How to Improve as a Performance Manager: A 10-Step Guide

Work continues to evolve at dizzying speeds, and technology enables us to become more efficient than ever before. And yet, managing employees’ performance and productivity has never been more challenging.

You can implement processes for improving employee performance, though, and the best solutions are often simple ones. Better communication, clear expectations, and feedback go a long way towards improving work performance.

But really improving employee performance requires intentionality and commitment to supporting employees in their day-to-day performance. Here’s how to implement measurements, processes, and cultural norms to improve employee performance at your company.

As a manager one of your most important responsibilities is managing your employees’ performance. This includes setting clear expectations providing ongoing feedback and coaching, conducting performance reviews, and taking action to help improve results. Mastering performance management is essential for building an engaged, high-performing team. However, it’s a complex skill that requires intention and effort to continuously improve.

Follow this 10-step guide to level up your abilities as a performance manager:

1. Build Trust Through Open Communication

The foundation of effective performance management is a strong relationship built on trust between managers and employees. Take time to get to know your employees as individuals – their talents interests and career goals. Have regular one-on-one meetings focused on open dialogue, not just task lists. Listen more than you speak and make yourself approachable. Employees who trust you are more receptive to feedback and likely to bring up issues proactively.

2. Set Clear Goals and Expectations

Collaboratively set specific, measurable performance and development goals with each employee. Break down larger goals into smaller milestones with due dates to keep momentum. Define what successful achievement of each goal looks like. Ensure employees understand how their goals align with team and organizational objectives so they feel invested in the bigger picture vision. Revisit goals quarterly and adjust timelines or priorities as needed.

3. Monitor Performance With Key Metrics

Work with employees to identify quantifiable metrics aligned with their goals to track ongoing performance – sales numbers, conversion rates, client satisfaction scores, productivity benchmarks, quality standards, etc. Monitor metrics in real time using dashboards, reports, or trackers. Metrics provide early warning signs of any problems and help recognize progress and successes.

4. Provide Continuous Feedback and Coaching

Don’t wait for formal reviews to provide feedback. Give regular informal feedback focused on observed behaviors, not personal judgement. Praise achievements immediately. Address small course corrections early before they become major issues. Ask probing questions and share examples to coach employees on applying lessons learned. Your guidance will boost motivation and growth.

5. Foster Employee Development

Look beyond just short-term performance needs to help employees map out long-term career growth. Identify training programs, challenging assignments, lateral moves, or mentoring opportunities that will build new skills. Support professional development goals that align with their aspirations. Investing in their growth will fuel retention and future capabilities.

6. Conduct Fair, Consistent Reviews

Formal written performance reviews provide a structured opportunity to evaluate accomplishments, progress on goals, strengths and areas for improvement. Reviews should never contain surprises – the content should reflect your ongoing dialogue. Collaborate on the self-assessment portion. Tie ratings directly to measurable objectives, not subjectivity. Apply review standards consistently across all employees.

7. Address Performance Gaps

Have candid compassionate conversations if an employee consistently struggles to meet expectations. Get to root causes – do they need additional training, resources, or clearer expectations? Is there an outside factor affecting performance? Present it as an opportunity for growth with your support. Agree on performance improvement plans with defined actions, check-ins, and targets. Emphasize your confidence in their potential.

8. Link Performance to Rewards and Development

Use performance assessments to directly inform promotion decisions, pay increases, bonuses, stock options, and personalized development plans. Top performers should be recognized and rewarded. Consistently poor performers may require disciplinary action or termination if improvement efforts fail. Employees will be motivated to excel when they see clear correlation between performance and rewards.

9. Solicit Feedback on Your Management

Ask employees for honest input on your management style, communication effectiveness, and trust level. Do they feel empowered and supported? Do they have clarity into expectations and priorities? Do they get sufficient coaching and development opportunities? Be receptive to critique without defensiveness. Their feedback will raise your self-awareness as a manager.

10. Reflect on Your Growth Areas

Identify your own blindspots and weaknesses that may be limiting your team’s peak performance. Are you failing to delegate properly? Do you avoid confrontation? Are you too hands-off or micromanaging? Leverage training, mentors, observations of other managers, and multi-rater feedback tools to gain insight. Continuously work on self-improvement.

Mastering performance management requires moving from reactive to proactive habits. Don’t wait for problems to escalate – monitor progress, nip issues in the bud, provide hands-on guidance, align priorities to company goals, and reward achievements. With regular check-ins, clarity, motivation, and your support, your team is bound for higher performance.

