Improving the performance of staff is hard enough; maintaining and building on that improvement present even greater challenges for managers. Most improvement processes consist of four stages-agreeing on the standards or expectations, monitoring progress, recognizing achievement, and reviewing the performance displayed. Recognition and review will also feature prominently in any maintenance plan. To foster ongoing improvement in your staff, consider the following...
1. Link behavior to outcomes. Employees have to know what their improved performance-and the maintenance of that improvement-means to the organization for two reasons. First, employees need to realize that, if the organization prospers, so too do their opportunities for advancement and their job security is enhanced. Second, employees must understand that their actions affect others, thereby increasing interdependence and a desire to continue to improve.
2. Demonstrate your commitment to continuing improvement. Schedule regular meetings with individual employees to talk about the importance of improved work performance-for the organization and for them. At those meetings, demonstrate your knowledge of the employee's accomplishments by describing in specific terms what you have observed. Compliment them on their achievements and offer further appropriate encouragement. To maintain improved performance you have to be 'on the ball' at all times.
3. Reinforce desirable behaviors. Recognition is a powerful motivating tool that helps to bring out the best in people by reinforcing observed improvements. A few well-chosen words at the right time can mean a lot to someone trying to do better.
But that's only one example of how you can reinforce desirable behavior. Positive reinforcement can also be traced to these four managerial behaviors:
o Create a work climate that is warm, supportive, trusting, and encouraging.
o Provide learning opportunities that let employees know that it's OK to fail.
o Be available to listen, even when you know it's news you'd rather not hear.
o Show that you know what employees are doing so that you can tell them how they're doing.
4. Encourage staff to blow their own horn. When people are proud of their accomplishments, they will want to tell you how they did it. However, the majority are likely to be reluctant starters in self-promotion. So, provide opportunities for them to talk about their improvements and to bask in their moments of glory. Your actions will indicate that you consider their accomplishments to be important and, more particularly, that you value their extra efforts. When employees see that you understand and value their contributions, they will be inspired to give even more. And, of course, your active listening is helping to maintain improved performance.
5. Listen to what staff have to say. If you've worked at building a positive and constructive climate, don't hesitate to ask employees for suggestions about how you can help them to maintain their improved performance. Together, you will come up with ideas to minimize, or eliminate, any problems that get in the way of continuing improvements. If you're able to grant a request or act on a suggestion, indicate what actions you are able to take, and when. If you're not sure, explain that you will have to look into the situation further and will respond by a certain date. Your actions will encourage employees to be involved in future projects.
6. Encourage 'reflective structures'. In the 1990s, when Warren Bennis interviewed eminent leaders from all walks of life, he found that they had a common way of staying in touch with what was important to them in life and business. They built into their lives what Bennis called 'reflective structures'-time and space for self-examination. Exercise, meditation, time-out, and prayer are just some of the practices that provide outlets for reflection-opportunities to get away from the demands of a job and to be with one's own thoughts. Your advocacy of this practice will encourage staff to contemplate the standard of their performance and the issues relating to its improvement.
7. Show your appreciation. Thanking employees for improved performance reinforces any praise given earlier. The effectiveness of a simple 'thank you' is increased when it is the last thing the employee hears at the end of a conversation with you. Realistically, employees cannot expect that you can solve all of their problems, but they have every right to expect from you courteous and reinforcing behavior.