Employees are the force that drives a company forward. So it should come as no surprise that the daily performance of the workforce hugely influences the success or failure of a business.
To stay successful in today’s market, businesses must find ways to maintain and bring out the best performance from their employees. Not only does this help to hire, retain and develop the best talent, but by helping staff to grow within their roles and responsibilities, the company can build a pipeline of future leaders. All contributing to long-lasting success.
Working to improve employee performance is an ongoing process that involves measurement, evaluation, and planning, but it's also a vital step to achieving company goals.
What is employee performance?
Put simply, employee performance is how a member of staff fulfils the duties of their role, completes required tasks and behaves in the workplace. Measurements of performance include the quality, quantity and efficiency of work.
When leaders monitor the performance of employees, they can paint a picture of how the business is running. This not only helps to highlight what companies could be doing in the present to improve their business, but this information also feeds into future growth plans.
However, placing a focus on employee performance doesn’t just benefit the business. It helps employees to reach their full potential, while also improving overall performance – which can have positive effects on morale and quality of work produced.
Lastly, but most importantly, when employees are under-performing, customers may be dissatisfied. As a result, the entire business may be affected by poor performance and struggle to reach goals.
How is performance measured?
Every role is different so the metrics used to measure employee performance will ultimately depend on the type of business the company and employees operate in.
But in general, the main ways to gauge performance are:
Quality of work
Standard of work produced is a key indicator of performance. Are employees putting in maximum effort to ensure high-quality results? Are performance objectives being met? Quality of work provides the basis to analyse all other elements of their performance.
Speed and efficiency
Looking at how much employees accomplish in an average week, month or quarter, how does this match up to your expectations? Are deadlines met, vastly improved on, or is time wasted? Are corners being cut to produce work quickly? Efficiency is the result of maximum output at least cost so this is vital to be aware of within your company.
Trust and consistency
Ask yourself if you trust your employees to do all their work to a high standard and deliver it on time. Do they work independently or do you feel that you often have to step in? Do they consistently display company values? Are they punctual and present to the expected standard? High-performing employees can be trusted with autonomy and continue to produce strong results without much supervision.
Keep these performance metrics in mind when conducting individual employee performance reviews.
How to evaluate employee performance
Performance reviews can be daunting, for both employees and managers – but they’re a necessary starting point.
Without proper evaluation of an individual employee’s performance, you may waste valuable time and effort implementing improvement plans that don’t begin to tackle the real problem. Take time during this stage to ensure that you get a complete and well-rounded review of the individual's performance to provide a solid foundation for improvement plans.
Here are some popular ways to evaluate employee performance:
As the name suggests, this method takes a look at feedback, opinions and assessments from a circle of people. This includes team members, supervisors and others, that the employee works within the company. By going beyond what the direct manager sees, you’re instead shown a well-rounded view of performance. Look for any similarities in the 360-degree feedback from the different areas, as this will identify areas for further improvement.
With this method, managers and employees work together to develop performance goals and set clear deadlines for completion. When employees are involved in the process of creating their objectives, they can see how their individual goals contribute to larger company goals. This creates more understanding of what needs to be done and why it’s important.
This method also helps to increase engagement and motivation for the employee while making it very easy to define success and failure for the employer.
A twist on the SWOT
Many will already be familiar with a SWOT analysis, but for performance evaluation, it’s best to swap ‘weakness’ with ‘areas for development’. Think of ‘opportunities’ as future opportunities for the growth of your employees and their development within the company, too.
Starting with strengths allows managers, but also importantly, employees themselves to say what they feel they are good at – helping to indicate where employees might like to develop further. This method can also be a great way to find out if the employee feels that anything about the business is holding them back, or if they feel they are lacking important resources, for example.
By mapping out these different areas of performance, both the manager and employee can work together to create a plan for development.
Ranked performance on scales
A traditional method is using numbered scales, such as 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, to rank an employee’s performance in specific areas. These scales are commonly used as they’re easy to understand for both employees and managers, allow for easy comparison between team members, take little administration and can be adapted to any business needs. Managers or HR can set the criteria to be ranked – often including behaviours, aptitude or projects completed.
In this method, the employee judges their own performance against questions set by the employer. This method is most useful when used alongside a verbal performance review. Although some employees may find it difficult to know where they stand, when you can spot the difference between what the employee thinks of their own performance, and what you think – you will find some interesting points to discuss in the meeting. This method also helps employees to understand what the performance review will look at, which can ease any anxieties.
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How to improve staff performance and productivity
Next, you need to take the findings from the evaluation and create an improvement plan which works to fill any opportunities or areas of development that have been presented.
9 effective steps to improve employee performance
1. Investigate why the employee isn’t meeting expectations
The list of reasons why an employee isn’t performing as expected can be endless. If you don’t get to the bottom of these, it’s almost impossible to take the right steps to improve it.
Start with an open and frank discussion and find out if the employee feels anything is affecting their ability to perform. It could be that they feel the business is holding them back from reaching their full potential, they could be lacking resources, don’t feel aligned with company goals or aren’t receiving the proper guidance or training.
