pleasant. This sounds simple and insignificant but it’s oh-so powerful! Greet each employee each day or make rounds and stop by each work station briefly sometime during the day.
Discuss with them something of interest to them. Your purpose is to remain connected with your people and to give them frequent opportunities to bring up work issues early, thus catching potential problems early.
DO NOT use these interaction times to micromanage or tell them what they’re doing wrong. (If there’s wrong to be discussed, that should be a discussed at a different time and place.) You want them to look forward to your stopping by, not fear it. Always show respect and concern for whatever they are going through, whether it’s job-related or personal.
What if they are not in the same physical location as I am?
They still need to interact with you frequently. Maybe not daily, but schedule weekly or semi-weekly telephone calls. Exchange frequent emails so they do not lose that sense of connection with the home base, and so they’ll know somebody really does care that they are “out there.” You’re not “checking up on them” as much as keeping the lines of communication open.
But I’m a quiet person who likes to tend to business and chitchatting is hard for me.
Communicating freely is easier for some leaders than for others. But every single supervisor and manager needs to learn to do it better—because it’s the number one employee complaint, and it is the most fundamental thing you need to do in any leadership role. You CAN get better with practice. Force yourself to do it, and it will get easier.
If you’re not “Mr. or Ms. Congeniality” here’s how you can gain more respect. You don’t have to be a master of chat. Force yourself to get out of your office and be visible.
Smile at people and greet each one by name. Show some interest in what they’re concerned about; show some interest in their work but also about them as a human being. Ask, “What’s been going on with you?” You don’t have to be an extrovert to be nice. Show interest in his mother’s hospitalization or her son’s Little League record.
How do I find the time for all this?
When you are a supervisor or manager your main responsibility is to your people. Doing your own work and projects needs to be a smaller part of your daily routine. If your own deadlines and projects take all your time, then you are not a manager, you are a technician.
Managers who don’t like the people aspects of their responsibilities often immerse themselves in their own work in order to avoid the people interactions. Don’t do it. What can you let go of? What can you assign to someone else? What can you put off until later, in order to carve out a couple of hours a week to attend to your employees?
Once you are paying more attention to your employees and have begun to engage their hearts, a number of the day-to-day problems you deal with now – like marginal performance – will begin to be resolved.
You must make the time. You must make this a priority. Your people are not an interruption of your work. They are your work.
Feedback and Appreciation
These are two additional simple but powerful things you can do to raise the voluntary level of employee performance. They go hand-in-hand with being present and being pleasant. Feedback means giving employees ongoing (real time) assessment of how they are doing on their jobs.
It’s hard to keep working with high intensity when nobody seems to notice, and the boss never tells you whether you are meeting expectations or not. Appreciation is closely related to feedback because it means expressing gratitude and thanks for an employee’s results and even for his/her efforts.
How do I give them “feedback”?
Comments on how someone does their job should be primarily positive. Look specifically for things you can tell them that they are doing well. Make a simple one or two sentence comment. New employees may need this type of feedback every day or so. Ask them how they think they’re doing and then offer your own comments.
Seasoned employees will blossom with getting positive performance feedback every week or two. Employees always need to know where they stand. Be as specific as you can when you tell them what they have done right. You can offer this type of positive feedback privately and even, occasionally, in the hearing of others.
But suppose their performance isn’t very good or there are some major concerns?
This is exactly why you need to make sure the performance feedback is frequent. You positively must address deficits right away before they become engrained bad habits. Most employees want to do things right and will appreciate knowing how to do what is expected and rewarded.
Your attitude, when delivering corrective feedback, should be one of trying to positively shape the employee. If you have an attitude of gleeful “I caught you (doing it wrong),” then it’s no wonder your employees won’t perform!
With a friendly tone of voice and the goal of being helpful, you can have a simple business interchange with them, at a time and place where you cannot be overheard by others. “I notice you did X. It would be better to do Y and here’s why…”
If you have chronic non-performers, this issue is addressed below. Keep reading.
Do I really need to thank employees for doing what they’re paid to do anyway? No, you don’t…and they don’t have to give you more than barely acceptable quantity and quality of work, either (meets expectations, but barely). So if you want performance to improve, the answer to this question if YES. You will need to be generous with your thanks.
Any and every time the employee has done more than usual or is better at some aspect of the work than others are, this is an opportunity to let them know you noticed and appreciate it. It’s very powerful to your employee when he/she is noticed and praised.
Speak a word of thanks (“Wanda, I appreciate you pitching in and cleaning up that mess yesterday”), send an email thank you, or write a note and attach it to some written work, saying, “Thanks for a thorough job on this report, Bill.” But bear in mind that nothing is as good as face-to-face thanks delivered with a smile by you personally.
Appreciation expressed to someone engages their heart. And having them put their heart into their work is what’s going to get you higher level performance. Now they are working because you led them to want to work, not just because you are the boss and they have to do it.
Coaching Employees to Improved Performance
What is coaching and why do I need to do it?
Coaching is a way to take the employee further in terms of performance and capability. Simply put, coaching means helping the employee to continuously improve, reach the limits of his or her performance capability and achieve outstanding performance for you and your organization.
This may sound like an impossible goal, but it really just extends the things you’ve already learned to do. Performance improvement is based on simple concept. Coaching in a business environment is similar to the role of a coach in sports.
You have already learned the importance of frequent informal feedback to your employees. Unfortunately, the only time people in most organizations get performance feedback and get to sit down with their boss is at the yearly formal performance review. You need to change that pattern.
(This method of delivering feedback is seldom, if ever, motivating for the employee. It’s stressful for both parties. Many times it’s rushed or perfunctory [let’s hurry up and get this over with]. A pay increase may be riding on the outcome of this formal review process. So if you want to improve performance, this is not the place to do it.)