Strategies for Improving as a First-Time Manager

Taking on your first management role is a huge learning curve. You go from being an individual contributor to suddenly leading people. No amount of training fully prepares you for that overnight shift. Expect a period of adjustment as you figure things out through trial and error. Here are some tips to help new managers ramp up effectively:

Don’t go it alone – Lean on more experienced managers as mentors. Seek their guidance handling new situations. Ask for their honest feedback on your early management effort and apply their advice.

Observe exemplary managers – Pay attention to the communication, feedback, delegation, conflict resolution, and leadership styles of respected managers. Note techniques that inspire engagement and results to incorporate into your approach.

Pursue management training – Dive into courses or books on critical skills like goal-setting, coaching employees, resolving performance issues, and interviewing. Training provides frameworks and best practices to apply.

Start small – Don’t tackle wholesale team changes early on. Build trust through 1-on-1s. Overcommunicate. Make minor tweaks. Small wins will boost your confidence to take on bigger challenges.

Check your mindset – You are now a supportive coach, not the star player. Focus on unleashing your team’s potential, not just your own expertise. Develop patience – improvement takes time.

Ask for feedback – Routinely ask your team and your own manager for suggestions on how you can be a better leader. They will identify growth areas you may have overlooked.

With a learner mindset and commitment to seeking knowledge and self-improvement, you will grow quickly into an effective manager who brings out the best in your team.

Overcoming Common Performance Management Challenges

Even seasoned managers face hurdles applying performance management principles consistently and effectively. Here are solutions to some frequent pain points:

Challenge: My team says they understand expectations during reviews but still miss goals later.

Solution: Break down big goals into smaller milestones and monitor progress more frequently. Check for comprehension by having them explain goals in their own words.

Challenge: Employees seem demotivated by formal performance reviews and ratings.

Solution: Focus the performance conversation on growth and development. Put them in the driver’s seat by asking self-assessment questions.

Challenge: I don’t have regular data on team performance. It’s hard to identify problems quickly.

Solution: Work with employees to define 5-10 key performance metrics to track in real-time through automated reports.

Challenge: Employees get defensive about constructive feedback and improvement needs I present.

Solution: Frame feedback positively – explain it’s to help them reach their potential. Make it a two-way dialogue, not one-way criticism.

Challenge: There’s limited time for in-depth coaching and mentoring.

Solution: Block your calendar for it. Even 15-30 minutes of dedicated 1-on-1 time weekly makes a difference. Identify external mentors who can provide guidance as well.

Proactively identifying solutions to overcome roadblocks will enable you to stick to performance management principles, even when time is scarce and tensions flare.

Key Takeaways on Leveling Up as a Performance Manager

Here are the big lessons for improving as a performance manager:

  • Build transparency and trust with employees through open communication.

  • Set clear goals collaboratively and connect them to the big picture vision.

  • Monitor progress quantitatively using key metrics and dashboards.

  • Provide continuous informal feedback and hands-on coaching.

  • Make formal appraisals just a summary – no surprises.

  • Address performance gaps with improvement plans and support.

  • Link rewards and development opportunities directly to appraisals.

  • Seek input on your own management skills and blindspots.

  • Never stop learning and self-reflecting as your team evolves.

Approach performance management not as an obligation, but an opportunity to develop talent and lead your team to new heights. By making it a consistent priority and striving to improve your own knowledge and abilities, you will see the payoff in engagement and results.

how to improve performance manager

How Do You Define High Performance?

Before you can improve employee performance, you need to set clear goals to reach and develop metrics to measure the employee’s progress toward those goals. Here’s how to define high performance for each role at your company.

Improving performance may require developing employees’ skills and competencies. But before you can set learning goals for each employee, you need to identify the human characteristics that drive success in the role.

Identify employees in the role who you classify as high-performing. What makes their performance stand out from that of their peers? How does their output differ from their less productive peers in the same role? Assess these employees to identify the skills, competencies, and traits they’re bringing forward to improve performance.

Look at your top sales representatives, for example. What traits are they bringing to their sales calls that drive better results? High emotional intelligence and active listening may help them pinpoint customer problems, for instance, so they can sell solutions that solve those problems.

Once you’ve identified the skills and competencies needed by each employee to be their best in the role, you can set a baseline for performance and begin to fill gaps through learning and development programs.

To define high performance, you have to first determine the potential impact of a role. Start by reviewing job descriptions to prioritize the essential outputs for each role. Those are the aspects you’ll want to maximize to improve employee performance.

