10 Keys to Improve Employee Performance

compiled by Dib Mossavi

The economy is said to be improving.  Though they’ve had their ups and downs, the Dow, NASDAQ, and other market indexes are up from a year ago.  The housing market may have also hit bottom.

One indicator that doesnt bode well, however, is the unemployment rate.  Firms still aren’t hiring.  They’re getting by with what – or whom – they have.  What does this mean for the currently employed?  It means we’re expected to be more efficient ….. more productive, “We have to do more with less!”, we so often hear it.  This is frustrating for both sides.  Employees are trying their hardest, in virtually all cases.  And employers want to keep growing.

As a manager or owner, simply telling your employees, “We have to be more efficient”, wont motivate them.  Saying, like wishing, doesnt make it so.  You have to be a mentor and coach to get the most out of your employees – all of them.

You say ‘you dont have time for that?‘  Well, you do have time for inadequate performance?  Do you have time to replace and train a replacement?  Time to acclimate them to the ‘company ways’?  Time to recoup the investment you’ve already made or the experience? The wisdom?

How do your employees stack up to expectations?  Are they performing at a satisfactory level?  If not, could that be due to :-

  • Poor training?
  • Inadequate equipment?
  • Time pressure?
  • Lack of priorities and/or organizaning skills?
  • Poor communication?
  • Lack of motivation?

WHAT, WHEN and WHY
Does the employee know what to do, when to do it and why?  If not, you need to tell, or maybe even show them how.

WHAT IS and WHAT SHOULD BE
What is the standard of performance and how does the employee measure up to it?  Does the employee know what the standard is?  You have to let them know clearly what’s reasonably expected of them.

COMMUNICATE
Does the employee know his/her performance isnt meeting the standard?  You need to let them know.

TRAIN
Does the employee have the skills needed to do the tasks required of them?  If not, you need to invest time in training to get higher performance in return.

REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
That standard of performance : is it reasonable?  What is it based on?  Is your standard current?  Stretched goals are fine ….. as long as they’re fact based.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
What impact does substandard performance have on the rest of the organization?  The employee may need to be reminded of his/her place in the firm, their relationship – direct and indirect – to everyone else and how inadequate performance affects other people and processes.  The organization is, after all, only as strong as it’s weakest links.

AMPLE RESOURCES
Does the employee have enough time, money, materials, etc to get the job done?  You have to see that they do.

PERFORMANCE HURDLES
Is something beyond the employee’s control affecting his/her performance?  Is there something you, the owner or manager, can do to help?

POSITIVE FEEDBACK
Is the employee getting the occasional ‘gratitutional comments’ for a job that exceeded expectations?  Or are they being ‘rewarded’ by having more responsibilities heaped upon them?  eg “You did this so well, we’re going to give you more!”  can be as damaging ….

MOTIVATION
Is the employee’s heart in the job?  If not, more training, better equipment, and more resources (like time) arent going to solve the problem of poor performance.

Now lets say we’ve analyzed the situation, and have come to the conclusion that coaching will help turn the employee’s performance around.  Here’s how we can go about it :-

1.       HOLD THE COACHING SESSION IN PRIVATE
Nobody but just the two of you need to be involved.  Be warm and courteous.  Remain calm and keep a positive attitude.

2.       CLEARLY STATE UP FRONT, THE REASON FOR THE SESSION
Dont be blunt though.  Say “I would like to discuss ..xyz..”, rather than “I would like to talk to you about your recent performance problems”. You want to engage them, not talk at them.

3.       SHOW YOUR CONCERN FOR THE PERFORMANCE ISSUE
Example : “It looks like we’re not following up with customers as quickly or as thoroughly as we should.  We used to get back to 80% of our customers within 10 days of their purchases.  Now it’s more like only 10%….”  Focus on the problem, not the person.

4.       DESCRIBE THE WAYS IN WHICH THE PERFORMANCE ISSUE AFFECTS OTHERS (INCLUDING YOU)
Example  :  “When we don’t follow up with customers in a timely manner, they probably feel like we don’t care about anything but their money.”   Emphasize ‘we’ and ‘the team’.  Putting the focus entirely on them only deepens the sense of isolation they already feel.

5.       ACKNOWLEDGE THE EMPLOYEE’S SIDE OF THE ISSUE ….. AND LISTEN
Regardless of whether the employee apologizes, rationalizes, promises to do better, etc, hear them out.  They may have a valid explanation (like that they’re overworked – you might do more with less but you cant do more with nothing).

Remember  :  There are always at least two sides to every story.

6.       GET THE EMPLOYEE’s INPUT ON HOW TO IMPROVE THEIR PERFORMANCE
Ask “What can be done to improve our follow-through with customers?”.  There may be some beautiful gems hidden among their thought nuggets – help them find those gems.  After all, they’re on the front line every day, so they’ll have insights you wont.

7.       DISCUSS POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Work with the employee to develop a number of potential solutions to the performance issue.  Make use of the employee’s ideas and offer guidance, but don’t take over the project.  You’re a coach, not a critic.

8.       AGREE ON A SOLUTION AND ACTIONS TO TAKE
Identify what you both think is the best solution.  Agree on how to arrive at the solution and on reasonable deadlines.  Be clear of your intent – that you want status updates so you can help them, not because you get any joy out of ‘riding’ them.  Be sure to put the action plan in writing and make sure you both have a copy.

9.       CHECK ON THE EMPLOYEE’S PROGRES AND CONTINUE TO GET THEIR FEEDBACK
Give them additional guidance and reinforcement.  Dont hover around them constantly.  Just make sure that they are not stuck on something.  If they have ideas on how to improve the process or the result, listen and evaluate.  If they have a good idea, let them run with it.

10.   GIVE POSITIVE FEEDBACK FOR POSITIVE RESULTS
Every time the employee meets a deadline or hands in a ‘deliverable’, give them a sincere ‘Good job!’.   Dont say “Thats more like it”, or “You should have been doing this all along/”.

REMEMBER – even star employees who are strongly self-motivated (and there are probably more of them out there than you think)  canuse a sincere pat on the back … or a handshake … or a shout-out.  So, ou can imagine how an employee who has been struggling will benefit from quality feedback.

You have been there.  You know how good it feels when someone takes you under their wings.  Give back what you got!

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