Coaching takes feedback a step further but not as far as formal appraisal. You should plan to sit down with employees in a private, informal discussion of their performance and their needs every three to four months – faithfully. Open the discussion by asking them their opinion on how they are performing and how they think the department is doing. The leader’s role should mostly be to ask questions and listen.
It might be helpful to bring out the last performance appraisal, not to look at the specific ratings but to look at the items you listed under new goals or developmental activities. Jointly, you and the employee should assess how she or he is doing in regard to those new goals. If little progress has been made, figure out what to do next to take the first step.
This is also a good time to gather ideas or suggestions for improvement that the employee might be able to offer you. After you have listened well to what your employee has to say, take this opportunity to offer any suggestions you might have for the employee to improve performance and. If appropriate, discuss ideas for how to give her more of the work she likes best and less of the work she likes less well.
Performance Review: Final Step in Performance Improvement
How can turn the dreaded task of appraisal into a performance improvement opportunity?
It’s that time of year when you must do the formal written appraisal or your employees. If you have been following earlier suggestions in this article, appraisal will be much easier for both you and your employee than it may have been in the past.
Formal appraisal does relate to improving performance because it’s another important component of performance management. It’s the capstone step. But it’s won’t serve the purpose of improving performance unless it’s backed up by the other actions mentioned previously in this article.
Prepare for the evaluation by giving the employee a blank copy of the form and asking him to do a self evaluation. Independently fill out a copy yourself and set a mutually convenient time to sit down together and discuss the results. Make sure you have ample private time for this interview.
When you get together ask the employee how he answered each question and why he chose that answer. In many cases his answer will agree with yours. When it doesn’t agree, negotiate. Bear in mind that you are in charge and yours should be the prominent opinion; just remain open for give and take, if your employee can provide evidence to support his opinion.
There is really nothing in a formal performance review that should come as a surprise to your employee…or to you. If you have been providing regular feedback and coaching and offering performance improvement tips, you will have covered everything beforehand. In this case, yearly appraisal time is simply a written confirmation of what’s been said all along.
When performance review is turned into an opportunity for a frank discussion, which includes praise for your employee’s strong points, it can serve to motivate performance.
But suppose their performance isn’t good to begin with or there are some major concerns?
This is exactly why you need to make sure that performance feedback is frequent. You positively must address significant problems right away before they become engrained bad habits. Most employees want to do things right and will appreciate knowing how to do what is expected and rewarded.
Your attitude, in this case, should be one of trying to shape the employee. If you have an attitude of gleeful, “I caught you (doing it wrong),” then it’s no wonder your employees won’t perform.
With a friendly tone of voice and the goal of being helpful you can have a simple business interchange with them. “I noticed you did X. It would be better to do Y, and here’s why…” This serves the purpose of being corrective and directive but without being “critical.”
What do I do with the poor performer that just doesn’t improve?
Before you take other action, review whether you have done all you could.
Has the person had sufficient training and opportunities to learn? Have you worked with them and provided clear, honest feedback and guidance? Have you clearly set expectations?
If so, then it’s time to take action.
Despite your best efforts there are some people who can’t or won’t improve. This can be especially troubling when they have a good attitude and have honestly tried. But failing to take action to eliminate poor performers brings down the rest of the team.
It is positively essential that you document the performance issues you have encountered with your poor-performing employee. Write down when you have counseled or coached the employee on these issues, what was discussed, and what your employee agreed to do. Consult with your human resources department on the exact procedure in your company. Follow your organization’s procedures carefully.
For most companies, after the coaching stage, you will need to provide a formal written warning, which the employee signs to acknowledge that she received the information and the warning. Now, she is on notice.
Some employees will elect to quit when they realize they are in serious danger of being fired. For others, the written warning will include an agreement on expected performance and a date by which standards must be met or termination will result. It’s important, legally, that the problem and attempted solutions be written down and have appropriate dates and signatures.
How do I fire someone?
While this is never a pleasant task, it is occasionally necessary; it simply comes with the territory of leadership. If you have provided frequent feedback and coaching and if you have delivered a written warning, termination will certainly not come as a surprise to your employee. By this time he or she knows you have tried to make this work out; chances are they have given it their best effort, too, because you have been helpful and reasonable.
When you meet with your employee for the last time you can say, “You know what I’m going to tell you. We both tried our best, but it just didn’t work. I have to let you go, and I think you’ll be happier at a place that’s better suited to your talents.”
It’s rare that a termination has to be confrontational when handled in the manner described above.
What if the employee has a bad attitude and won’t go amiably?
When it first becomes apparent that the employee has both a performance problem and an attitude problem, it is especially critical that you sit down with the person at the early stages. Ask questions and listen very carefully to try to determine what’s going on with your employee. The bad attitude could be due to frustration at not being able to catch on to the job. Ask. “You seem really upset a lot of the time. What’s going on?”
The employee's attitude may have nothing to do with the job, but may be a result of personal problems. In many cases, some compassion and interest on the part of the supervisor will improve the person’s attitude.
Remind him that you try to maintain a positive department and that you expect everyone to be as optimistic and civil as possible. Tell you employee that you believe in him. Tell him that his negative attitude is probably getting in the way and keeping his performance from improving. He’ll need to change his attitude on the job.
In your discussion, work to come to some kind of agreement that he will try to let his negative attitude go and try to enjoy the work a little more. When you begin seeing even the slightest improvement, give your employee praise and positive feedback. This may be just the wake-up call that's needed, and your positive attention may be able to turn someone around, even at this point.
To improve their performance, show them you care about them and value them and their contributions. Let them know at all times how they are doing.
As you are improving performance of your employees, you will also be
improving your performance as a leader.
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