Management 101 – Improving Employee Performance

Most managers have been in the situation where an employee’s performance is not meeting their expectations. Many times this poor performance has to do with a miscommunication or an employee not understanding the expectations of the job. Here’s how you can bridge the gap.

Imagine this scenario. You are the Sales Manager of a small business. You have a meeting scheduled with your sales staff in two days to discuss the launching of a new product. You are just sitting with your assistant to discuss how the plans are going for the meeting and you learn the following:

  • Sales brochures have not been printed and organized.
  • Sales staff has not been informed of the meeting.
  • Pricing information has not been confirmed by the Business Managers.
  • The presentation you have prepared is not ready to be presented.

As of today, she has not communicated issues or general concerns about the meeting. There were similar problems with a new customer meeting a few weeks ago. What should you do?

Does this scenario sound vaguely familiar? Most managers have been in the situation where an employee’s performance is not meeting their expectations. Sometimes the reaction is to avoid having a conversation with the hope that the problem will resolve itself. However, many times this poor performance has to do with a miscommunication or an employee not understanding the expectations of the job. This is where face-to-face interaction is the most effective tool in counseling an employee to enhance job performance.

Here are some suggested steps to conducting an effective performance improvement conversation:

1) Start the conversation stating something the employee does well. This will help the employee be more open to hearing about where improvement is needed.

2) Describe the problem (performance issue) clearly and in a non-threatening way. Talk about the specific behavior and refrain from discussing personality traits. Discuss what the person did and not who the person is. Always remain positive explaining that you will be an active partner in correcting the situation.

3) Ask for the employee’s help in solving the problem. Mutually discuss alternative solutions and mutually agree on actions to be taken to solve the problem. Try to use the employee’s solution where possible. When the employee’s ideas are part of the solution, he/she will be more committed to making it work.

4) Provide resources to help. In some instances, there’s an easy remedy to the situation. Possibly a better process/procedure is needed to help the employee become more efficient. Alternatively, the employee may need some additional training or a class to develop a certain skill.

5) Set a specific action plan with follow up dates. Ask questions to make sure the employee understands what is expected. Then develop an action plan that specifies performance expectations and the date for completion. (E.g. the first draft of the PowerPoint presentation should be completed in one week.) You should ensure that there are checkpoints along the way so that there’s an opportunity for changing course if necessary.

6) End on a positive note. It is important to communicate to the employee that you are confident he/she can solve this problem and make a positive contribution to the organization.

7) Follow up and recognize improvement. Remember to hold the follow up meeting when you initially specified. Recognize any improvement and continue to coach the person in sustaining this improvement. If improvement has not occurred, then move to the disciplinary process.

Although these steps cannot ensure improved performance, they are a start in the process. Improving employee performance can be a win-win for everyone. The employee wins by learning what is needed to enhance performance, thereby changing behavior and becoming a more productive member of the organization. The manager wins by counseling a person to achieve desired behavior thereby resulting in a more productive and satisfied employee. Lastly, the organization wins by retaining motivated employees who understand their role and the roles of others in contributing to the goals and culture of the organization.

Sandra Albert and Cathy Rimsky are Human Resources consultants specializing in small businesses and non-profit organizations. Areas of expertise include: Human Resources Assessments, Employee Handbooks, Policy Development, Recruitment/Interviewing, Training programs and on-site Human Resources. For further information contact Sandy Albert or Cathy Rimsky at

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