Improve Employee Performance with 17 Proven Methods
"Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of time, and besides, it annoys the pig!"
Have you ever heard of this quip from Mark Twain?
Although quirky, it sums up the challenges of boosting employee performance.
How well your people perform is paramount for their success and your organization's.
But as the quip suggests, it isn't easy lifting the performance of your people.
And it's not about forcing unrealistic expectations on them, explains Ginger Graham, former CEO of Amylin Pharmaceuticals; it's about understanding their potential and nurturing it.
It takes planning, collaboration, and a targeted approach to improve employee performance. But if you do it well, your people and bottom line will thank you for it!
In this article, we'll show you how to improve employee performance: what it looks like, why it's essential, and what it takes to get it right.
😟 7 Reasons why your employees might underperform
There are many reasons why your people may not be performing well. However, here are seven common issues that employees face:
- Insufficient skills and capabilities—without the right skills to get the job done, your people lack the core competencies that underpin success.
- Lack of clear goals or organizational vision—without transparent goal-setting, or if expectations are unrealistic, your people will lack direction, lose motivation, and underperform.
- Lack of incentives—proper incentives drive motivation and should focus on autonomy (let your people make decisions), mastery (give them opportunities to get better), and purpose (what is their "why?"), according to Dean Miles of the Forbes Coaches Council.
- Lack of resources—without the right tools, processes, and support, your people cannot produce the results you expect.
- Inadequate training—without sufficient training, your people won't successfully adapt or thrive in changing business environments and risk falling behind on their skills and competencies.
- Lack of development opportunities—if your people don't see a future career path or development opportunities in your organization, they'll be frustrated, less motivated to succeed, and more likely to leave.
- Poor workplace relations—unharmonious workplaces induce stress and increase the likelihood of conflict, hindering your people from bringing their best.
💡 17 Methods to improve employee performance in your organization
So, what can you do to help your people become high performers?
The following 17 methods will help uplift your people's performance and enhance their potential for success.
1. Identify the root cause of poor performance
A first step in improving performance is to understand what's causing underperformance in the first place.
Tip #1: Making assumptions can be misleading, so use data and evidence to assist you in finding the root causes of poor performance.
For instance, an employee could be affected by personal circumstances or health-related issues that may have workable solutions once the issue is understood.
Or they could lack clarity about their roles due to an inadequate onboarding experience.
Tip #2: A proper role understanding will give your people the best chance of addressing underperformance. Sometimes, a solution may be straightforward once you uncover its root causes.
2. Stay focused on goals
Set clear goals for your people to identify with and aspire towards. Without clear goals, even well-intentioned and motivated employees may not know where to direct their efforts.
Explicit goals help employees understand their roles and the outcomes they are responsible for. It helps them prioritize their workloads and focus on what matters to bring results.
Tip: Help your people be clear about their objectives by setting SMART goals, i.e., goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
SMART goals are practical and grounded in reality and will help your people achieve more, suggests Anthony Tropea, President of Ellicott Realty Group.
➡️ Are you having a hard time setting SMART goals? Zavvy has you covered. Our learning science experts have created a ready-to-use training journey.
3. Manage expectations based on clear performance metrics
Alongside the goals you set for your people, establish a way to measure progress against those goals.
Tip #1: Use performance metrics to define benchmarks, keeping them realistic and achievable to boost their likelihood of success.
Tip #2: Allow enough flexibility and adequate timelines to give your people a chance to do good work and be invested in the outcomes they're working towards.
4. Connect employee performance with organizational priorities
You should align your people's success with your targets for organizational success.
Tip: Do this by linking employee performance, i.e., their goals, metrics, and benchmarks, to your company's values and objectives.
Defining and communicating a clear vision for your people will help them feel more motivated by your organization's goals.
McKinsey notes that 91% of companies with effective performance management systems link their employees' goals to business priorities.
You will encourage accountability and better performance as employees have a stronger sense of the impact of their performance on organizational outcomes.
5. Ensure role clarity and match tasks to skills
Give your people role clarity by spelling out the tasks, deliverables, processes, goals, and KPIs associated with their roles.
➡️ At Zavvy, we use career paths to ensure role clarity.
Tip: You need to avoid confusion and ambiguity, which can be frustrating and de-motivating.
A lack of role clarity is one of the top five reasons identified by Gallup research for employee burnout.
