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Performance Improvement: Vital to Employee and Organizational Success

May 2, 2021

By: Wendy Sheaffer

To thrive in an increasingly competitive market, your company needs every employee to contribute and carry out their responsibilities. When that doesn’t happen, it’s up to leadership to help that team member get back on track. Today’s blog explores performance improvement and why it’s vital to both employee and organizational success.

Performance Improvement Defined

Before we put performance improvement under the microscope, let’s give the term a working definition. For the sake of simplicity, performance improvement is the act of addressing an employee performance problem. Problems can range from being chronically late to breaking company rules to turning in shoddy work.

There are many reasons why a team member may be struggling to perform at work. Some of the more common explanations include:

  • There’s an issue in the employee’s personal life that’s impacting their ability to focus.
  • The worker is in the wrong position and is either in over their head or bored out of their mind.
  • The employee isn’t receiving the support or guidance that they need from their manager.
  • The team member’s motivation is low.

To be effective, any performance improvement measure should uncover and account for the reason behind the problem. Let’s take a closer look at why performance improvement matters to both the employee and your organization.

Why Performance Improvement Matters

You need to take quick action when one of your employees is struggling or falling short of your expectations. If you let the problem drag out, it might send the signal to that worker (and others!) that the performance or behavior is acceptable. Before you know it, you could have a whole department of slackers (or disengaged workers) on your hands. The negative impact on productivity could cost the firm an incalculable amount of money and cause the organization to fall behind in the market.

Plus, allowing a performance issue to fester is doing the employee a disservice. While there are exceptions, most professionals want to do well in their roles. They want their leaders to help them improve so that they can be successful in their careers. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to guide them.

Performance Improvement Steps

Performance improvement is usually a process. For relatively minor infractions like tardiness, you’ll probably want to follow progressive steps like:

  • A verbal check-in to discuss what’s happening and why
  • A written warning that explains the problem and what needs to change
  • A performance improvement plan that gets even more specific about the issue and outlines how it must be addressed
  • A final warning/termination

For serious issues, such as workplace violence, it’s appropriate to skip straight to ending the employee’s employment. Make sure to obtain the exact performance management policy from your company’s HR department before taking any action.

Since it’s the most labor-intensive and longest-term step in the performance improvement process, let’s discuss how to create an effective performance improvement plan.

How to Create an Effective Performance Improvement Plan

An effective performance improvement plan is an official document that clearly spells out:

  • how the employee’s performance is missing the mark (i.e., has turned in their weekly report late and incomplete for the last eight weeks)
  • what performance standard the worker must meet (i.e., must turn in their completed report by the deadline every week)
  • how long the employee has to meet that standard (i.e., must turn in completed reports immediately and must turn them in on time within four weeks)
  • what the manager will do to help them get and stay on track (i.e., will check in two days before the report is due to see if they have any questions or need information or assistance)
  • what will happen if the worker fails to improve their performance (i.e., may result in a final warning or termination of employment)

To make sure the employee has the greatest chance of success, be sure to review the plan with them carefully. Ask them for their questions and concerns and consider them. Most importantly, as their manager, uphold your end of the bargain. Do what’s promised in the document to support their efforts.

The Changing Outlook on Annual Performance Reviews

While a performance improvement plan can help your employee correct an issue, the annual review process likely doesn’t help them perform better. In fact, according to Workhuman®, 55% of workers surveyed shared that their yearly review doesn’t help them achieve more in their roles. That’s because the appraisal lacks context. Neither the manager nor the employee can accurately remember something that happened months ago. Any possible teachable moments are long forgotten.

Many employers seem to realize the ineffectiveness of delivering employee feedback through an annual review. Based on the same survey, the number of firms conducting this type of appraisal has dropped significantly over the last several years. In 2016, 82% of employees said that their company completed a yearly review. In 2019, that figure was just 54%.

Your company may still require these annual appraisals. But, you can do more. Meet with your team members often. Give them positive feedback and constructive criticism whenever it’s warranted. Let them know that you’re available for support. You’ll be able to nip performance problems in the bud quickly. Plus, your team will respect and trust you, leading to greater morale, engagement, and retention.

Tips for Effective Performance Improvement Conversations

To make the most out of any performance improvement conversation you have, keep these tips in mind:

  • Document everything thoroughly. Yes, you want to help the employee succeed, but you also need to protect the company from potential litigation.
  • State everything in a matter-of-fact manner way - and leave your emotions out of it.
  • Keep the focus on the behavior or infraction, not the employee. It’s business, not personal.
  • Ask for the employee’s side and keep an open mind as you choose a course of action.
  • Refer to the job description as you create documentation and have conversations with the worker.

Remember: Up until the point of termination, a performance improvement meeting should involve a two-way dialogue. The goal is to maintain a mutually beneficial employment relationship whenever possible.

How Omnia Can Help

Employee performance problems are often caused by low motivation, ineffective supervision, or worker-role mismatch. The great news is that these situations are entirely preventable. You just need to know each team member’s strengths, preferences, and innate traits.

But, how can you obtain this information pre-hire or in a timely manner? That’s where Omnia comes in. Our sophisticated and robust behavioral assessment is easy to administer and unlocks deep employee insight. With one simple test, you’ll learn what each of your team members (or potential team members) are good at, how they like to be recognized, what motivates them, and more. That way, you can lead them accordingly and reduce the chance of encountering performance concerns.

Final Thoughts

Your company’s performance improvement program plays a crucial role in your firm’s success - and your employee’s success. Designed and implemented well, it will help struggling employees meet and exceed company standards. Your organization will run well, and your workers’ career prospects will broaden.

Contact us today to take your performance program to the next level!

Wendy Sheaffer

Wendy is the former Chief Product Officer of The Omnia Group. She is a subject matter expert in behavioral assessments and in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. For more information, email or call 800.525.7117.

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