How to Improve Employee Performance

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Man excited about areas of improvement for employees

How to Make the Most of Your Workday

Do you often find your workday spiraling out of control? You start each day with a plan to get so much done, but soon find yourself becoming distracted, focusing on low-priority tasks and, simply, procrastinating. So how can you regain control of your time? One-size-fits-all lists on how to be more productive don’t work; we’ll outline productivity techniques that can be adapted to your personality and working style.

All workers and workdays are unique. With fewer companies and employees adhering to a traditional 9-to-5 day, the differences in our workdays are becoming more pronounced. But putting those differences aside, three overarching ideas apply to all our productivity tips:

1. Trust the small increments. You can’t expect to change years of working habits overnight. Small changes in how you work can gradually add up to big changes in productivity. Try one tip to start, and keep adding more as you find the strategies that work best for you.

2. Be accountable. Whether it’s weekly check-ins with a co-worker or setting your own deadlines and announcing them to others, having to answer to someone else can often force you to get the job done.

3. Forgive yourself. You are human: Accept that you are sometimes going to slip up, become distracted and have a bad day. It’s more important to move on than to dwell on your mistakes.

For the Multitasker

A Biological Impossibility

Think you can get more done by juggling multiple tasks at the same time? Try calling your co-worker while typing an e-mail and checking your Facebook page. You may feel as if you’re being productive, but you’re probably not getting any of those tasks done efficiently.

We all have a limited amount of cognitive bandwidth — the number of thoughts and memories we can hold in our minds at any given time. Your brain may delude itself into thinking that it has more capacity than it really does, but it’s really working extra hard to handle multiple thoughts at once when you are switching back and forth between tasks. Your ability to get things done depends on how well you can focus on one task at a time, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour.

More Errors and Less Creativity

When you multitask, you tend to make more mistakes. When you toggle back and forth between tasks, the neural networks of your brain must backtrack to figure out where they left off and then reconfigure, Dr. Miller said. That extra activity causes you to slow down, and .

Trying to multitask also impedes creativity, he said. Truly innovative thinking arises when we allow our brains to follow a logical path of associated thoughts and ideas, and this is more likely when we can focus on a single mental pathway for an extended period.

The brain is like a muscle: It becomes stronger with use, Dr. Miller said. As with physical exercise, the more we strengthen our mental connections by focusing on one task to the exclusion of all others, the better we can perform.

How to Monotask

To the best of your ability, set up a work environment that encourages the performing of one task at a time. It’s probably not realistic to think that we can block off hours at a time for a single task, but even committing to monotask for five minutes can yield productivity benefits.

Remove temptation: Actively resist the urge to check unrelated social media while you are working on a task. Some workers may need to go so far as to install anti-distraction programs like , and , which block access to the most addictive parts of the internet for specified periods.

Move: If you find yourself losing focus – reading the same sentence over and over or if your mind continually wanders off topic – get up and briefly walk around, Dr. Miller said.

Work in intervals: Set a timer for five or 10 minutes and commit to focusing on your assignment for that amount of time. Then allow yourself a minute of distraction, as long as you get back on your task for another five or 10 minutes.

​When Distractions Take Over

The tendency to is primal, so forgive yourself if you do. It arose in our earliest days as humans, when we needed to respond instantly to lions, tigers and other predators that threatened us, said Dr. Miller. Every sensory input was deeply interesting, and our response to it was sometimes a matter of life or death. Our brain has not let go of this ancient survival mechanism; we still crave that informational tap on the shoulder, he said.

Fortunately, the more we work on focusing on one task at a time and ignoring distractions, the more we exercise the prefrontal cortex – the more evolved part of our brains. Then it becomes easier to focus.

More About Managing Distractions

Looking at Productivity as a State of Mind

Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)

How to Stop Time

Data-Crunching Is Coming to Help Your Boss Manage Your Time

9 Steps to Improve Employee Performance

The greatest opportunities for improving performance often come from daily management practices. People generally want to improve, but they need managers to be present in the moment with the support and resources they need to get there.

Connect Company Values with Performance

A solid basis in company values can act as an anchor for employee decision-making and inspire better performance. But if your values are too vague or abstract, employees won’t recognize how they intersect with their role or how to apply them in their daily performance.

To bring company values home, employees must understand how to live them in their daily tasks. For each role reporting to them, managers should connect specific company values with particular behaviors, actions, or decisions that the role entails.

Help train managers on how the company values should be enacted on their teams. Start by helping them recognize how to live the values in their own work. If your company values integrity, for example, ask managers to consider how they might practice integrity in their daily interactions with their reports and how that impacts their performance.

Define Objectives

Clear objectives are key to improving employee performance. Employees can’t progress toward their goals if they aren’t confident about those goals. And if those desired outcomes aren’t defined on the front end, employees won’t know how to prioritize their workloads to focus on the tasks that create the most value.

Managers need to help employees define and clarify their performance objectives. Often, poor performance results from poorly defined goals or a misalignment between what the employee perceives as their priorities and what the manager wants them to focus on.

Help managers practice communicating goals and expectations by distilling an employee’s tasks down to their priorities. Implement labels denoting the urgency of each task and the order in which employees should complete them.

Communicate Effectively

Strong communication is key to unlocking improved work performance. If employees can’t get in touch with their managers or communicate openly with them, misunderstandings can create misalignment, resulting in employees focusing their energy on the wrong places.

