How to Improve Employee Performance (+Root Causes)

How to Improve Employee Performance (+Root Causes)

Employees are the backbone of any organization. You could have a great product or provide a unique service, but if your employees aren’t performing, it undermines all the effort you’ve put into your business. 

High-performing employees meet deadlines, make sales, and build your brand via positive customer interactions. At the same time, underperforming employees hold back organizations from meeting their true potential. 

Employee performance is critical to a company’s overall productivity, profitability, and success. When employee performance drops, so does revenue and growth.

What are the best strategies for improving employee performance?

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Reward and recognize your employees
  3. Have open lines of communication
  4. Identify and solve the root causes of poor performance
  5. Provide training opportunities
  6. Continuously monitor employee performance
  7. Keep deadlines realistic
  8. Balance accountability and authority
  9. Consider remote working options
  10. Enable employees with collaborative learning opportunities 
  11. Avoid micromanaging
  12. Overcome skill gaps with reskilling and upskilling opportunities
  13. Offer internal leadership opportunities and clear career paths

What Is Employee Performance?

​​Employee performance refers to how well employees fulfill their job duties, complete assigned tasks within their deadlines, hit goals, and behave in the workplace. When leaders monitor employee performance, they look at an employee’s effectiveness, quality of work, quantity of work, and overall output efficiency.

6 Common Causes of Employee Performance Problems

Employees face many challenges to remaining productive. From personal to cultural issues, here are a few root causes that negatively impact employee performance and result in problems in 2024:

1. Unengaging work

Everyone wants to do meaningful work, the work that puts their talents and abilities to good use. When managers fail to assign roles and responsibilities to the employees according to their expectations and skillset, or when employees don’t feel challenged in their job role, they tend to get disengaged from their work. They will give you their time, but not their best effort or best ideas. And their degree of commitment towards your organization begins to suffer.

The cost of employees being disengaged with their work is employee turnover, absenteeism, and low performance levels.

On the other hand, engaged employees are 44% more productive than workers who are just satisfied in their roles, and overall it improves employee performance. 

Employee engagement can’t be forced and there are a lot of factors that influence how engaged an employee is on the job. Work culture, team communication, company reputation, and personal factors all play a role. Here are some of the ways to improve employee engagement in your organization:

  • Leaders must effectively communicate with their employees on everything from day-to-day expectations and responsibilities to larger company goals and organizational decisions.
  • Increase meaningful work and reduce repetitive work.
  • Analyze employee skills and competencies to assign suitable roles and responsibilities.
  • Invest in employee development plans to promote growth and development.
  • Show recognition and appreciation.
  • Ask for employee feedback frequently.

2. Poor employee onboarding, training, and support processes

Attracting, developing, and retaining high-performing employees are the core of successful companies making effective training and onboarding imperative for organizations.

Less knowledge and training lead to a lower level of performance, resulting in less profit. On the other hand, well-trained employees with the skills necessary to perform their job deliver high-quality work and positively impact the organization. 

Manually creating individual onboarding and training programs that align with your employees’ training goals is time-consuming and inefficient—and if your company has over 100 people, likely impossible. To overcome this challenge, invest in employee onboarding and training software like Whatfix to create personalized learning programs. 

Whatfix integrates with your digital tools to provide automated, personalized, and engaging employee onboarding and training programs at scale by assigning learners contextual task lists containing interactive walkthroughs. Walkthroughs are a series of step-by-step prompts that show users how to complete a specific process by guiding them through each step, showing them relevant knowledge videos, or providing informative articles. 

DAPs work hand-in-hand with learning management systems and eLearning software like xAPI and SCORM for you to track learners’ progress and build more relevant content in the future.

3. A digital skills gap

The rapid changes due to emerging technologies and disruptive forces lead to a difference between an employee’s current abilities and the skillset best suited for their job.

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 45% of respondents reported that a gap in skillsets caused a loss in overall productivity. 

To respond to this skills gap, organizations must assess their existing workforce and develop active training programs and recruitment strategies to meet the moment. Conduct a skill gap analysis that results in a list of skills your employees already have, where they need to improve, and what they need to develop. From there, organizations can address these skill deficiencies using online courses and training programs to build a team of skilled workers that align with your company’s needs.

Technology can make solving skills gaps easier, especially in the new remote business environment. Instead of spending hours and money giving employees in-person walkthroughs of new tech, consider using a digital adoption platform (DAP) to enable on-demand employee training. DAPs deliver step-by-step in-app guidance on key workflows within the new application or software to train users in real-time. The platform allows you to create task lists and self-help widgets for employee training within the application to empower users to become proficient quickly and avoid any skill gaps.

