10 Ways to Ignite Employee Performance

Retail Team Reviewing Plans
GettyImages/Erik Isakson

In today’s rapidly changing and competitive world, maintaining the same level of performance is not an option. As the bar continues to rise, performance needs to keep improving or today’s acceptable performance can become tomorrow’s poor performance.

Here are ten ways for a manager to help an employee improve their performance. Some are easy and don’t cost a dime – others will require more investment of time and resources.

The thing they all have in common is that they all will give you a substantial return on your investment.

1. Review and clarify expectations
A consultant was hired by a CEO to “fix” one of his managers who was about to be fired. The consultant asked the CEO to write down all of his expectations for this manager. When he met with the manager, the consultant gave him the list. A few months later, after the manager’s performance had dramatically improved, the CEO was congratulating the consultant for his brilliant work. “How did you do it?” he asked. “I gave him your list,” said the consultant. The CEO slammed his fist on the table and said, “I knew it – you cheated!”

Try giving each of your employees “the secret list.” It’s even better if you both create your own lists, then get together to compare. Watch amazing things happen.

2. Agree on goals and measures
While clarifying expectations is a great way to improve performance, agreeing on specific goals and measures is even more powerful.

If something isn’t measured, it’s harder to give people feedback about it, and therefore, they can’t improve. Measurement also sends a message that something is important, and if no one is tracking it, it sends the message that no one really cares.

3. Discuss development needs and create an individual development plan

Once the plan is created, don’t let it sit and gather dust. Review and update it on a regular basis. See number two – what gets measured gets done.

4. Provide ongoing, proactive feedback
We can’t get better if we don’t know how we’re doing. It’s especially important when we have behavioral “blind spots”, and no one cared enough to point them out.

5. Provide ongoing coaching
Coaching isn’t just for new employees – everyone can benefit from coaching, and managers can learn to be better coaches.

6. Provide training opportunities
Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who was very busy cutting a tree with an axe. He seemed very tired and exhausted, the tree was big, but he was a great worker and did not waste a minute of his time focused on cutting the tree. Another wise woodcutter passed by and noticed the woodcutter at his work. He said "Hello there, good morning. I see that you are working hard at your job, why don't you take a break for a while, and sharpen your axe?" To which the wood cutter said "I don't have time," and continued to work harder at cutting the tree.

Make sure you allow and encourage your employees to sharpen their tools.

7. Provide recognition and reward
Everyone wants – and deserves – a little praise now and then.

Try asking everyone on your team to write down what kind of recognition and reward means the most to them, then tailor your approach to each individual. There are over 1,000 ways to do it, and almost as many excuses for not doing it.

8. Delegate and empower
Most people thrive when faced with a new challenge. However, make sure it’s true delegation, not dumping some mundane task you don’t want to do.

9. Ask “what do you think?”
It’s more of a short-term shot in the arm, but it’s energizing when your manager asks for your opinion on some high-level issue or decision.

10. Provide a mentor or coach
A mentor or coach can provide a fresh perspective and help someone get over that hurdle that’s holding them back.