Today we are going to share some techniques that will help you improve your staff performance which will result in increased productivity.

In this post, we consider how you, as an effective leader, can ensure that your followers focus on the key areas of their jobs, prioritize their work flows and how performance standards can be put in place – the basis for monitoring, review and delivering continuous improvement.

Focusing On Key Areas To Improve Staff Performance

Take a look at Figure 8.1.

figure 8.1

The elephant stands for a core business goal of the job being considered, and an ant stands for a trivial work activity – a meeting, a phone call, an information flow, interruption and so on that does not add value.

Many followers and leaders alike can find themselves not addressing their elephants and spending far too much time killing ants, which produces little meat for the table.

By catching the elephants, prioritizing work flows and eliminating ants, the follower will carry out their job both efficiently and effectively. We look at each in turn in this post, before considering how to improve performance.

Catching The Elephants

  • Define the elephants
  • Set objectives
  • Set interim milestones
  • Determine activities

Let us look at each in the order given.

Define The Elephants

Look at each job and determine the core goals.

Note that this process should be shared with the follower. Indeed, if you have a team, it would be best for this to be a team exercise as going through it together will ensure that potential overlaps are eliminated. Two causes of demotivation and inefficiency are where there is no clarity of role or overlaps occur that lead to conflict.

As an example, we will assume you are a training manager and have a number of training officers. One is responsible for skills training, and together you are clarifying this follower’s role.

Elephants in this scenario might be to:

  • Deliver skills training
  • Ensure individual development needs are met
  • Ensure organizational needs are met
  • Provide added value

Set Objectives

Elephants never die – the core goals remain with the job, unless there is a change in role or requirements. To be able to focus effectively, each goal must have an objective (or objectives). Objectives must be SMART, that is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Timed

The usual time period for work objectives is a year. By way of example, if we look at ‘deliver skills training’, the annual target could be a certain number of days – say 100 – that have to completed. With ‘provide added value’, an assessment form could be devised for the delegates to provide feedback, with a 1 to 10 scale for the various categories and a target set of achieving an average of 7.5 by year end.

Set Interim Milestones

Monthly or quarterly targets can be derived from each objective. In fact, once a measurement system is in place, there can be continuous monitoring of progress.

Determine Activities

The activities that relate to the elephants can be derived easily. For instance, for the first objective, ‘provide skills training’, process and programme design, and actual delivery are core activities.

Prioritizing Work Flows To Improve Staff Performance

The chart shown in Figure 8.2 will help each follower prioritize effectively.

figure 8.2

By slicing up the non-urgent elephants – that is, by developing a plan whereby your follower does a little each day or each week, using the time released by effective prioritization and ant elimination – the quality of work done will improve significantly, and, overall, the time taken to do the work will reduce.

Eliminating The Ants

There are various strategies that are relevant to both you and your followers for eliminating ants. It is crucial to implement these as, otherwise, there can be no effective focus on the elephants.

We shall look at ignoring them, delegating them and reducing their impact.

Ignoring Them

There can be a danger that we do everything we are asked to do because we want to be seen to be effective – please clients, please the boss, help a colleague and so on. This is fatal to focus. A very sound policy – given that so many people think they are dealing with an elephant that is, in fact, an ant – is to wait for the first reminder. Clearly, you have to use your judgement and never adopt this for elephants.

I still recall my boss, with whom I was lunching, waxing lyrical about what he had heard IBM was doing on the training front. At the end of the meal, he asked me to carry out detailed research and produce a paper on the implications. I dutifully said ‘Yes’ and waited for the first reminder.

He asked me five years ago, and retired a year ago!

Now, of course, you are the leader, so a critical implication is that you do not delegate ants in the guise of elephants.

Delegating Them

There is a view that nothing should be done at one level in an organization if it can be done equally well at a lower level. I don’t completely subscribe to this as it means that all the rubbish is dumped down, which is against effective team-working and demotivates the follower.

However, provided you are coaching the follower so that they can take on part of one of your elephants – that is, growing their job and saving you time – then you can delegate away some of your ants as well.

Reducing Their Impact

There are ways to reduce the impact of the ants in our working lives. Specifically:

  • Managing expectations
  • Using systems
  • Grouping them

Managing Expectations

Most leaders, in order to be available, have an open door policy for their followers. It is a good idea to set aside a few hours each week to focus on elephants, but advise your followers in advance.

Additionally, many followers bring you problems to solve, but often, for you, they are very antish ones. For the sake of follower development, and saving you time, I would recommend that you tell your followers that, if they have any problems, they should bring them to you, but only after they have thought out the solution( s) to those problems. By doing this, you will often be rubber-stamping their answers (which takes little time) or, at the very least, have a base of ideas to develop to provide the solution.

Finally, if you have part shares in or all of a secretary, he/she can be developed to deal with many, many of your ants.

Using Systems

Technology is a great blessing in this regard – there are electronic diaries, electronic action lists and so on. You can identify the ants and parts of elephants for the week/day according to the prioritization methodology and use electronic planners – to put on the goals, objectives, milestones and so on.

Grouping Them

This is a straightforward technique. Dealing with all the post in one go (prioritizing), putting the making of calls on hold for a couple of hours, then dealing with them in one go, arranging a day of sales visits or meetings and so on.

The Result?

By adopting these approaches, you should be able to find chunks of quality time to focus on elephants. In our normal working lives, we can suffer endless interruptions and distractions, with the result that the quality of work is much poorer and the time taken (recovering from each interruption) much longer than if we can focus uninterrupted.

Improving Staff Performance

how to improve staff performance

We cannot manage what we cannot measure. By ensuring that key goals are derived for each job, together with smart objectives and interim milestones, the leader has the means to measure performance.

What is required is a reporting system that occurs on a monthly basis and shows how the follower is actually performing. The leader can then review the data and acts according to the three possible outcomes:

  • Performance is below standard in one area or more
  • Performance is standard
  • Performance is above standard in one area or more

We shall deal with each in turn.

Performance Below Standard

You have to meet the follower to find out the reasons for this and agree what actions you need to take or need to do to support his or her improvement. It is infinitely better for corrective action to be agreed after one month, than the problem be discovered at the annual appraisal!

Performance Is Standard

Acknowledgement only is required with ‘keep up the good work’ and so on.

Performance Above Standard

A personal visit with heart-warming words of praise being spoken.

Note that it is a good management practice to hold quarterly review meetings. These help you to stay in touch and help performance, at whatever level, to move a notch higher.

We have concentrated in the main on the one-to-one relationship between leader and follower. If you can build a high-performance team, then you will have to spend considerably less time on individual relationships as well as improving the performance of each individual team member, including yourself.