different shapes of different colors

The 3 Keys to Improving Employee Performance, Backed by Data

Written by Michael Scheiner and Nora St-Aubin, Illustrated by Chloe Allard

October 18, 2019

The foremost goal of managers today is to help employees do the best job they can by making them feel the most engaged at work. Management is the human interface between an employee’s personal and professional goals and their development within the company.

What does this look like in practice? A modern era of performance management, one in which annual reviews are replaced with regular, meaningful conversations, and employees have a clear path forward with goals and expectations set collaboratively with their manager. The key to success in all of this is building real connections between managers and employees that move beyond numbers and OKRs to a space where trust has room to flourish.

Before we can fix the problem, we need a clear understanding of what it is. That’s why we’ve dug into the data of our Employee Engagement Surveys to get a glimpse of where employees and managers stand as they navigate this shift, together.

Our goal? To determine the contours of how an employee’s engagement connects to their personal development, and the role of the manager in driving them forward.

What you’ll find in this post:

  • The 3 keys to modern performance management:
    • Continuous conversations
    • Collaborative development structures
    • Connections between managers and employees
  • What our Officevibe survey data can tell us about each of these key areas
  • Pro tips on how to level-up your performance management approach

Here’s something to kickstart our journey:

A staggering 45% of employees in our database do not agree that they have a development plan aimed at improving their skills.

Don’t panic—this doesn’t mean that managers aren’t doing their best, or that employees are set up to fail. It simply shows that adapting to this new landscape of performance management comes with challenges, as does any change. We’re here to help.

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How can our Officevibe data guide us?

Officevibe’s mission is to break down old school barriers between employees and management. We empower managers with the insights they need to build better work environments, where open communication blossoms into tighter teams, shared goals, and innovative progress.

Now we’re digging into these insights, examining the modern workforce through a new angle: data. It’s big, it’s deep, it’s complex. Yet buried under the mountains of numbers are golden insights for creating optimal environments where employees feel most engaged and perform their very best.

That’s why we’re sharing our most interesting findings and powerful analyses, to sift through all the theory and get to the heart of things: how employees really feel.

Our Employee Engagement Surveys give managers insights into:

  • 10 Key Metrics of Employee Engagement,
  • 26 Sub-Metrics that are grouped within the metrics, and
  • 120 Questions, backed by Deloitte.

We sourced numbers from our client database of more than 375 thousand employees (managers included) over a one-year period. We uncovered average scores, rankings, and correlations between data points to better understand how employees really feel about their managers, the feedback they get, and how they’re developing at work.

Now it’s time for data to teach us humans a thing or two.

Let’s dig in.

different shapes and sizes illustrating the continuous feedback and conversations

1. Continuous conversations for more effective feedback

Some say talk is cheap, but a good conversation can pay off in all sorts of ways.

In Officevibe, Feedback falls in the three lowest scoring metrics, with Feedback Frequency landing in the five bottom sub-metrics.

Managers play the intermediary between skills and action, and their coaching links employees’ strengths to team and business objectives. Employees today don’t want to feel that they’re replaceable parts in a machine; they want to be recognized for their unique abilities and given tasks and opportunities that leverage those strengths.

When it comes to developing employees, effective communication is essential. This means regular touchpoints so that managers can fine tune and adapt the frequency, duration and setting of conversations to the evolving needs of their employees.

geometric shape illustrating the balance in employee feedback
“The sweet spot is probably not stable; employees might need more feedback during times of change like a new role or project, or when they’re facing challenges, and less at others. What’s important is maintaining frequent communication so that the employee and manager can stay aligned on feedback needs.”

Julie Jeannotte,
Culture and Engagement Expert at Officevibe

The data on continuous conversations

We found a strong correlation between whether employees feel the feedback they get helps them grow and develop, and how they rate the way their company makes use of their strengths. With a third of employees in our database rating the way their company makes use of their strengths below 7/10, improving their feedback skills is a key area for managers to focus as they strive to support their employees’ development.

Employee feedback needs to move beyond discussing individual tasks into a broader conversation about an employee’s abilities, and how they can improve them in their upcoming projects and opportunities. Employee development is an ongoing process, and people today are motivated by managers who provide support and constructive feedback in real-time.

As important as coaching for development is recognizing an employee for their skills, hard work, and learnings. A whopping 46% of employees rate the frequency at which they receive recognition as less than satisfactory.

What does this mean? It boils down to one of the most basic human needs: to be noticed and appreciated beyond a review of their tasks. It’s not just about pointing out successful efforts and planning project expectations together; it’s about honestly recognizing the employee as a bright, creative and ambitious individual with personal plans to develop.

That development, as we shall see, is not a one-person-show, but a team effort.

3 quick tips for more meaningful conversations and impactful employee feedback

  • Have one-on-one meetings on a monthly basis, but be sure to check in periodically between scheduled conversations, to make sure you stay on top of pressing needs that might need more immediate attention.
  • During meetings, cut out all distractions. Put your phone on silent and shove it in a drawer. Don’t have your computer on the table in front of you, creating a proverbial wall between you and your employee.
  • When it comes to recognizing the employee’s strengths, avoid reading points off a list. Think of a few ahead, and express to your employee their specific behaviour and the impact it had on the team or business objectives.

To easily set one-on-one agendas collaboratively with employees and follow up on action items, try our new Performance Management Tool, now available in the Officevibe platform.