It’s also possible that factors affecting work may be unrelated to work itself. Personal reasons such as an employee may be going through a time of poor mental wellbeing or experiencing issues in their personal life can also impact performance.
This conversation can provide a basis for you to give more effective support.
2. Discuss both the highs and lows
Performance reviews shouldn’t just be focused on what’s not going well – even though improvement is your end goal.
Focusing just on areas for improvement could knock your employees’ confidence and could lead to resentment if they feel that their hard work in other areas is going unnoticed. Be sure to let your employees know what they’re doing well and point out any stand-out moments in performance since their last review, as well as the areas for development.
When you recognise their hard work, employees will know that they’re a valued member of the team and will continue to put this effort into their work. Nevertheless, when you do discuss challenges and areas for development, you have to be clear about any problems. The easy road would be to ‘soften the blow’, but by not being clear on what the problem is exactly, you’ll make any problems worse in the long term and the relationship could become more hostile.
Make sure that the employee leaves the conversation with a clear understanding of their strengths, any areas for development and the steps that should be taken to get there.
3. Provide consistent feedback as they progress
The most efficient way to improve employee performance is to provide regular feedback. By frequently feeding back, you can help employees stay on track as they work to improve, rather than any issues being saved for a more formal review. By then, the effects of poor performance may have been detrimental to the team or business.
Frequent feedback helps employees to become more comfortable with receiving feedback in general. It can also stop any negative connotations that people associate with receiving feedback. That’s because frequent feedback is more likely to be a mix of positive and constructive comments, which can help to keep employees engaged and encouraged rather than disheartened.
It's important for performance improvement that employees know where they stand and how they’re progressing. They’ll then be more aware of how they’re doing and what steps need to be taken to improve further.
4. Create a positive workplace culture
A positive workplace culture helps to pave the way for higher engagement, greater motivation and better performance.
Review elements such as how aligned employees are with the company vision and mission, the employee benefits offered and how the business operates – for example, the work environment and elements like flexibility or holiday policies.
The workplace culture should give employees the stage to perform to the best of their abilities. A strong, high-performance workplace culture allows employees to be focused and engaged without any negativities distracting them and with the support of a positive workplace to drive them forward.
The most simple way to find out if your workplace culture is right for your employees is to ask them! Use a confidential survey tool to ask your employees what they think about how your business operates. As this is a confidential platform, your employees will feel free to be honest about anything that they would like to see improved.
Not only can this help you to make changes to anything in the business that may be affecting performance, you can also show your employees that you value them by making changes based on their suggestions. This helps to make your people feel valued but also improve engagement levels.
5. Prioritise learning and development
Often, poor performance can be attributed to a skill or knowledge gap. By creating a focus on learning and development, employees are reminded of best practice, not to mention gaining new skills while taking valuable steps along their career path.
Work with employees to create individual L&D plans as, when you give employees a say in how and what they learn, they stay engaged and it helps to bring extra motivation.
6. Set measurable and realistic goals
To help drive performance improvement, an employee needs to know what’s being measured. This way they can monitor their own performance and, in turn, work to improve this. If goals aren’t measurable, employees are left guessing about whether they’re improving and they might feel that their results are subjective to their manager’s opinions.
Secondly, goals must also be realistic. Of course, you want to aim big, but anything that feels too unachievable could overwhelm employees and add to burnout. On the other hand, goals that are too easy will not provide any motivation. Be sure to find the right balance right.
You also need to ensure that it’s clear when you expect these goals to be completed by. Set two dates, one to come back and see how things are progressing, and another for an expected completion date.
7. Regularly recognise great work and improvement
When you recognise and reward good work, you let employees know that their effort, hard work and improvement is noticed.
One error that leaders often make is spending a lot of time focusing on under-performance and not focusing enough time on the great work that is going on every day.
By creating a process which allows for regular recognition of hard work, you keep high performers engaged and motivated, whilst also providing an example of what great work looks like for those who might be currently missing the mark. Our recognition platform is a great way to make reward and recognition a part of your day-to-day routine and celebrate hard work and improvement.
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8. Maximise job satisfaction
Often, employees only want to put in what they’re getting out of a role. If they feel they aren't getting paid enough, aren't getting the benefits that they could be getting elsewhere, or feel like their workplace is lacking in resources - they may not try as hard to perform. Take a look at rival employers to ensure you are offering the right benefits to keep your staff happy, engaged and productive.
9. Act when you don’t see improvement
If you’ve worked with your employee to set clear goals, expectations and a plan for improvement, and they still aren’t working to make a change – you have to act on this.
If you don’t, employees will feel that it’s fine to underperform or have to be micromanaged. This is also demotivating for those who are performing well. As if they feel that poor performance receives no consequences, they’ll wonder why they are putting effort in.
Address the issue and lack of improvement with a written or verbal warning. By marking how important this issue really is with a warning, it can help employees to take more notice as they are shown the severity of the situation.
Even little things which are left to fester can become bigger issues and drive down performance. By monitoring development and acting on this, you’ll maintain a productive and performance-oriented workplace.