Engaging Staff in Performance Improvement – 4 Essential Steps

Frank and routine feedback builds clarity around a performance improvement culture

Ongoing feedback builds clarity around a performance improvement culture

The annual performance review is often dreaded by both managers and staff. A recurring request from Blue Chip Consulting Group clients is to upskill managers to engage staff in performance improvement.

One example shared with us was an employee told at a performance review “I don’t know what you do but you are obviously doing a good job so keep doing it.” 

A tick for the task box. Huge cross for the management effectiveness box!

Blue Chip Consulting Group recommends performance improvement be part of the ongoing dialogue of an organisation.  Ongoing effective communication assists in developing a change readiness culture.  Managers demonstrate leadership when they develop communication skills to coach and provide feedback to their reports in pursuit of continuous improvement.

Feedback, Employee Development and Performance Improvement

Performance discussions, including coaching and feedback, create a ‘win-win’ by contributing to employee development and continuous improvement.

Relying on a once a year performance review and lag reporting belittles the importance of performance.  It undermines the opportunity to make performance improvement part of the ongoing dialogue with performance as a focus.

Consider the following 4 steps to make ongoing informal feedback part of both the workplace culture and the performance management system to help employees develop their skills and thinking.

1.            Create an Employee/Performance Improvement Discussion Routine
Develop a simple standard routine to initiate each performance discussion. Set the agenda and tone between informal ongoing immediate feedback and a formal performance appraisal. Familiarity with a performance improvement routine assists managers and staff retain a focus on performance improvement and their individual contribution.

2.            Be Frank, Empathetic and Insightful
Many books on the subject of workplace conversations highlight that a major mistake in performance management discussions is the failure to be frank.

There is no place for an ‘elephant in the room’ in a performance improvement discussion.  Managers have a responsibility to pursue and achieve continuous improvement. Managers can incorporate business intelligence information to agree baselines, targets and trend reporting. 

Leaders understand that they shape culture or the prevailing culture shapes them and their reports! Be frank, empathetic and insightful in shaping culture by addressing performance issues.

In a performance management discussion, phrases such as “maybe you could.” or “think about” dance around rather than address key issues.  The more frank the discussion, the more likely participants achieve clarity on what is expected.  The frank discussion will set the scene for subsequent discussions based on performance improvement outcomes.

3.            Use Active Listening Techniques
To confirm effective communication, ask each employee to feedback what they heard. That is, to repeat what they understood you said.  When an employee can clearly explain, in their own words, what you propose, it confirms they received the message accurately and provides greater confidence that they will act on it.

If playing it back does not confirm feedback was received accurately, correct any inaccuracy. Deliver feedback until the key actions are clear to the employee or until it is clear the employee doesn’t understand or chooses not to understand.

4.            Develop Communication Skills through the Performance Management 
Rework is a form of waste with a significant “opportunity cost” in time, energy and revenue foregone.

If a Manager’s message needs to be repeated, its important Managers ask themselves WHY the message was not clear.  Managers improve communication skills by acknowledging feedback on the quality of their communication and understanding whether the problem is with the messenger or the receiver or both.

Summary

Develop a standard routine for performance improvement discussion as part of part of the ongoing dialogue of an organisation.  

Use performance improvement discussions to develop communication skills in confirming shared vision on baselines, targets and outcomes.