Performance Management

Improving Employee Performance Using Meaningful Performance Objectives

By Betterworks
March 17, 2021
3 minute read

Improving employee performance is top-of-mind for managers. Great leaders understand the importance of employee engagement and want to make sure they’re creating an environment for teams to thrive. But what should managers and leaders do when they see someone lagging behind? Are there performance objectives that can be set and measured that can help guide an underperformer?

Performance objectives are a powerful way for leaders and HR professionals to guide individual work. What’s more, they’re designed for any individual contributor regardless of whether or not the person is underperforming.

This means performance objectives are scalable, adaptable, and useful across the most sprawling organizations. To begin implementing performance objectives into your company, consider the framework of company-wide goals. 

Objectives and key results

Objectives and key results, also known as OKRs, are a collaborative goal-setting tool used by managers, teams, and individual performers to set challenging goals—with measurable results. OKRs are particularly powerful in terms of performance management because they’re built and agreed upon transparently and are either met or not—in a quantifiable way.

An objective is what the team or individual wants to achieve. Objectives should be concrete, inspirational, and actionable. Key results guide how we get to the objective. They’re time-bound (e.g. quarterly) and clear—one either meets the key result or they do not.

Setting performance objectives 

Using OKRs to set performance objectives helps the manager and the individual gain understanding into the why. First, it provides employees with a purpose. It’s critical when handling a sensitive subject like employee performance to have a clear, shared mission. When a performance objective is set, the employee is given a guide to their day-to-day decision making and priority setting.

Benefits of performance objectives:

  • Surfaces the most important focus of the individual
  • Enables open and clear communication
  • Establishes key results for measuring progress

Performance objectives matched with key results then allow the performance to be reviewed impartially. The quantifiable nature of key results undercuts bias, allowing manager and employee to know clearly if the objectives were met. 

Other strategies to improve employee performance

Performance objectives are critical to improving an employee’s output, but there are other best practices leaders can employ to continuously engage their team. Here are several strategies to improve employee performance and deliver better business results.

Establish continuous communication 

Effective communication is essential for improving employee performance. Whether you’re giving negative or positive feedback, the key to clear communication starts with developing a cadence. For example, establish regular 1:1’s with your team. Then communicate the 1:1’s purpose: to go over specific work, to give feedback, or to establish deadlines. Having a time and place already set and visited by manager and employee takes the burden off when and where to give feedback.

Lead through empowerment

Empowering your employees looks a little different for every team. Paving the way for individuals to make impactful decisions, however, is empowering regardless of industry. This can be done through allowing individuals to write their own performance objectives first. Typically, those objectives will provide insight you may not have known about before. 

Prioritize employee development

Never underestimate the short and long-term benefits of training and development. Investing in an employee’s skills shows them you’re committed to deepening their careers. This, in turn, fosters loyalty. Prioritizing employee development primes top-talent for filling future leadership positions.  

Reward and recognize improvement

Employee recognition plays a significant role with motivation. Performance objectives help managers consistently recognize improvement since key results are built into the goals. With clarity on goal progress, managers can easily fold in recognition in the short-term. In the long-term, employees and managers have a record of progress that can translate to rewards such as a bonus or promotion.

Acknowledge accountability

A major issue with employee performance is the gray area of accountability. Without performance objectives, it’s hard for managers to hold individual contributors accountable because often work responsibilities aren’t formally recorded. Having goals in place that are tailored to an individual’s work makes it clear how performance is being measured. Everyone is in agreement on the work to be done and in what timeframe.

Utilize technology

One of the most important ways to improve employee performance and to get performance objectives to stick is by leveraging technology. How can you as a manager implant new structure within your team? When the right system is in place, every member of an organization has transparency into the work that’s being done and needs to be done. Priorities are shared and kept top-of-mind. 

Improving employee performance requires meaningful goal setting, clearly communicated performance objectives, and technology that enables leaders to put their people first while driving their strategy. 

Improving employee performance is a key element of the Betterworks performance enablement solution. With Betterworks, teams throughout an organization align and focus on what matters most.

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