Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

How to improve employee performance

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Leaders often wrestle with how to best motivate their employees to rise above their current performance and execute at a higher level. One of the keys to helping employees in this regard is to have frequent and meaningful one-on-one meetings.

In a recent research study, Brian Westfall surveyed more than 300 employees to gain insight on what helps them engage more fully in their work. I recently sat down with Brian for a Q&A discussion about his findings.


In your report, you mention regular meetings have mixed results. What can be done to make one-on-one meetings more productive?

A big reason why one-on-one meetings can be unproductive is because they’re aimless. A manager will schedule a half hour meeting with an employee and just kind of hope that things get figured out during that time. That’s the wrong way to go about it. There needs to be some sort of plan.

Going into a meeting, both parties should know beforehand what’s going to be talked about and what the expectations are of that meeting so they can properly prepare. Then, at the end, both parties should have specific instructions to address what’s been discussed.

Why has employee performance (and measuring it) become so important in today’s business world?

I think my colleague Daniel Harris put it best. He wrote: “The writing is on the wall for businesses of all sizes: Become data-driven, or perish.”

Now that we have the means to measure employee performance, the companies that use those means effectively and pull out the most impactful, data-driven insights to improve their workforce are going to win out every time. The era of relying on hunches or gut instinct to drive employee performance is over.

What are some tools managers can use to improve these interactions with employees?

A performance management system is a must if you’re a business with a sizeable workforce that wants to take performance assessments seriously. They can help automate processes and track results to free up your managers. Solutions like 360 feedback tools are also useful to incorporate assessments from a variety of perspectives (e.g., coworkers, customers, etc.) to create a more comprehensive picture of your employees’ day-to-day.

Bare minimum, managers should be using survey tools so employees can let their voices be heard about their performance grades.

How do managers improve their ability to consistently interact with and lead their employees?

It really comes down to committing to put time on the calendar. Managers should aim to meet with their direct reports for at least 30 minutes, once a week. If they’re not able to do that, they should be managing less people or delegating some of their workload to others. Seriously. It’s too important. Employees who meet with their managers regularly are three times more likely to be engaged at work than those who don’t.

How do you encourage (incentivize) improved collaboration among coworkers?

If you have to incentivize your workers to interact and collaborate, that’s a hiring issue. You’re not bringing in the right people that just naturally want to work together to figure out the best solutions. You may need to reassess the qualities you look for in job applicants.

Other than that, managers should foster an environment where negativity is OK. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, 92 percent of employees agree that negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance. If workers are too afraid to say what’s on their mind or call someone out for not doing their job, then there’s no accountability and no incentive to trust one another.

Questions: How are the interactions with your employees? What are you doing to improve employee performance? You can leave a comment in the space below.

Brian Westfall is a Senior Market Research Associate with Software Advice. He covers the HR market, focusing primarily on recruiting, learning management systems, and payroll. He holds a B.S. in Marketing and Economics from Trinity University. His research has been cited in various publications such as TIME, The Huffington Post, and Entrepreneur.

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