Developing performance: Five steps to unlocking your workforce's full potential

Author: Bar Huberman

Organisations benefit when employees contribute ideas, innovate and use creativity to find solutions. But how do you unlock your people's full potential? They need to be stretched, challenged, supported and developed. We set out the five steps to achieving this.

1. Start with an effective job description

Employees who have clarity over their responsibilities and tasks are more effective at work.

All too often, job descriptions are too long, not aligned with the organisation's and team's wider goals and, worse still, out of date.

To be effective, job descriptions should be created following a job analysis, which should include a fact-finding exercise about what the jobholder does, and involve a range of stakeholders.

It is also important for line managers to refer to job descriptions regularly in discussions with their team, so everyone is clear about the requirements of their role.

In addition, HR teams need to support their line managers to review job descriptions with their team regularly. Businesses need to adapt constantly to the evolving external landscape, and a fixed job description that does not change over time is not leading practice.

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2. Set effective objectives - make them part of the everyday

People say that without objectives they do not have a sense of purpose. A lack of objectives can also make it difficult to understand when people are performing at their best.

However, many organisations make common mistakes when setting goals, including not aligning individual objectives with the organisation's or team's goals, which means they do not underpin the work that needs to be done to achieve overall business success.

Other reasons why objectives do not always work in the way that they should are that:

  • they are not built into everyday practices and spoken about regularly in conversations;
  • objectives are not adapted on a regular basis to reflect changes in roles and responsibilities; and
  • people do not take ownership of their objectives and results.

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Key factors around goal accountability

  • Ensure people understand their goals
  • Involve people in creating their goals
  • Set expectations around progress updates
  • Discuss goals regularly
  • Be transparent around objectives
  • Celebrate and share success

3. Make sure people know how they are performing

Organisations that have a feedback culture report strong levels of employee engagement and employee performance.

However, giving feedback is a skill, and one that many people struggle with. As a result, the most valuable feedback is often never given.

HR professionals can take steps to improve capability around giving feedback throughout the workforce, and make sure it becomes part of the everyday.

An appraisal process can also have significant benefits when it comes to performance. Among other things it should give rise to a shared understanding of expectations, generate feedback and give employees recognition.

However, a badly designed and implemented appraisal process can have the opposite impact, by contributing to feelings of uncertainty among employees and leaving them feeling undervalued.

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4. Identify and bridge gaps in performance

To maximise employees' performance, managers need to identify gaps in people's skills, knowledge and behaviours. This is particularly important in the current economic climate, in which organisations' needs for skills are changing constantly.

There are several simple tools that can help to identify performance gaps, including:

  • training needs analysis or a training matrix to capture what technical and behavioural skills are required to be successful in a role; and
  • 360-degree feedback to gather views on employees' strengths and areas for improvement from multiple sources, not just line managers.

Once you have identified areas for improvement, you then need to match these to current or upcoming development opportunities.

As an HR professional, there are different measures you can take to support line managers with these tasks.

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5. Give the workforce a sense of purpose

Increasingly, employees want their work to have a sense of purpose; they want to know that the work they do matters.

This requires leaders to help people understand the contribution they can make and the impact they can have. Where this is achieved, it has a tangible impact on performance.

An effective employee value proposition focuses not only on the tangible benefits of working for your organisation, but also the intangible benefits.

Aligning people to your organisation's purpose, and helping them to understand the contribution they can make and the impact they can have, is very powerful.

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