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Managing Performance

Managing employees effectively is a continuous process and is key to staff engagement and performance. Managing performance and coaching staff for success is a key component to the relationship between managers and employees. When done effectively, it can be a critical element of good communication, foster trust and encourage personal growth and development.

Components of managing performance effectively include setting and communicating goals and expectations, engaging the staff member in regular, candid, interactive discussions, clarifying and communicating changing expectations during the year.

Engaging staff

How can you take your team’s performance to a higher level? There are many ways that leaders can inspire performance, and like many aspects of management, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Based on your leadership style, and the nature of your team’s work, here are best practices to consider.

  • Clarify performance goals: Using Performance Excellence as a framework, have an explicit discussion about goals for team performance, and ask your team members to craft individual goals that contribute to the whole. For help running a goal-setting session, contact your Human Resources Business Partner.
  • Incentivize: Is there a big project you are all working to get to completion? Smaller tasks that are tedious and important?  Let your team, or an individual know that something good will happen when the finish line is reached. This can be an energizing and fun way to increase performance in the short-term, but tends not to work when overused, or used in projects with a long timeframe.
  • Celebrate high performance publicly: When you recognize high performance in specific ways, your team gains a greater understanding of what you expect. Go beyond “good job” and specify what it was that they did well (speed, quality, creativity, thoughtfulness, collaboration) and what impact it had on the goals of the team.
  • Be a role model: Show your team what high performance looks like within your own work. 
  • Encourage efficiency: Look for ways to streamline work, including minimizing unnecessary team meetings, using file-sharing and online collaboration tools, standardizing processes by creating templates, and giving decision-making power to individuals (other than you).

Staff development and learning

Staff members are encouraged to improve their capabilities, prepare for career opportunities and to take responsibility for their own career development planning.  Northwestern University provides development opportunities, including professional development training programs and on-site workshops likely to increase the staff members' capabilities.

For information on Leadership Development or training and learning resources for staff.

Confronting and dealing with performance issues

On occasion, a supervisor may need to address an employee’s unsatisfactory performance in one or more significant area/s.  Addressing underperformance as soon as it is recognized allows the employee the opportunity to improve performance or correct actions and behaviors.  Early communication and feedback are effective ways to prevent future performance problems. Here are some first steps in addressing performance issues:

  • Meet with the employee in private
  • Engage versus lecture
  • Try not to move to solutions too quick without engaging the employee first
  • Describe for the employee the ways in which they are underperforming
  • Ask the employee for ideas and commitment to solving problems
  • Revisit the original goals and performance objectives/revise if necessary
  • Explain clearly what you need the employee to do
  • Develop an Action plan and follow up

Contact your HR Business Partner for advice and counsel on correcting performance, including use of :

Your HR Business Partner can help you with some of the suggestions for confronting performance issues.

Performance Excellence

The components of the Performance Excellence process includes setting goals and expectations, coaching and developing staff, and conducting an annual performance review. Performance Excellence process is used to communicate to the employee performance expectations during the year, have candid, interactive discussions and reflect on the importance of individual contributions and assign an annual performance rating.

See Performance Excellence resources for supervisors.