Look at the role itself (not the employee in it) to identify which outputs from the role have the most strategic value. For example, an administrative assistant’s objective is to keep the office running efficiently and effectively. What specific outputs lead to that outcome?

Once you’ve prioritized each role’s tasks and duties by their strategic value, you can help employees in those roles focus their best efforts on the outputs that drive the greatest value.

Managers have historically struggled with performance metrics. When charged with evaluating employee performance, many fall back on perceptions and preferences rather than specific performance outcomes.

In the absence of clear metrics, managers can be tempted to micromanage employees to “know” that they’re working. This might prompt a manager to call or email an employee frequently to determine whether or not they’re working or add unnecessary oversight to their work processes.

Without clear criteria, managers will be left guessing whether employees have performed adequately. This can introduce a bias toward favored employees. For example, in a hybrid work environment, a manager might evaluate an employee that they see in person as a higher performer than an employee who is fully remote, even if their outputs are equal.

To support managers and produce fair performance evaluations, managers must assess performance based on the outcomes achieved. That’s a process that HR should own.

Once you’ve set a performance baseline and identified each role’s strategic impact, you need to drill down to the specific outcomes each employee in the role must consistently produce to be considered high-performing. If a project manager’s priority is to use resources effectively to deliver projects on time and within budget, those are the metrics their supervisor will review to assess performance.

With clear metrics based on outcomes in place, managers can easily see whether employees are meeting their performance goals.

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.

Here are nine best practices for improving 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.

When managers can learn to apply the values themselves, they can impart this skill to their teams to improve their employees’ performance.

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.

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. Managers can also opt to make use of project management collaboration tools to streamline communication among their teams.

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).

Train managers to listen to employee concerns and suggestions for improvement before injecting their own perspective.

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.

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.

But it can’t stop there: Be sure that managers can point employees to learning and development resources to help them turn their weaknesses into strengths. Set milestones for learning objectives to help measure the employee’s progress.

Even the suggestion of a performance improvement plan is a source of dread for employees. But performance improvement plans are actually a powerful resource for improving performance in a targeted way. Performance improvement plans should be implemented when an employee isn’t meeting their performance goals.

When executing a performance improvement plan, managers and HR representatives work together to provide clarity around set goals and performance objectives. Managers are more accessible to offer additional support to help employees improve. Frequent check-in conversations are essential for keeping an employee on track.

Performance improvement plans are a viable solution for improving performance, but how you frame that solution to employees matters. If employees believe it’s simply a formality before you see them out the door, they’re less likely to put in the effort required to really drive performance improvement. Make sure employees understand that performance improvement plans are designed to do exactly that: improve performance.

Feedback is crucial to improving employee performance, and it has to go both ways. Managers should provide frequent constructive feedback to employees in the flow of work. At the same time, employees need to provide feedback regarding workflows, processes, or tasks that may be slowing them down.

When managers can communicate effectively, including listening attentively and respectfully to their reports, conversations will naturally become more collaborative. Team members will become empowered to share their feedback, trusting that their manager will take it into account when supporting their performance.

The recent oversaturation of meetings may prompt managers to believe that check-in meetings are just another waste of time. But meaningful check-ins focused on the work and what the employee needs to get their work done can build up vital trust. And trust between an employee and their supervisor is the key that truly unlocks employee potential.

When managers and employees communicate frequently in one-on-ones, they create a foundation of trust that empowers them to communicate honestly and collaborate as equals working toward the same goals.

Management Skills: How to Improve Employee Performance

How can performance management help a company?

From defining and communicating company objectives to leveraging performance management tools, these strategies provide a roadmap for success. By embracing these approaches, you can empower your teams, set clear goals, foster a culture of feedback and recognition, and create an environment where employees thrive.

How can I improve my performance as a manager?

There are several tips you can use when improving your performance as a manager: Be flexible. Understanding that business goals can change and teams can shift means it’s important to be flexible with your performance goals. Flexibility can allow you to adapt to any changes and continually improve under changing circumstances. Be the example.

What is effective performance management?

Effective performance management is created systematically. Effective performance management is about prompting employees to provide feedback on other employees for a business purpose.

What makes a good performance management system?

Two critical design decisions relate to goal setting: the number of performance management systems used and whether to prioritize individual or team performance goals. Degree of differentiation. The simplest and best option for many organizations is a single performance management system to address the needs of all employees.

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