2. Collaborative development structures to empower employees

Employees have their own performance goals, both short- and long-term, and managers can help to align those within the objectives of the team and business. However,

collaborative development statistic

1 in 3 employees in our database do not feel they’re appropriately involved in decisions that affect their work.

We dream of performance management structures that will change that, because a stake in one’s own development is the cornerstone of employee engagement in the modern workforce. Employees want to feel that they can confidently voice their goals, and know they have the agency to incorporate them into their career trajectory.

The new wave of performance management is about more than utilizing each employee’s abilities, but harnessing their potential. Employees are no longer merely motivated by a paycheck, but seek intrinsic motivation from a sense of purpose. Collaborative development structures are an investment in their future within the organization.

The data on employee-manager collaboration

We found a strong correlation between how employees tend to rank their level of opportunity to improve their skills, and their general level of happiness at work. Alongside this we see a strong correlation between levels of work-related stress and a sense of control when it comes to the work employees need to accomplish. People want to feel autonomy in how they approach their day-to-day, and their involvement in planning and prioritization enables that.

Being on the receiving end of dictated instructions is stressful. It can chip away at an employee’s sense of self-determination and purpose. And happiness, although elusive in its definition, is the baseline of job satisfaction. Opportunities to push their own potential are what drives today’s dynamic and creative workforce in their search for more than a salary. Even better is when managers accompany employees in seeking out these opportunities themselves, rather than handing them down.

circles
A final strong correlation we found is between how employees rate the way their organization makes use of their strengths and whether they would recommend their organization to a friend as a good place to work.

The takeaway couldn’t be clearer: This is about more than people enjoying their job or being happy at work. It’s about whether a company can attract intelligent, creative, empathetic, and above all motivated people to join their teams—and this is what will set your organization apart.

3 quick tips to create a more collaborative culture on your team

  • When you have a project or work goal, brainstorm more than one idea together with employees for how to achieve it.
  • Be aware of physical signs of stress when with an employee: disappearing lips, covering the mouth, hand to the back of the neck, hand-wringing, feet-wrapping.
  • Never take credit without giving some back.

The modern workforce starts with developing the talents of individuals, but it thrives when those talents exist in a collaborative network.

Great managers are central players in this network. They work with each member of the team to find their strengths, to hear their opinions, and to help them take the lead in their own personal growth. In the end, employees won’t just be satisfied with their jobs, they’ll be thinking forward to the future of the company, and how they’ll grow alongside it.

3. Building strong connections: the basis of it all

Humans are social animals; we crave connection with others. This is why we’re very pleased to find that 82% of employees in our database report feeling that they are part of a team.

A workplace is a network of relationships: among team members, between employees and their managers, across teams and specialties, and everywhere in between. Beyond the connections found between people there is also the connection that each employee has with the greater purpose of the organization, and how their work contributes to it.

Managers have the unique opportunity to develop that connection in their employees—and it begins with the human connections they form with each of them. To be successful in developing employee performance, managers must establish relationships with their team members founded in trust and mutual respect. This is the crux of it all, the foundation for leading employees to their full potential.

The data on strong connections

Relationship with Manager is the highest scoring metric in our database, which makes us feel very hopeful.

But we can’t say for certain that this finding holds true in the workforce at large. Our data comes from organizations using our pulse surveys, and thus represents the sentiments of employees in companies that dedicate resources to understanding how they feel. Opening the lines of communication can be the first step to something deeper:

opening the lines of communication
“The surveys and feedback are a gateway; they can open up conversations that might not otherwise happen between managers and employees because of the anonymity—a simple function that makes it safe for employees to share what’s on their mind. When employees see that their feedback is being taken seriously and having an impact, that their voice is heard and has prompted action, it strengthens that connection they have with their manager.”

– Julie Jeannotte,
Culture and Engagement Expert at Officevibe

It’s a good start. The hitch? The lowest scoring question in the Relationship with Manager metric is whether employees feel that their direct manager is aware of employee pain points. In fact,

connecting the data

Only 26% of employees in our database strongly agree that their manager is aware of employee pain points.

Nobody said that forming deep connections was a walk in the park. Strong relationships depend on employees feeling comfortable expressing pain points, and confident that their managers won’t just “hear them out,” but empathize and work with them to overcome these challenges. Managers need to take it a step beyond strengths-based coaching and dig into what their employees are really struggling with, so they can improve work performance in the areas where employees don’t feel so strong, too.

When strong connections are formed and people feel comfortable communicating about anything at all—positive, negative, work-related or not—keeping your team aligned, addressing difficult issues, and supercharging performance start to flow more smoothly.

3 quick tips to build connections with your employees in your day-to-day

  • Every now and then, share your own pain points with your employees.
  • Use these phrase starters often: “How do you feel about…?” and, “What do you think about…?” and, “I’d love your take on…”
  • Promote healthy work-life balance and show an interest in their outside-work activities: athletics, arts, community work, etc.

Managerial style has come a long way from stodgy office dynamics with clear power barriers between bosses and workers. When you foster great relationships with employees, you can count on them to do their best, and they will count on you to guide them.

Gain insights into how your employees really feel and establish their development more collaboratively with Officevibe, the engagement and performance platform.

evolving together

Evolving together as we forge ahead

Our immense data collection and analysis are our offering back to managers and team leaders hoping to ride the modern wave of performance management and employee development. The above insights offer a broad sampling of some of the key issues concerning employee attitudes today—but of course, each organization is unique.

What they all have in common is that the source of their wealth is their people, all of whom—managers included—want to be a part of a company where they can grow, and contribute to the growth of something even greater.

forging ahead together