Don't allow lack of clarity to impact your people's job satisfaction or productivity. Some steps to ensure role clarity in your organization include:
- Distributing a simple role clarity questionnaire.
- Running a role clarity exercise such as the Acid Test.
- Matching tasks to skills to clarify how employees should perform specific roles optimally.
6. Enable employees to do their jobs well
Help your people perform their best by giving them what they need to do their jobs well, i.e., focus on employee enablement.
The first step in employee enablement is to know what your people need.
Tip: Start by uncovering their learning needs, identifying areas for improvement, and discovering where there may be roadblocks in their workflows.
The next step is to give your people what they need by:
- empowering them;
- eliminating roadblocks;
- inviting collaboration;
- encouraging knowledge-sharing, and
- customizing learning to their needs.
7. Facilitate connections and cohesion
Encourage your people to build meaningful relationships at work and provide opportunities for connecting with their colleagues and stakeholders.
Strong work relationships will boost your people's well-being and sense of belonging while bringing your teams together to be more cohesive and motivated to work together towards common goals.
They will also help your people feel happier, highlights happiness expert Annie McKee: "One of the ways we can make ourselves happy and feel more fulfilled in our workplaces is to build friendships with the people that work with us, work for us, and even with our boss."
And as meaningful social connections lead to more happiness, they also reduce stress, as research has shown.
What's more, strong workplace connections enhance employee engagement, helping your people be more productive, creative, and loyal.
Tip: Encourage your people to form strong and meaningful relationships through meetup rituals and having conversations that matter.
8. Provide purposeful work
Purposeful work will promote your people's internal drive to perform well, learn, improve, and succeed.
Having a purpose at work is essential for employees: 70% say they define their purpose through work.
Tip: Encourage your people's sense of purpose by giving them autonomy in their roles and empowering them to control their tasks and responsibilities.
9. Make communications effective
Make your communications effective by aiming for clarity, promoting collaboration, and being alert to non-verbal forms of communication.
Some ways that you can make communicating more effective for your people are:
- Have face-to-face or one-on-one meetings to hear from, and listen to your people in an engaging and meaningful way.
- Creating a receptive environment to encourage honest and candid communication.
- Pay attention to non-verbal communication—are they consistent with what's being said?
- Use silence as a conversation tool to emphasize important messages and give people a chance to respond.
10. Focus on accountability
Accountability is a vital component of a high-performing workplace. When your people have accountability, they take responsibility for their work and develop a sense of ownership.
Increased accountability helps:
- improve performance;
- measure progress against objectives, and
- inspire confidence in your people.
You can promote a focus on accountability by encouraging your people to:
- Pay attention to details.
- Acknowledge mistakes and be willing to accept criticism.
- Have a team-first mentality.
- Be proactive and look for solutions to problems.
11. Avoid micro-managing
Micro-managing your people can be detrimental to their health. A recent Forbes article highlights that micro-managing may lead to:
- Depression, anxiety, sleep problems, or fatigue;
- Higher stress levels;
- Lower self-esteem and confidence;
- Loss of motivation;
- Fear of job loss or being demoted.
Unfortunately, micro-management is commonplace at work: Surveys have found that 79% of employees have experienced micro-management, and up to 85% have reported impacts on their morale, job performance, and loyalty.
Ben Wigert and Ryan Pendell, researchers at Gallup, suggest the following ways to reduce micro-management at your organization:
- Focus on strengths when assigning work.
- Promote a culture of trust and shared accountability.
- Promote agility and innovation in your people.
- Recognize and reward your people's collaborative, partnering, and outstanding individual contributions.
12. Promote continuous and collaborative learning
Create a culture of learning in your organization to foster a continuous and collaborative learning environment.
Continuous learning is about gaining skills, knowledge, and professional development opportunities on an ongoing basis. It benefits your people and boosts their productivity by:
- Keeping them up to date with new skills and knowledge;
- Developing their competencies on an ongoing basis;
- Improving their confidence and job satisfaction;
- Offering them reskilling opportunities to stay relevant for their roles and grow their careers within the organization.
Tip: Ensure your continuous learning program is effective with a training management system. You need to ensure that your training initiatives are efficient, organized, and easy to monitor.
13. Support flexibility
Support your people through flexible work options that give them freedom in how and where they engage with work.
