4 Tips to Encourage Employee Excellence

Every employer is concerned with the performance of its workers. But a high-performing workforce doesn't come about through happenstance. If you are struggling to get your employees to perform well, you need to devise a plan and implement strategies that will foster an improvement. If you're not sure where to start, here are a few basics that should get the ball rolling.

Train Your Employees Well

The number of employers who expect exceptional performance from their employees but do not give them the tools they need is staggering. When a business is looking for ways to cut costs, it is often the training budget that takes the biggest hit. How can you expect your workers to perform a job well if they have never been well trained to do so?

It's like expecting them to work with one hand tied behind their back and blindfolded. And the experience is demoralizing because the employee experience is one of feeling like a failure but having little idea how to do better.

The first step to having successful employees is to ensure that they have a firm grasp of how to do their job exceptionally well. An employee who is confident in their skills is likely to excel. Never cut corners or budgets by curtailing training for your employee. It can seem like a quick solution to a present issue, but you'll pay the cost in the future.

Don't Assume the Worst

Supervises often make the mistake of assuming poor employee performance is the result of a lack of effort or investment on the employee's part and they act accordingly. Taking punitive action without first investigating the cause of inefficiency or poor quality work can have a negative cascade. Employees feel punished when they need to be supported. This leads to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. This in turn leads to a defeated employee who may simply stop trying.

Don't assume the worst about an underperforming employee. Your first steps should be to communicate and investigate rather than criticize. Is the employee clear on expectations? Is something impeding their ability to get the job done? Are there physical limitations you are unaware of? There are so many questions a compassionate boss could ask, but none so simple as, "Are you okay? Is something going on?"

Praise More Than You Criticize

The need to give feedback to employees is unavoidable; however, you can control the ratio of praise to criticism that they experience. Bosses who rarely couple praise with criticism can seem like they don't see the good things. For the employee, it can feel like no matter what they do, it's never enough.

No one is suggesting that you avoid giving necessary feedback to your workers, but it is essential that you also find opportunities to praise them. In fact, psychologists would suggest that you praise more than you criticize and suggest a ratio of at least 4 to 1. For every critical comment you give, try to find 4 positives you can express. It's not as hard as it sounds. Although expressing specific positives is optimal, a simple "Great job!" can work wonders. 

When employees are praised frequently, they hear criticism more effectively. They are able to accept feedback with less defensiveness and are much more likely to act on it. 

Offer Rewards and Incentives

It never hurts to offer hard-working employees extra incentives for high-quality work. There's no need to raise everyone's salaries; but, there are a lot of alternatives to paying more that can be effective. Seeing your high performers receive incentives can give less enthusiastic employees extra motivation.

Perhaps you could reward trusted employees with the opportunity to work remotely once or twice a week. Could you offer an extra paid day off to your best workers? What about having a special luncheon once per quarter just for those employees who meet certain criteria? Get to know your employees and what motivates them and do your best to offer a little something special to those who stand out.

Before you bring down the hammer on a struggling employee, stop and ask yourself if you've done everything you can to ensure and acknowledge success.

Related: 6 Tips for More Effectively Communicating as a Manager