4. Reliance on outdated software and business processes

Technology evolves at an alarming rate, and by the time you adopt new technologies and systems, there’s something new and more efficient coming along right behind it. If you’re still using outdated tech, it immediately impacts your business performance.

Your employees need technology to have a system with accurate customer information, details on quoting, inventory, asset knowledge, and provides the best customer service. Without the right technology, it is nearly impossible and your business may fall short. 

Investing in new and improved enterprise technology solutions is an expensive and challenging process, but it’s something that no business should ignore. 

However, technological changes are often improperly defined and poorly communicated, which scares and frustrates your employees and ultimately leads to resistance.

When introducing new technology, you must have a solid transition plan. People want to know why the technology is necessary, what makes it better than previous solutions, and how you will support them during the transition.

For example, if you plan to switch from an outdated CRM to Salesforce, start by justifying the change. Explain that Salesforce will allow the team to manage leads while engaging with current customers. Be sure to point out key benefits, like keeping marketing, customer relations, and detailed analytics all in one place.

You can build confidence in the change by explaining that the transition will be supported by various change management tools that offer capabilities such as in-app training, weekly check-ins, and an internal chat for handling questions.

5. No goals defined

Setting goals is an important practice in any organization. It’s an essential part of the performance management process and is used to achieve business objectives. A clearly defined set of goals visualize and actualize success, driving employee performance.

The SMART goals method simplifies this process by providing five criteria points for creating goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Defining these parameters ensures that the objectives are attainable within a particular time frame. This approach eliminates generalities and guesswork, assigns a clear timeline, and sets employees up for success. Defining SMART goals makes it easier for managers to track their employees’ progress while completing the goals.

6. Cultural, political, and world issues

A hostile work culture can affect employee productivity, increase turnover, and make employees feel disconnected from their work and workplace.

When organizations promote a culture of transparency, set clear expectations, provide continuous feedback, and offer the right recognition, employees understand what is expected of them and become more productive and efficient.

A positive organizational culture, when used right, can retain your top layer of talent, boost performance and productivity, and create self-reliant, independent, and responsible employees.

13 Tips for Improving Employee Performance in 2024

Improving employee performance is easier said than done. Here are thirteen best practices for improving your team member performance:

1. Set clear goals

You can’t expect employees to be engaged and effective in their rike if they don’t have clear goals to aim for. 

Employee goal-setting is a key responsibility of managers to ensure that their team members know what is expected in their role. Goals motivate, inspire, and fuel employee performance. When faced with meeting a goal, employees become resourceful, putting their existing knowledge to work or innovating in new ways to find paths to success.

To define clear and measurable performance goals, consider using the SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) framework to drive employee performance all year round. These goals will help provide data and insights that allow managers to measure employee performance – which sets a benchmark for performance levels that can be improved upon over time.

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2. Reward and recognize your employees

One of the best ways to encourage employees to be more efficient is to give them an incentive and show recognition. Employees deserve recognition when they contribute to the success of your company – and many employees want this recognition. Recognizing and appreciating your employees for a job well done motivates team members to improve overall performance even more. On the other hand, lack of recognition may drive your best talent to look for jobs where they’ll get the appreciation they deserve.

Monetary rewards are always appreciated but aren’t the only motivator that improves employee performance. Showing your employees that they’re a valued part of the organization and giving genuine praise for their meaningful contributions to the company are powerful motivators for improving employee experience

Small gestures such as a genuine “thank you” in team meetings, an appreciation email, handwritten cards, etc., goes a long way in boosting employee morale and improving performance.

With that being said – this is not to say monetary rewards aren’t driving factors. Money-based rewards are the biggest driving factor and motivation for many personality types. A strong combination of monetary rewards and constant employee recognition is the best recipe for strong employee performance.

Related Resources

3. Have open lines of communication

Effective communication is an essential tool for organizational performance. Most businesses rely on effective communication with both customers and employees to boost sales and enhance business growth. 

According to the European Journal of Business and Management Research, effective communication in any business entity greatly influences employee performance.

Effective business communication enhances organizational management, influences proper coordination between employees and managers, builds teamwork, promotes good relationships between stakeholders, boosts employee engagement, and consequently helps improve employee performance. Moreover, with many organizations adapting to the remote culture, communication has become a top priority. 

The right communication and collaboration tools can help foster a culture that encourages employee communication across teams and improve overall organizational performance.