The pandemic restrictions have taught organizations and their people how to embrace flexible work options more than ever.
It's no wonder that remote or hybrid work models have become job-seeking criteria and retention strategies.
Flexible options include part-time work, telecommuting, freelancing, and flexible hours.
Increased flexibility has many benefits for organizations and employees, says Steve Todd, Global Head of Workplace at Nasdaq:
- Better creativity, enthusiasm, and motivation;
- Improved customer service and loyalty;
- Better engagement and reduced stress;
- Higher productivity.
14. Boost workplace culture
Workplace culture captures an organization's values, beliefs, behaviors, goals, attitudes, and work practices.
Tip: A positive workplace culture can improve your people's health, well-being, engagement, collaboration, and productivity, as outlined in a recent Forbes article.
John Rampton, CEO of Calendar, suggests the following ways to boost workplace culture in your organization:
- Encourage team greetings—office walk and talk, check-ins, short breaks with each other, and saying "good morning!"
- Enhance emotional intelligence—improve interpersonal skills with a focus on empathy.
- Have fun—socialize in and out of the office, have team-building activities, and promote a healthy work-life balance.
- Prioritize well-being—encourage a healthy lifestyle at work, e.g., healthy snacks, gym memberships, meditation sessions, taking breaks, and going for walks.
➡️ Support your people's mental and physical health with a regular well-being booster.
15. Offer fair compensation and reward high performance
Pay your people what they're worth and offer them competitive compensation. Also, consider gifts of appreciation for employees as a part of your overall rewards system.
Companies like Apple, Google, Netflix, and Dell have found that competitive compensation leads to superior productivity and happier employees, explains John Hall, co-founder of Calendar.
With surveys showing that up to two-thirds of workers leave their jobs if they don't feel appreciated, employee recognition is essential for a successful and productive team.
Tip: So recognize your people when they perform well. Make them feel noticed and appreciated for their efforts.
➡️ Looking for creative ways to reward your people? Check out these 42 meaningful employee recognition ideas.
16. Have ongoing development conversations
Development conversations help your people feel more engaged and purposeful in their roles.
Tip: When you show you care about your people's careers, it enhances their loyalty and helps improve retention in your organization.
Make the most out of development conversations by integrating them into a development framework that includes:
- Comprehensive career mapping to identify and highlight available job opportunities in your organization.
- Support for career mobility so that your people can move across roles.
- Focus on your people's job satisfaction and engagement, using well-designed surveys to identify unmet needs and expectations.
- Consistent performance appraisals to keep track of your people's career progress and take the pressure off less frequent (annual reviews).
17. Give constructive feedback, coaching, and mentoring
Constructive feedback focuses on identifying areas for improvement and can be perceived as negative if it's overly critical.
Studies have shown, however, that 92% of employees believe constructive feedback can improve their performance when delivered well.
Proper feedback is essential for enhancing employee performance. According to Indeed, it gives people clear expectations about their roles, boosts their confidence, and results in better professional development.
Give your people effective feedback by:
- Keeping the feedback specific, actionable, timely, and objective.
- Adopting a continuous feedback approach that provides real-time insights and better engagement compared to less frequent types of feedback.
- Setting up regular check-ins to encourage psychological safety, better communication, and timely monitoring of critical activities.
- Promoting coaching and mentoring as helpful types of feedback that are collaborative, guiding, and non-threatening.
🏆 5 Reasons why it's important to improve employee performance
High-performing employees are more motivated, engaged, happy, productive, and achieve better business outcomes, according to Nicola Richardson of The People Mentor, a UK leadership consultancy.
Simply put, your people and organization will benefit when they perform well.
Here are five reasons why it's worthwhile improving your people's performance.
For your people:
- Improve employee satisfaction—successful employees are more satisfied at work and are motivated to bring their best.
- Support employee growth—good performance fosters a growth mindset and cultivates a drive towards new goals.
- Boost a positive work environment—when people are performing well, they encourage a positive, energetic work environment and lift morale.
For your business:
- Improve organizational performance—high performers achieve goals and meet deadlines, translating to higher productivity and better business outcomes.
- Reduce staff turnover—high-performing employees are more satisfied at work, loyal, and less likely to leave.
🏅 How do you define employee high performance?
What does high performance look like?
