Improving workplace performance is not the responsibility of any one person. The learning and development (L&D) team can’t do it alone, nor managers, nor the employees themselves. In fact, the best approach to boosting performance in the workplace is through a healthy, productive partnership between managers and employees, leveling up the performance management process and ensuring real results are achieved.

Below, we will explore three of the ways in which managers can partner successfully with their employees to improve workplace performance, whether that means working toward a promotion, increased productivity, better sales or any other performance goals, benefiting everyone in the organization.

1. Prioritize person-centered performance feedback.

Open, honest conversations are the number one tool in any manager’s toolkit, and it’s something that every manager can — and should — be doing with their employees.

However, don’t fall into the trap of performative performance conversations. That weekly or monthly performance check-in conversation is a waste of everyone’s time if there is no authentic feedback flowing between employees and managers. It can be challenging or uncomfortable to deliver constructive criticism or negative feedback, but it will ultimately help you shape your employees’ behavior and improve their performance over time.

Person-centered feedback means treating each employee as an individual, and getting to know their unique motivations, strengths, areas for improvement and goals. For instance, if your employee knows that they lack creativity, but the promotion they want doesn’t require creativity as a skill, it would be more beneficial to help them improve the skills they do need to achieve their career goals.

Person-centered feedback also means being flexible and truly understanding the needs of each employee as an individual. While you may have overarching team goals, not everyone will achieve these goals in the same way, so take a holistic approach to offering feedback. 360-degree feedback is a great way to better understand the people on your team, as it will give managers input from teammates, other colleagues and even mentors, to help you hold these honest, constructive feedback conversations.

2. Drive skills development.

For most employees, their manager is key in improving their skills. Their manager can go to bat for them when it comes to securing training opportunities and funding, as well as carving out much-needed time for learning or on-the-job skills development.

Managers also come with valuable experience and connections that can be used to support employees — for instance, by setting up workplace coaching relationships, or even one off, informal conversations between employees and others elsewhere in the organization. The key here is to ensure that managers don’t just dictate the skills needed: It needs to be a two-way conversation so that employees feel involved, engaged and excited by their development plan.

Partnering for performance means that managers must work closely with employees to identify skills requiring improvement, whether that’s to work toward a promotion, to achieve professional goals or just to be more productive and effective at work. A performance management system is a useful tool for identifying these skills gaps and mapping existing and desired competencies.

Once the manager and employee understand the full picture around competencies, the conversation can move onto how the employee can plug these gaps and improve their performance. Integrating the performance management system with the learning management system (LMS) or learning experience platform (LXP) means that courses and learning activities can be linked to specific learning goals, keeping everyone on track and motivated to continue developing their skills according to an agreed plan.

3. Active collaboration with peers.

Partnering for performance sometimes means partnering outside the traditional manager-employee relationship. A good manager knows that they can’t do everything themselves, and will be happy to create connections to ensure that employees can achieve their goals and improve performance. This might be another manager, an internal subject matter expert, a teammate with specialist skills (this is particularly useful for cross-training within a team) or even someone outside the organization, such as an industry expert or a skills coach.

On top of this, managers are busy people, and you may not have all the time you’d like to focus exclusively on each employee’s skills development. If this is the case, supporting active collaboration, knowledge sharing and peer-to-peer learning is crucial for ensuring continued development within the team. Another option is setting up more formal mentoring relationships, where a more experienced employee with desirable skills and behaviors supports another employee in a one-on-one relationship.

Before the pandemic when in-person working was more common, informal learning happened every day in the workplace, but now that remote and hybrid working is more common, implementing the right technology will support this knowledge sharing. A learning experience platform with collaborative workspaces for teams, disciplines or skills development will help maintain informal learning, and will take the pressure off overstretched managers who can support and encourage learning from peers.

Bringing It All Together

Partnering for performance is all about the power of bringing together the expertise of a manager and their employee. To misquote Aristotle, “The partnership of a manager and their employee is greater than the sum of its parts” — or, it should be, as long as the relationship is open, honest and tailored to the employee as an individual.

Uniting learning, employee engagement and performance management is key for any manager seeking a true partnership with their employees, which means breaking down silos and understanding how to address employee performance holistically across the organization. Employees and managers cannot overhaul performance alone, but together, they have the power and drive to make a real difference.

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