4. Identify and solve the root cause of poor performance

Poor employee performance not only impacts the team’s productivity but also affects corporate culture, employee morale, and productivity across the organization. This is why it is critical to identify and address employee performance issues at an early stage.

Here’s how managers can handle performance issues:

  • Understand the root of the problem – Take time to understand what is causing the issue. Perhaps you have the wrong team member for the job? Or your employees need more focused training and specialized experience. Maybe they feel demotivated by their current work environment or have too heavy of a workload. It could even be something in their personal life impacting their performance.
  • Devise a plan – Once you have identified the problem, devise a plan to tackle and resolve the issue promptly. Your plan could include recognizing employees for their accomplishments, setting achievable goals, providing the necessary support, investing in additional resources, rearranging the tasks, or changing your employee training strategy. The performance improvement plan solely depends on the root cause of your problem.
  • Be honest and supportive – Be honest and supportive with employees while giving feedback on their sub-par performance. Provide specific examples of areas that are below expectations and help your employees improve.

5. Provide training opportunities

Effective training is a motivational factor for your employees that enhances their knowledge and makes them proficient in their jobs to give better results, eventually putting companies in the best position to face competition. Training empowers employees to be more efficient at work, improves employee engagement, and helps increase employee performance. Additionally, employee training helps support and manage organizational change when introducing new processes and technologies.

All organization types – SMBs, growth companies, and enterprise organizations – can benefit by implementing employee training software that provides the tools to author, publish, manage, monitor, and facilitate custom-made employee training programs. Investing in employee training software also improves employee retention rates, customer satisfaction, and creativity for new product ideas.

A digital adoption platform (DAP) is a next-gen employee experience and training software that empowers your organizational training needs by helping employees learn new tools and applications in the flow of work. It provides real-time guidance through step-by-step interactive walkthroughs, pop-ups, and tooltips.

Create personalized learning & training flows for your enterprise apps with Whatfix

6. Continuously monitor employee performance

There is no hope of increasing employee performance if employees don’t know they’re underperforming in the first place. This is why it is essential to evaluate employee performance. 

One of the most commonly used models for assessing employee performance is the 9-box grid. The 9-box grid maps employees against two axes: current performance and future potential. The vertical (y) axis indicates growth potential, referring to an individual’s potential to grow into leadership roles. The horizontal axis (x) represents an employee’s current performance, identifying whether they are below, meeting, or exceeding performance expectations.

9-box grid quadrants

The 9-box grid consists of the following groups, segments, or boxes:

  • Low Performer, High Potential
  • Low Performer, Moderate Potential
  • Low Performer, Low Potential
  • Moderate Performer, High Potential
  • Moderate Performer, Moderate Potential
  • Moderate Performer, Low Potential
  • High Performer, High Potential
  • High Performer, Moderate Potential
  • High Performer, Low Potential

When done right, performance evaluation help employees understand what they’re doing well, how they can improve, how their work aligns with company goals, and what is expected of them. They also identify employees’ personal goals and highlight career paths with actionable goals and timelines to hit these career aspirations.

7. Keep deadlines realistic

Some managers like to build pressure on their teams, believing that more pressure means more productivity. However, cranking up deadline expectations doesn’t always produce better results. Not giving adequate time for employees to finish projects leads to employee burnout, frustration, and disengagement. It also lends itself to poor work quality. This is why managers need to balance placing a sense of urgency on deadlines and allowing enough time for employees to complete them with quality work.

When used thoughtfully, tight deadlines can help motivate and improve employee performance. Tailor deadlines according to the unique time requirements of different types of work and be realistic with every goal to ensure your employees deliver quality work on time.

8. Balance accountability and authority

Employee accountability means setting expectations for every employee and putting meaningful consequences in place. On the other hand, authority means giving employees the power to decide and act on their own. 

Managers need to strike a balance between accountability and authority. This means while assigning responsibilities, the required amount of authority should be bestowed on employees to help them complete the assigned duties. If an individual is given some level of responsibility without sufficient authority enforcing that responsibility, they cannot perform to the best of their ability and could fail to finish the project. Also, employees need to be held accountable for the responsibilities, deadlines, or targets, assigned to them.

Accountability and authority gives employees the right balance between performance goals and the autonomy in deciding how to achieve them giving you a high-performing workforce that prioritizes its day-to-day initiatives to align with overall business objectives.

9. Consider remote working options

Allowing your employees to work from home might seem counterintuitive for improving performance. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Remote work allows your employees to save valuable time that is otherwise wasted. 

