Approaching the next level of employee performance

Humans want to contribute to a cause bigger than themselves, and the workplace offers an opportunity to do just that.
By: | March 23, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Energized by the sugar rush of refreshed budgets, many organizations beef up their recruitment efforts in January and February. In fact, employment experts say the first quarter of the year is generally the best time to look for new opportunities.

Unfortunately, fresh talent doesn’t always translate to high performance. Although a new employee may seem like a slam dunk on paper, several pitfalls can prevent them from reaching their full potential. Among the most common roadblocks: unclear expectations. Only about half of all employees claim to know what’s expected of them at work.

In the same way performance stalls without clear communication, the absence of alignment between people, processes, and technology can inhibit employees from improving over time. Instead of fully investing themselves in a position, employees forced to deal with ineffective processes or manual technologies are less likely to remain loyal to the organization — or become a cheerleader — moving forward.

At best, this discontent can result in an underperforming employee who spends more time online shopping than completing assigned tasks. But at worst, valuable yet frustrated employees might move on to another organization — especially during the early months of the year when shiny new opportunities abound.

As a hiring leader, you can help your organization overcome the barriers that have handcuffed employee performance by turning your attention to three main areas: purpose, autonomy, and development.

Identifying purpose

Humans want to contribute to a cause bigger than themselves, and the workplace offers an opportunity to do just that. The new year is the perfect time to achieve organizational alignment on key goals. You can create a more meaningful — and ultimately motivating — workplace experience by linking an employee’s individual goals to your company’s overall vision and purpose.

Even in the most fulfilling jobs, it’s easy for individuals to lose sight of their actual impact amid the daily grind of meetings and time sheets. That’s where goals can make all the difference. Individuals with managers who help them identify performance goals are eight times more likely to be engaged. Rather than staring at an endless to-do list without understanding the difference they’re making, employees should be able to connect with you to discover how they’re helping the company move one step closer to important milestones.

Just remember: As company-wide initiatives shift, so should your employees’ goals. Want to go the extra mile? Recognizing an employee’s impact on larger company initiatives in real time can help motivate them to continue doing great work.

Enabling employee autonomy

Another way to help employees achieve peak performance is by giving them the opportunity to lead passion projects, even if those projects aren’t part of or relevant to their regular responsibilities.

Make no mistake, allowing employees to branch outside of their traditional wheelhouses may open the door for potential hiccups. But even if you lose a little efficiency along the way, you’ll more than make up for it through increased engagement. In fact, millennial employees are 43% less likely to burn out when they have more autonomy to choose the tasks they do, when they do them, and how much time to spend on them. In other words, they appreciate being treated like smart, responsible individuals — not just another cog in the workplace machine.

If you’re worried about employees losing sight of priorities or fumbling through new projects, consider increasing the frequency of your check-ins or one-on-ones. Discussing obstacles and identifying coaching opportunities — led by the employee’s ideas and preferences — will help you avoid micromanaging or bulldozing your employee’s newfound autonomy. If individuals feel you truly value their opinions and goals, they’ll double down on their efforts.

Although you may experience inefficiencies in the short term, empowering employees to take charge of projects will keep them engaged while also enabling them to tackle even tougher challenges in the future.

Ongoing development

Employee development and top-notch performance go hand in hand. The more steps you take to foster growth, the better chance you have of elevating employee performance across the board. Kick-start the development process by letting your employees know what they do well and discussing potential areas for growth.

Once employees are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, outline a few ways they can improve going forward. Whether it’s shadowing a more senior staff member or taking the lead on an upcoming project, employees need the chance to grow and develop skills that matter to your organization.

Opening the door for continuous learning will help keep employees engaged over the long term while increasing their value to your organization right now. You might also identify cross-functional opportunities aligned with the employee’s interests. If a worker is interested in another department, give them the opportunity to explore it when business is slow. They may discover a different role at the company is a better fit — a positive for both parties because the employee improves their job satisfaction while your organization retains a loyal, fulfilled worker.

Start the new year off with a new approach to unlocking employee performance. For far too long, lack of communication with employees, as well as misaligned processes and technologies, have kept workers from reaching their full potential. Break free from the rut that’s hampering employee performance by shifting your focus to purpose, autonomy, and development.

Paul Pellman is the CEO of employee experience platform Kazoo. Paul holds a B.S. in accounting and finance from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Harvard University.