How to Improve Employee Performance by Doing Less

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Employee performance can be improved by better management

Businesses are always looking for ways to improve employee performance and productivity, but too often, managers will focus on creating stricter rules for employees in hopes of getting them to work harder. The most popular ones in Tanzania include:

  • Fixed lunch time
  • Rigid check-in and out systems
  • A work desk where they can be monitored
  • No access to social media on work computers
  • No use of headphones at workstations

As you can see, managers can become incredibly overbearing and micro-manage everything employees do in hopes of improving productivity. However, operating in this manner not only aggravates employees and makes them hate their boss, but it also means that the manager spends a significant amount of their time following up on employees rather than working on other projects. Simply put, it’s an inefficient way to work.

The thing is, very few bosses look to their management style as a source of employee productivity or lack they’re off. Well, they should. In fact, here are 7 ways that employers can improve employee productivity by changing the way they manage people.

  1. Give constructive and non-deeming feedback

There is a tendency amongst bosses in Tanzania to yell and demean employees when they make mistakes. In fact, this is common in most institutions in Tanzanian society where there is a relationship between an authority figure and a subordinate, like parents and children, teachers and students, military superiors and subordinates and more. While common, yelling is a very unproductive way of communicating to people, and all it does it demoralize them and create a culture of fear (rather than respect) in the workforce.

An effective alternative is to provide constructive feedback that helps employees recognize their mistake and how to fix it. For example, if a part-time sales associate isn’t hitting their monthly targets, instead of calling them incompetent, a good manager would first try and figure out what they are doing wrong (let’s say they are not reaching out to enough new clients) and provide solutions: “I see that you aren’t contacting enough new businesses a month and this is greatly contributing to your lower sales. I know you are a hard worker so in addition to the Yellow pages try and use platforms like online business directory and LinkedIn to get more leads.”

Moreover, feedback should be positive rather than punitive, it’s more effective to tell someone the positive things that will result from an action, “if you improve your monthly sales targets by increasing the number of contacts you make with new companies, then you may be promoted to a full-time salesperson and gain the benefits that come with that position.” Rather than the negatives, “if you don’t improve your sales targets, you will be fired.”

  1. Provide positive reinforcement

In addition to providing employees with constructive feedback, giving them positive reinforcement for good work is a very simple yet effective way of increasing performance. Too often, companies use monetary incentives to reward employee performance, and while it is important to have systems in place that enable employees at all levels to gain bonuses and benefits, this should not replace genuine recognition for a job well done.

Think about it this way, as humans, we like to feel like we are making a difference and been recognized for our efforts – well employees are people too, and will work harder if they feel like their work is actively contributing to something bigger than themselves.

So, while many employers think that ‘giving people props’ will make employees too comfortable and ‘cocky’, the reality is usually the opposite – they feel recognized, acknowledged, seen, and are thus eager to sustain that positive status by continuing to work hard.

Also, ways you can recognize employees for good work include:

  •      Sending a company-wide email of recognition
  •      Emailing them thank you
  •      Walking up to their desk and thanking them
  •      Taking them out for lunch
  1. Offer support when it’s needed

A manager is part of employees support system at work and therefore should try and build a relationship of trust and gratitude between themselves and their team. If employees feel like the manager ‘looks out for them’, then they will also feel accountable to ‘look out for the manager’ by performing their best. So, let’s say an employee needs an updated computer; or could benefit from a course; or is overwhelmed with their workload; or is unfairly reprimanded – it is the manager’s responsibility to help find a solution.

Moreover, people want to feel like they are part of a team rather than working for an organization, and one major way this feeling is fostered is if managers look out for them as people versus prioritizing company interests or senior management requests. This can be especially hard for managers who are ‘yes people’, and are used to pleasing superiors rather than challenging them or offering their opinions.

For example, let’s say an employee was unfairly criticized by senior staff for not meeting a deadline that the manager recognizes was difficult to fulfill due to other tasks and circumstances. The manager bringing up these issues to supervisors, and also offering emotional support to the employee is a way to build trust.

However, this does not mean that managers and employees should be best friends and that the manager should defend or cover-up mistakes their team makes because of personal relationships. In fact, there is no need for the manager and their team to have a personal friendship, instead, they should have an incredibly supportive and positive professional relationship.

  1. Practice what you preach

No one likes a hypocrite. It’s important for managers/supervisors at all levels to also practice the values and expectations they set for their employees. This will foster respect and accountability, because if employees see that you behave in the way you expect them to, they will feel obligated to do the same. As the saying goes, ‘the fish rots from the head’, leadership is responsible for setting the culture and outcomes in the workplace.

In addition, this is also tied to promises you make to employees. If you say you are going to do something, then do it or your word means nothing. All in all, part of being a good leader is holding yourself accountable to your team – they will not only respect that, they will also work harder.

  1. Listen to them

Having regular check-ins with employees to see how their work is going but also any suggestions or grievances they have is an important way to learn how to increase employee engagement. However, many businesses in Tanzania have a tendency of simply offering employees a platform to express themselves, but never follow up with implementation. They simply let people vent and get back to work.

If you take this approach than the issues that are preventing employees from doing their job better will never be solved, and productivity will remain the same.

So for instance, if an employee complains about the lack of transparency in how they are delegated tasks, as a manager, it’s important to actually address it. While there might be reasons why employees are not involved in all business decisions, they should at least be consulted on projects that they will be directly responsible for. Not doing so leads to a loss of ownership in their work, and as mentioned before, people want to feel like they are part of a team and not just working for an organization.

  1. Set objective targets

Employees not only need to be able to clearly understand what is expected of them from the company, but they also need to know that they are been assessed as objectively as possible. A lot of performance evaluations tend to offer too much room for subjectivity, and as a result, employees can feel (rightfully so) unfairly assessed by their managers.

So for instance, if one of the KPIs for an employee is to “increase brand awareness in Tanzanian market”, this doesn’t clearly define what the metrics are. A better goal would be “increase brand mentions on social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram) by 20% by the end of the fourth quarter”. This is something that can be measured objectively.

  1. Respect their time

Recently France passed a law that makes it illegal for employers to email employees beyond official work hours. France is also a country with one of the highest standards of living and happiness in the world. While a similar law doesn’t exist in Tanzania, managers should pretend like it does. If you respect that your employee has a life outside work, then they will value their time with you at work more.

Think of it this way, if someone knows that they only have 8 hours a day to complete something, they will use those hours efficiently. Versus if they know that they will be at work indefinitely.

However, if there ever is a genuine need to to stay at work past office hours, then it’s important to offer your employees incentives to do so: this includes pay for overtimes, food, and maybe a paid day off.

Managers at all levels need training

As mentioned before, the biggest barrier to better employee performance usually has a lot more to do with management than it does the employee. However, most companies invest in management training at the senior level, and not the junior managers, team leads, and supervisors who have most contact with employees on a day to day basis. Simply put, lower level managers need training as much as (if not more) than senior managers, as they often lack experience managing people and are just learning from the mistakes they make with their current employees.

Leadership may be a character trait that comes naturally to some people, but all managers need to be given tools and resources to effectively do their jobs so that the employees under them can also do perform at their very best.

Iman Lipumba
A digital storyteller, experienced in creating content that improves website visibility on search engines, enhances the user experience, and nurtures brand loyalty. With a background in the social sciences, an expert in researching complex ideas, and communicating them in engaging language to multiple audiences.