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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
Manager helping direct report on their work
Sophia Lee, author

Sophia Lee

Writer, Culture Amp

It’s no secret: managers play a critical role in every organization. 

As the primary touchpoints for their direct reports, they’re responsible for developing, motivating, and effectively overseeing their employees. But did you know how employees are managed can also affect their performance?

Contrary to popular belief, performance isn’t static. Instead, it’s a fluid state that can be improved with the right support. Low-performing employees can become high-performing if their managers approach their situation strategically. 

In this article, we share our top recommendations for people managers to help optimize their team’s performance. 

How managers can help direct reports improve their employee performance

Managers can have a lot of influence on an employee’s performance. Given this, they must understand how to set up their teams for success – especially for lower-performing individuals. 

While this may seem obvious, research shows one of the biggest stumbling blocks for organizations is manager capability. This refers to the ability to have effective growth and performance conversations with direct reports. That’s why organizations that scored high on the capability of managers were 12% more likely to experience high individual performance. 

Below are our best management tips to help boost employee performance.

1. Adopt a growth mindset

A growth mindset is a concept that was developed by Dr. Carol Dweck. It’s based on the idea that abilities and intelligence can be developed. Managers need to approach employees with this type of mindset as it is founded on the belief that everyone has the potential to be recognized as a top-performing individual if given the right opportunities and support.

On the other hand, a fixed mindset assumes that some employees are naturally born top performers, and others are not. This is not only inaccurate but also leaves very little room for growth. That’s why, at Culture Amp, we prefer to use phrases like “top-performing employees” and “low-performing employees” instead of “top performers” and “low performers.” This indicates that performance is changeable instead of being a fixed trait.

2. Individualize your management style

Every person has a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and skills. So a one-size-fits-all management style doesn’t make sense when supporting employees. Thankfully, there are many effective management styles that managers can adopt to align with their employees’ individual needs. 

For instance, let’s say you have an employee who learns best through in-person interactions. Yet all of their job training is done online and virtually, and their performance has suffered as a result. A manager should be able to recognize this disconnect and individualize their support to play to the employee’s strengths. That might be by sending them to more interactive conferences or hosting training sessions in person. 

3. Give ongoing feedback

One of the best ways to support low-performing employees is to create a culture of continuous feedback by encouraging frequent informal performance conversations. This helps employees build awareness around their ongoing performance and ensures that they don’t feel caught off guard during performance reviews.

While establishing this culture, it’s essential to make sure you open up the conversation in both directions. Setting up a transparent two-way communication process for employees to receive and provide feedback is essential. If employees feel comfortable expressing their frustrations, goals, and general sentiment, it will make it easier for managers to understand their perspective and provide more personalized support. 

4. Take advantage of performance reviews

In addition to continuous feedback, regular performance reviews are highly beneficial to any performance management approach. Acting as official “checkpoints,” regular performance evaluations provide an excellent opportunity for managers to have open conversations about where the employee is struggling, what they’re doing well, and what their future goals might look like. It also allows underperforming employees some dedicated time to collaborate with their managers to create an actionable performance improvement plan. 

While some people have frustrations about performance reviews, we believe it has less to do with the performance review itself, and more to do with the outdated approach companies take to them. If your process needs a refresh, there are many steps you can take to improve your company’s performance review – whether that’s by selecting the right tool or identifying the biases that may arise during conversations. 

5. Assign a mentor or coach to employees

Sometimes employees need a specific support or learning opportunity that a manager can’t provide. In these cases, it could be helpful for the manager to connect the employee to an external mentor or coach for additional help. Coaching sessions can focus on anything from improving communication skills to becoming a better business writer. 

At Culture Amp, we have a learning and development benefit called Coaching for Everyone. Every employee has access to several sessions with an executive coach or life coach. This opportunity is available at their employment's six, 12, and 24-month anniversaries. These sessions encourage our employees to grow on a personal, professional, and spiritual level and have been tremendously helpful in setting everyone up for success.

Performance is a fluid state

We’ll say it one last time: performance isn’t static. With the right approach, managers and people leaders have the potential to drastically improve the performance of their direct reports. By following the management-focused recommendations above, you’re likely to notice a shift in your low-performing employees’ quality of work.

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