Before aspiring to improve the performance of your employees, you must first define what high performance is for your organization.
Here's how to do it for the roles in your organization.
1. Link role outcomes to organizational priorities
Look at your role descriptions and identify their key expected outputs.
How do they relate to the priorities and strategic values of your organization?
Form linkages between role outcomes and your organization's priorities.
Tip: Try to understand how much of an impact each outcome has, i.e., which are more important for your organization than others.
Once you do this, you'll understand which outcomes are worth emphasizing in a role and what your people should prioritize.
2. Set a benchmark
Take stock of what your people are currently doing in their roles. Who is a high performer, and who isn't?
Knowing which outcomes matter the most and who is doing well will help you identify the high performers.
Consider the skills, competencies, and behavioral traits of your high performers.
What are they doing that makes them perform well?
What skills and competencies are they using?
What behaviors are they showing that support high performance?
Tip #1: Use this information to prepare a concise summary of what high performance looks like in each role. This summary forms the basis of your benchmark to describe high performance for each position.
Tip #2: Keep in mind that establishing benchmarks in this way shouldn't be a set-and-forget exercise. You'll need to revisit and update what high performance looks like from time to time. This will ensure that your standards are in sync with the developments of your business and industry.
Changing circumstances, organizational adjustments, industry developments, or new people in your organization may impact what success (i.e., high performance) looks like.
3. Establish metrics
The most objective way to define high performance for a role is to set clear and measurable metrics.
Having clear performance metrics means that managers are less likely to:
- Rely on perceptions or preferences when assessing performance.
- Micro-manage their people in an effort to know what they're doing and how they're performing.
- Guess how well their people are performing.
Tip #1: Set your metrics based on each role's outcomes and factor in:
- The speed and efficiency with to achieve outcomes.
- The quality and depth of the outcomes.
- Consistency of performance.
Tip #2: The exact metrics you establish may vary from role to role as you customize how you define performance in each case.
Tip #3: Once you set your metrics, you can monitor how your people perform in each role and track their performance over time.
🏢 9 Characteristics of a high-performance workplace
What does a high-performance workplace look like?
Check out these nine characteristics of workplaces that are performing well.
There's open communication between all team members, including managers and direct reports.
Good communication means that task priorities are discussed and acted upon, and issues or problems are identified and resolved in a timely manner.
2. Sense of belonging
A sense of belonging at work means that people feel accepted and included for who they are and can relate to their workplace culture.
When your employees feel a sense of belonging to your organization, they:
- will feel less isolated,
- will have enhanced well-being, and
- will be more productive.
3. Meaningful work
Meaningful work helps people derive a strong sense of purpose for the work that they're doing, which motivates and empowers them. And motivation and empowerment boost employee performance.
4. Taking initiative
High-performance workplaces attract and retain people who take the initiative, facilitated by an environment with plenty of autonomy.
5. Input and feedback
Good feedback systems allow people in high-performing teams to:
- learn from constructive criticism;
- more easily identify areas for improvement;
- effectively monitor their progress, and
- uplift their performance.
High-performing teams seek success and celebrate and reward its accomplishment.
High performers understand the effort that goes into bringing superior results, and recognition of success builds a culture of collaboration where everyone feels valued and connected.
7. Strong workplace relationships
Mutual trust and respect are characteristics of a high-performance workplace. Plus, diversity of thought is encouraged, and there's healthy interaction and networking amongst employees.
The combination of trust, respect, and diversity promotes an environment where people are more comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas, and pursuing innovation.
8. Growth and learning
An open mindset and a willingness to learn are essential for a high-performance workplace.
High performers learn from their mistakes and look for ongoing opportunities to develop their knowledge, skills, and careers.
9. Planning and goals
High-performing teams work towards goals that are clear and linked to organizational priorities. Syncing individual and organizational goals creates a shared vision and helps prioritize tasks and activities based on well-defined timelines.
➡️ Improve employee performance and foster growth with Zavvy
High-performing employees are essential for driving success in your organization.
At Zavvy, we know what motivates high performers and how to help bring out the best in them.
- effective employee development software,
- cutting-edge 360-degree feedback systems,
- and innovative learning management tools,
we can help your best performers thrive, grow, and succeed.
Book a free 30-minute demo to see how to bring out the best in your people by boosting their potential for high performance.