To improve employee performance, managers must first improve their communication skills. Managers should engage in regular check-ins and conversations with their reports to build relationships and trust with them. With that foundation in place, managers can address performance deficits with employees in a constructive way.

Have managers set standard communication guidelines among their teams. This should include regular meetings built into each person’s schedule as well as communication preferences for individual team members.

Make Time to Listen

Good active listening habits are essential to improving employee performance at work. Managers must be open to hearing each employee’s perspective and concerns regarding their workload, workflow, and priorities.

The more effective communication is on the front end, the easier it will be to remove roadblocks in the flow of work. If an employee raises a concern before beginning a task, for instance, a manager who practices good active listening will give thought to a solution before the situation becomes a problem.

Sometimes listening to employees requires humility. Managers need to be aware that their role is to enable improved employee performance. There’s no room for ego, a trait in which managers believe they know more about the work than employees do (though that’s rarely the case).

Don’t Micromanage

Micromanaging can be seen as a sign of distrust in someone’s capabilities, although it’s often simply the result of poor management training. If managers believe the only barometer measuring performance is seeing employees at work or, in the absence of physical offices, micromanaging them, then they’ll end up hovering over their reports.

But micromanaging causes more performance problems than it solves. If employees don’t feel their manager trusts them, they’re more likely to disengage or only put a half-hearted effort into their work.

Train managers to manage the work based on outcomes rather than micromanaging employees. If each role has clear metrics denoting performance excellence, then managers won’t need to micromanage their reports to confirm the work is being done.

Train and Develop

Employee development is an ongoing necessity for improving performance at work. Circumstances, tasks, and job descriptions change, and employees must be reskilled or upskilled to keep pace. As employees start working on a task, they and their managers should work together to identify skills gaps that could affect their performance, both now and in the long run.

Table of contents

An employee exploring nature to improve herself

Unless you have the perfect employee on staff, we’re sure you’ll be able to find at least one area of improvement for each member on your team. Use these in conjunction with periodic performance reviews to make sure your employees are working to their full potential.

1) Time management

Time management clock

The best solution to this problem is to incorporate scheduling software, like Sling, into your daily routine. Sling not only helps you schedule when your employees are going to work, but it also provides a cloud-based to-do list with customizable deadlines and reminders that will keep everyone on task.

2) Organization

Organization can make time management much easier. When you and your employees are organized, you’ll know what needs to be done — and in what order — to get the task at hand accomplished.

Encourage your employees to create a daily schedule of the top three or four tasks (in order of priority) that they need to focus on. Then help them stick to that list until it’s finished.

3) Interpersonal communication

internal employee communication

4) Customer service

Good customer service is the cornerstone of every great business. Even if your business already has a reputation as a customer-friendly establishment, this is one area of improvement for employees that you can never spend too much time on.

5) Cooperation

Unless your employees work by themselves, they’re going to have to cooperate with others at some point. And for your employees to operate at their full potential and overcome the obstacles in their paths, they’re going to need the help and cooperation of those on their team.

6) Conflict resolution

7) Listening

Women discussing areas of improvement for employees

8) Written communication

It’s true that technology has made communicating with others faster and easier. So much so that we tend to rely on it for everything. That technology, though, can’t make your employees’ writing better. Sure, it can help catch small spelling and grammar mistakes, but it can’t improve the quality and clarity of their words.

If your business relies on written communication, consider creating an internal style book for your employees to use when they’re composing. Make that style guide available to everyone (perhaps in the employee handbook) and encourage your team members to refer to it whenever possible.

9) Learning new skills

Unless you’ve got a perfect employee working with you (in which case, we’re going to poach him or her from you), everyone will benefit by learning new skills. Doing so not only stimulates thinking and creativity, but it also increases the employee’s value to your business.

10) Goal setting

A surefire way to help your team members reach their goals is to create an employee development plan they can follow. The development plan acts as a road map of sorts that shows team members the steps they need to take to succeed.

11) Accepting feedback and constructive criticism

Feedback and constructive criticism are critical components of improving the way your employees work. Without it, no one would know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at.

But accepting feedback and constructive criticism can be difficult sometimes. Especially when your employees are giving their best. Do your part to make feedback and criticism as painless as possible, but train your employees to accept the advice with an open mind.

12) Focus and engagement

A focused employee

13) Patience

When you feel like they might be on the verge of losing their cool, instruct them to close their eyes, breathe deeply, and slowly count to 10 in their head. This simple technique can help them restore their patience during even the most trying of circumstances.

14) Sympathy

If an employee is having a hard time accepting the behavior of a coworker during a difficult time in their life, encourage them to try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.

Once they understand what their coworker is going through, they can begin to see things from a new perspective. This helps them see why their coworker may be distracted at work, making more mistakes than usual, or getting irritated easily.

Preparing In Advance Goes a Long Way…


Practice in Play

This category largely deals with how mindful you are of the tasks and responsibilities at work and how they help you to be more productive. You could spend a complete month looking as if you are busy, but you may not master your art. On that note, you need to look at your work through the lens of a positive intent of understanding and developing your skillset.

Practice Outside Play

You must have heard people discussing how creative activities outside work can help improve job performance. This is empirically proven by different research studies by organizational psychologists. Creative pursuits away from work have a direct effect on factors such as stakeholder management, problem-solving as well as the capacity to empathize with others.


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