6 Ways to Raise the Bar on Employee Performance

Photo: Yuri_Arcurs

Even the best employees can become lackadaisical if not challenged. After all, nobody likes the same old routine. But if you continually raise the bar on performance, you can inspire your employees to realize their potential.

Ask for well-considered, innovative ideas.

When asked, too often employees offer half-baked ideas as ways to solve complex business problems. Tap their enthusiasm, but demand a higher level of intellectual engagement. Up the ante by asking them to develop and present ideas using this following model (or one similar):

  • State the idea in 50 words or less;
  • Describe the problem that the idea solves or the opportunity that the idea capitalizes on;
  • Explain how the idea fits within your business’s strategic direction and annual business plan, meets the needs of your target audience, and is different than current solutions;
  • Share expected results, along with costs for implementation and ongoing maintenance.

A formalized process for research and presentation will elevate your employees' thinking and produce better results.

Point to high-performing peers.

Point out examples of high performance demonstrated by peers in their respective fields. These outstanding performers may be co-workers, those encountered at local networking events, or speakers at professional conferences.

Spell out the results you have noticed that are most pertinent to the employee’s role with your company. Areas of excellence might include new accounts opened, expanded market segments and geographic reach, tight cost control without compromising quality, and speed-to-market of product introductions. Scrutinize the attributes and approaches of your high performers to determine what factors influence high levels of success.

Be sure to convey that performance and tactics do not need to need to mirror those of a successful colleague’s. Let her know, however, that she may have greater potential than she realizes. Extend support for reaching new heights of performance.

Set goals and track results.

For each employee, establish goals that are in sync with your strategic plan and annual objectives. Either set company goals and divvy out individual objectives, or set individual goals and develop company objectives based on the aggregated total.

Differentiate goals from day-to-day tasks, which should be specified in a job description for each employee role. Goals indicate the results you expect as a consequence of performing and excelling in these tasks. For example, a sales representative may be required to make five sales calls each day and document these conversations as part of her duties outlined in the job description; her goals may be to generate $1 million in sales this year or increase sales volume by 15% compared to prior years.

Track results to show that you are serious about holding your employees accountable. Monitor activities that should lead to expected outcomes; that is, confirm that the sales person is making those daily sales calls. If they are doing the work but not hitting goals, don’t let employees flounder. Guide and coach them to success, using goal attainment as an incentive.

Correct deficiencies in workplace behaviors.

Deal with problems that have been ignored or require disciplinary action to be fully resolved.

Be clear about workplace standards before addressing noncompliance. For example, establish attendance policies, timelines for responding to customer requests, and standards of personal conduct. Communicate rules via employee manuals, orientation sessions, and company meetings.

Bring persistent deficiencies to the attention of offending staff members. Emphasize the importance of proper behavior to laying the foundation for success at work. Implement disciplinary actions if needed.

Fixing problems will raise the performance of all employees. Productivity will naturally improve among those who were working at subpar levels. Fellow employees will notice improvements, realize that standards have been raised, and step up their efforts to differentiate themselves from average-performing workers.

Set aside time and money for professional training.

Set aside funds in your annual budget and time in each employee’s schedule to participate in training sessions. Offer staffing coverage so that time away from the workplace does not translate into missed deadlines, below-standard service levels, or extra hours for the employee.

Identify appropriate training programs by creating a professional development plan for each employee. Hold one-on-one sessions to discuss career- and company-related interests as well as areas of performance that could be improved through greater skill proficiency and knowledge. Consider a full scope of opportunities that may include free webinars sponsored by vendors, low-cost community college courses, or premium-priced industry certifications.

Training that equips employees with the skills and knowledge to complete certain tasks ensures that they perform at baseline levels. Advanced training raises their intellectual capacity and confidence in tackling complex problems, which can skyrocket performance.

Raise the bar on your performance.

Challenge yourself along with your employees.

If you pursue higher levels of performance, you will become a better leader with a deeper understanding of how to uncover obstacles to reaching goals, focus on behaviors that deliver results, think strategically and creatively, deal with shortcomings, and integrate new knowledge into day-to-day actions in order to improve. At the same time, your employees will recognize your efforts and success, raising the bar for higher performance individually and company-wide.

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