According to a 2019 remote work survey, remote workers work 1.4 more days/month than in-office employees that translate into 16.8 more workdays every year. Also, in-office workers deal with workplace distractions an average of 37 minutes per day, while remote employees experience an average of 27 minutes per day, which means more productivity. 

Working remotely offers employees a better balance between work and personal life. The freedom to work on their preferred hours strikes a healthy work-life balance for employees. This leads to employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and an improvement in employee morale which makes employees more focused and productive while working. Also, providing flexible work arrangements gives companies the edge to attract top talent. 

The key to managing a remote workforce is practicing open communication, keeping employees engaged, monitoring your teams’ productivity, and proving continuous support.

10. Enable employees with collaborative learning opportunities

Collaborative training is a methodology where employees share their knowledge and expertise, teaching and learning from one another simultaneously. This technique helps enhance the overall training experience for employees by capitalizing on their skills, ideas, and knowledge.

Participating in collaborative training not only helps employees develop a wide range of skills and knowledge, but it also helps foster connections and teamwork, and creates a healthy positive work culture that helps improve employee satisfaction and performance.

11. Avoid micromanaging

For some managers, improving employee performance means observing employee activities at work, continuously asking them for updates, getting involved in every detail, imposing their preferences on others, and hovering to ensure that employees get their work done. However, for employees, micromanaging is seen as a sign of distrust in them, and they’re more likely to disengage or only put a half-hearted effort into their work. 

In order to improve employee performance, managers must manage the work based on outcomes and milestones being met. Your job as a leader is to empower your team and serve as the coach on the sidelines, be available for questions and suggestions, set clear expectations, provide training and direction, and then get out of the way to let employees do their job.

12. Overcome skill gaps with reskilling and upskilling opportunities

Reskilling refers to an employee learning a new set of skills to explore opportunities in a new job role- different than the one they are currently working in. And upskilling refers to an employee learning additional skills to become better equipped and skilled for their current job.

Providing continuous upskilling and reskilling opportunities for your employees is a great way to show them that their employer cares about their progression. These opportunities encourage employees to feel happier, satisfied, and motivated in their roles, which, in turn, boosts employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention rates within an organization.

13. Offer internal leadership opportunities and clear career paths

It is a common mistake for organizations to seek external candidates over highly qualified internal candidates in case of a change in the organizational structure or employee turnover. 

However, the prospect of promotion is an incredibly effective incentive for employees to improve their performance and maximize their efficiency to reach organizational goals. Therefore, don’t overlook your current staff when searching for a candidate to fill a senior role, rather, award your current employees with promotions, which can serve as the ultimate reward for excellent performance.

But how would you know which employees are suitable for handling leadership responsibilities? The answer lies in succession planning.

Creating a succession plan helps identify critical positions, future staffing needs, documenting and transferring key knowledge, and the people that could fill these future roles within an organization – and developing action plans accordingly. 

A succession plan takes a holistic view of current and future company goals to ensure that you always have the right people in key roles in your organization.

Here are the steps involved in a succession planning process:

Step 1: Assess
  • Assessing an organization’s requirements
  • Identifying business challenges in the coming years
  • Identifying critical risk positions to support business continuity 
  • Identifying competencies and skill gap
Step 2: Evaluate
  • Selecting high potential employees that would be chosen to replace key roles
  • Selecting the competencies and skills needed by individuals to be successful in these new positions
  • Categorizing skill or competency gaps
Step 3: Develop
  • Capturing the knowledge that individuals possess before leaving an organization
  • Developing a pool of talent to step into critical positions through career development plans
Provide better employee experiences that drive employee performance with Whatfix

Hiring the best talent is just the tip of the iceberg. Keeping your employees performing at the highest level plays a large role in a company’s long-term success. Even small things become large issues and negatively impact employee performance.

However, you can maintain a productive and performance-oriented workplace by continuously monitoring employee performance and utilizing performance improvement and support to make sure that your employees remain engaged, and motivated in their roles.

With Whatfix’s performance support system, create in-app guidance to boost user performance with interactive walkthroughs, smart tips, onboarding task lists, self-help wikis, and more. Whatfix’s just-in-time performance support software is always available to aid employees in performing critical tasks at the moment of need across your software applications and digital processes.

Whatfix also provides HR and L&D teams with people analytics to understand the levels of digital adoption across your software applications, find under-adopted features and processes, fix friction points in your digital workplace, identify new help content to create, understand employee engagement and satisfaction, and more.

Ready to learn more? See Whatfix’s digital adoption platform in action now!

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