Unlocking employee performance

illustration depicting the action of unlocking employee performance.

Before we look at unlocking employee performance, let’s first unpack what ‘employee performance’ actually means …

What’s your first thought when you hear the phrase, ‘employee performance’?

Ratings, bonuses or appraisals which recognise or reward the individual?

Or maybe you feel a creeping sense of dread …

After all, performance-related conversations are rarely considered a highlight of the year, even for the most diligent among us.

For most people, the phrase ‘employee performance’ rarely summons the idea of teams and the collective to mind. But despite this, they’ll agree it’s these things that make performance happen.

Why is performance so wedded to individual endeavour?

Heidi Gardner is a distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School. In a conversation with Harvard Business Review, she said that performance management systems often incentivise employees to hit their numbers and, as a result, they lose sight of the organisations’ bigger objectives.

So perhaps incentivising the collective behaviours is where it’s at?

Of course, some companies take this beyond incentives through partnership models.

John Lewis is one of the most famous examples of this in the UK. Famed for its employee-owned business where, as they say, “you get out what you put in”.

In reality, this looks like full market value of shares. But not before you meet the Earning Membership Criteria; a 90-day process of making sure you work by the Partnership Values.

It would seem it’s worthwhile, because John Lewis Partnership PLC were number one in the top fifty UK employee-owned companies who generated more than £20bn in combined sales in 2020.

In fact, it’s a rapidly growing sector of the economy which has increased by 4.3% since 2019. The power of the collective seems strong here.

It all sounds incredibly wholesome, doesn’t it?

Everyone striving towards the same goals, pursuing collective endeavour and enjoying the strong performance as a result. But let’s remember, it’s 2022.

At the time of writing, the UK is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis and the government is trying to steady a lurching ship.

So you’ll be forgiven for feeling like the chants of, ‘”there’s no ‘I’ in team” seem a step too far for employee performance right now, when security and the best pay can be paramount.

And yet … the benefits of unlocking employee performance can really look like for the individual and the workplace are endless.


illustration depicting the action of unlocking employee performance.

If you aren’t constantly raising the bar of expectations and giving your team the tools to reach it, you’re going to end up stagnant with a team that’s always wondering if there’s something better, and more rewarding, out there.

Why does employee performance work?

TechCo (a fabricated name for the purpose of the research) leaders realised they needed to do more than just change their performance score cards to reflect the collective.

They trained managers to give more effective, timely feedback and provided tools such as pulse surveys to help department leaders stay abreast of team sentiment.

They also eliminated forced rankings and numerical ratings – a move that 72% of respondents in a company-wide survey cited as a major signal of leadership’s new focus on a collaborative culture.

Employee engagement scores rose dramatically. People reported that the performance management process seemed to be fairer. And then, customer satisfaction scores reached an all-time high.

When you have a vested interest in how your employer is performing – whether that metric is customer satisfaction or productivity – the eye is always on the (team) prize.

It helps to cement the purpose of a workplace, a purpose that can only ever be achieved as a collective. Additionally, it boosts knowledge share and collaborative working which provides the perfect conditions for high performance.

When we then come full circle back to the individual, accessing collaborative elements like the above inflates the experience you get from your workplace.


3 steps to unlocking employee performance

Reward the collective attitude

In a nutshell, reward performance that is for the collective gain.

This doesn’t mean the reward and recognition needs to be one size fits all, in fact that’s where you can really have fun personalising to your audience. But it does need to be working hard to show clearly what great performance looks like.

In a recent blog, Hayley Exon, The Team’s reward and recognition expert, explains why recognising commitment to shared endeavours (e.g. purpose, values, behaviours) results in a shared identity. There is great power in being on the same page.

Help people grow with you

Investing in high impact development for people will help them stretch and grow their ability, as well as achieving a collective purpose.

It’s obvious that feeling valued and invested in is priceless, but the effect on both individual – and therefore group performance – can be stark.

You wouldn’t expect an athlete to give the performance of their life without being given the expert tools and coaching to get them there, would you?

Well, the same goes for performance in the workplace. Forbes shares some interesting insights on what makes a company great…

It takes more than salary to reward performance

Employee performance should not be rewarded by one individual moment, like a pay rise for example.

It should be rewarded by the attractive aspects of an excellent workplace, for example: development and progression opportunities. These are things that also increase the potential success of their team and wider company; the collective.

You don’t have to look far to find someone earning the big bucks through ‘exceptional performance’, but who is deeply unsatisfied because the culture is so toxic. They toil to scratch that short-term itch, but, ultimately, they’re not in the right space to care about the collective purpose.

Barry Schwartz, writer of the infamous Why We Work, summarises this brilliantly, “you pay better, you spend more time training, you give people more autonomy and independence, you flatten the hierarchy so people have more control over what they do, you trust people—you do all that stuff, and your company is at the top in your industry.”

It’s crucial for any employer’s success to consider the entire employee experience and its many moments.

But when it comes to detaching performance from the ‘I’ and connecting it to the ‘Team’, it becomes essential.