How to improve employee performance

Engagement and Productivity Certification Series

Table of Contents

Does the thought of your employees and their productivity levels keep you up at night? Are you constantly wondering what you could do to motivate them better? Well, you’re not alone. According to the 2020 State of Talent Optimization report, 34% of executives say employee performance keeps them up at night.

People are the most important assets to your company, but it can be hard to account for them all when everyone has their own behavioral characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. But if you have data to understand what motivates each of your employees, and cater to these behavioral drives and needs, your managers can better connect with, inspire, and retain their most talented workers.

In this course, you’ll learn how you can improve employee performance through performance management techniques. You’ll also learn how to assess areas of disengagement and recommended action plans based on the results.

What performance is and how to measure it.

Before you can celebrate high performers or panic if you have low ones, you’ll first have to understand what performance means to you and your organization. One pitfall many companies encounter is that they don’t have a proper performance scale. Not every employee in your company can be a top performer, and that’s okay. An example of a performance scale should look like this:

Measuring performance is vital to make sure your employees are headed in the right direction. However, a recent survey put out by Towers Watson revealed that only 37% of North American companies find their performance evaluation programs to be effective. Additionally, only 26% of those surveyed said that their managers and employees are satisfied with the process.

Many factors boil down to an outdated system. For those organizations that evaluate performance once a year and do so mainly to decide monetary incentives, it’s time to make a change.

Instead of thinking about performance management in the traditional sense, you should think of it as a form of effective leadership. Stop approaching performance reviews from just a monetary angle and put more emphasis on professional growth and development of each employee. You can do this by following the model below. Click each area to learn more about a topic.

Performance Management Growth Model

Try it out! 

Yes, you’ll still need to assess employees and determine monetary compensation. But by taking steps to retool the process, you can focus on actually improving employee performance. That way, when you do sit down and give someone a 4 or a 3, they’ll be more aware of why that is and be more likely to work on a constructive action plan.

Additionally, by conducting more frequent, ongoing reviews—both formal and informal—the process will be less intimidating, more timely, and more productive. And don’t only consider evaluation of the employee. Evaluating the position itself at least once a year will help determine the evolution of both the job and the employee. If a position evolves over time, the person who was a perfect match for the job previously might not be the right fit now.

The role of engagement in job performance.

Following those performance management steps is only one part of helping your employees perform. Another key factor in ensuring desired performance is engagement. Employee engagement is a form of people data that indicates how your employees feel about working for you. A portion of performance on the job has been linked to how engaged an employee is. Those engaged employees will quite often outperform employees who are not engaged. In a more extreme example, studies have shown that U.S. businesses have lost billions of dollars each year in productivity from their disengaged staff.

But just knowing that employees have to be engaged at work is not enough. There are a number of factors to consider. Is disengagement coming from the job itself, the people around them, or their manager? Using engagement survey tools like the PI Employee Experience Survey™ can show you exactly how engagement affects performance in your organization.

The engagement level an individual has with a job is very important when considering individual performance. Let’s say you’re reviewing your survey results and the statement The work I do makes excellent use of my talent/skills and abilities has a very low score. This could mean your employees feel they aren’t in the right role. Maybe the role was poorly defined; perhaps growing business needs caused the role to morph into something new, or the employee might have not been a good fit to begin with. Whatever the reason, taking a frequent pulse on how your employees feel about their job is a necessary step to ensure engagement and, ultimately, desired performance.

Motivating employees to perform.

Now that you have a better grasp of how to assess performance and engagement, it’s time to start pushing those employees in the right direction. An obvious form of motivation is through positive reinforcement. If an employee does something great, let them know and reward them for it. But that’s just scratching the surface.

Let’s start from the beginning. If you want high-performing employees, you need to make sure they’re the right fit for the job they’re doing. Even if a person has a skill set that matches a job, they might not be a match behaviorally. When hiring or promoting a person, consider setting both a behavioral and cognitive target for jobs. With those targets in place, you can make sure employees match the role they’re considering. Those previously mentioned performance development/evaluation meetings are perfect opportunities to plan possible promotions. Use these meetings to build out a career plan tailored to choices that best suit the employee’s natural strengths.

Be open in these conversations about what’s required for the job and where employees stack up behaviorally. This will build trust, so you can have a productive conversation about the role and align on whether they’re still the right person for the job. If they’re no longer a good fit, candidly explore other options within the organization or support them in finding a job elsewhere if no other internal options are a fit.

Let software do the work:

You can also turn to tools like PI’s Management Strategy Guide. This guide will help you understand how your individual employees will best respond to motivation and direction based on their behavioral preferences. 

Once you know those employees are in the right positions, it’s time to focus on them and how they can improve. Remember, even your highest performers have room to grow. Sit down and create a plan for their personal development. Determine what their strengths and weaknesses are, and create goals they can strive for that align with the overall company objectives.

Try it out! 

Tools like the Personal Development Chart will help make this easier for you by generating that information based on this employee’s behavioral preferences. Regardless of what you use, be sure to continuously revisit these goals and gauge how that employee is doing–especially more than just once a year.

Lastly, be sure to address those engagement responses we mentioned earlier. Many of the actions we recommended, such as tying a job to behavioral targets, will alleviate disengagement concerns, but that won’t always be the case for every individual. It’s important to collect as much people data as you can to make an informed decision. This way, your employees have the right tools, environment, and skills to perform their duties, and have a set path to continuous improvement.


What does effective performance management look like?

Find out by watching this webinar on best practices.