In the ever-evolving landscape of the professional world, the need for continuous improvement in work performance is more critical than ever. As we step into 2024, businesses are seeking ways to optimize productivity, enhance employee satisfaction, and achieve sustainable growth. This article explores various strategies and soft skills that can help individuals and managers improve work performance.
Improve work performance by:
limiting distractions, prioritizing tasks, knowing when to delegate, and avoiding multitasking
Focus on these soft skills:
communication, listening, writing, and giving and receiving feedback
Managers can help employees improve by:
setting SMART goals, providing consistent feedback, offering opportunities for personal development, and encouraging a positive work culture
Top 4 ways to improve work performance
#1. Limit distractions
One of the primary challenges that professionals face is the constant barrage of distractions. Whether it’s the ping of incoming emails, social media notifications, or the chatter of colleagues, these interruptions can significantly impact work performance. Sure, it only takes a few seconds to glance at your email when you hear the new message alert, but these small moments add up throughout the day. In addition, you have now likely lost your train of thought and have to make your way back to the task at hand.
Cell phones and internet browsing are the two biggest workplace distractions. Recent surveys show the average person spends more than two hours per day using their smartphone during work hours for non-work-related reasons. For many people, the quickest way to see huge productivity improvements is to put their phones out of reach. This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can, put your phone in another room while you’re working. You can check it at lunch and during breaks.
If you’re prone to getting distracted by the internet when you’re meant to be working, try using an app or browser extension that blocks distractions.
You can also minimize distractions by:
- Creating a designated quiet workspace
- Turning off non-essential notifications
- Setting specific times for checking emails and messages
Prioritizing work is a crucial skill to make sure you’re focusing on the tasks that contribute most to your goals. Here are four possible frameworks for prioritizing your work:
- Prioritize by urgency. Divide tasks into categories such as urgent, important, and non-urgent/non-important. The Eisenhower Matrix is a popular method for this.
- Prioritize by impact. Identify your goals. Then consider the potential impact of each task on your goals. Focus on high-value tasks that will have the most significant positive impact.
- Prioritize by dependencies. Identify tasks that are dependent on others or have dependencies themselves. Prioritize tasks that may impact the progress of other activities.
- Prioritize by time and effort. Assess the time and effort required for each task. Then schedule tasks that demand more concentration during your peak productivity hours. If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, consider doing it immediately. This helps clear small tasks quickly, reducing the overall workload.
Utilizing tools like task management apps can aid in organizing priorities and maintaining a clear overview of daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
#3. Know when to delegate
Delegation is a skill that not only lightens your workload but also promotes teamwork and collaboration. Understanding when and how to delegate tasks is crucial for optimizing productivity. Delegating appropriately allows you and your team members to leverage your strengths, leading to a more efficient and harmonious work environment.
Some considerations when deciding what to delegate:
- Task complexity
- Your and others’ expertise
- Time sensitivity
- Workload balance
- Skill development/cross-training
- Workplace efficiency
- Availability of resources
Read more: How to improve your delegation skills
#4. Avoid multitasking
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking can hinder rather than enhance productivity. In fact, the ability to multitask has been proven again and again to be a myth—we think we are doing two things at once, but we are really switching back and forth. Michigan State University experts write, “While we tend to believe that we can split our attention between two things, the reality is that we are actually paying less attention to both tasks.” They continue:
“Research shows that when we allow our attention to switch back and forth by multitasking, it lowers our efficiency and productivity—particularly when we’re working on more complex tasks.”
Instead of juggling multiple tasks simultaneously, consider adopting a focused approach. Set aside dedicated time blocks for specific activities, minimizing distractions during these periods. This focused work approach can lead to improved concentration, faster task completion, and higher overall work quality.
Soft skills to help improve work performance
Poor communication makes productivity plummet—for you and your colleagues. Ineffective communication often means
- more back-and-forth to get to the point,
- having to redo work because of unclear instructions,
- lack of focus due to frustrations,
- time wasted figuring things out on your own, and
- the introduction of errors.
Here are some tips to improve your communication skills:
- Clear and concise messaging. Be direct and get to the point while ensuring your message is complete. The truth is that it sometimes takes longer to craft a shorter, more concise message, but you’re likely saving time in the long run through the clarity of your communication. At the very least, take a moment to read over a message or email before you send it, checking for clarity of grammar and content.
- Choose the right channel. Select the most appropriate communication channel for the message. Some messages are better conveyed through face-to-face interactions, while others may be suitable for email or messaging platforms. Consider the urgency, sensitivity, and complexity of the information.
- Ask clarifying questions. If something is unclear, don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions. Seeking additional information demonstrates your commitment to understanding the message and ensures that you have the right information.
- Adapt your communication style. Tailor your communication style to the preferences and needs of your audience. Some individuals may prefer detailed explanations, while others may prefer a brief overview. Being adaptable ensures your message resonates with diverse personalities.
- Be consistent. Strive for consistency in your communication. Consistency builds trust and reliability. When your colleagues can depend on consistent communication, it streamlines collaboration and enhances overall work performance.
Effective communication is a catalyst for improved work performance by promoting clarity, collaboration, engagement, and adaptability.
Listening is an often overlooked but crucial component of effective communication. Actively listening to colleagues, managers, and employees fosters a culture of understanding and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings. Being a good listener can improve your work performance in many ways, including:
- Enhanced understanding: When you listen with intent, you’ll catch more details and better understand expectations. This allows you to carry out your tasks accurately.
- Improved relationship building: Listening attentively builds trust and strengthens relationships in the workplace. When colleagues feel heard and understood, it fosters a positive working environment, promotes teamwork, and enhances overall collaboration.
- Conflict resolution: A good listener can gain insights into the root causes of conflicts, identify common ground, and facilitate constructive dialogue to reach resolutions.
- Better decision-making: Informed decision-making requires a comprehensive understanding of various perspectives and inputs. Good listeners gather relevant information through active listening, which is essential for making well-rounded and effective decisions.
- Increased productivity: Misunderstandings can lead to inefficiencies and errors. By actively listening and clarifying information, good listeners reduce the likelihood of misinterpretations, contributing to increased productivity and task efficiency.
- Customer satisfaction: In customer-facing roles, being a good listener is crucial for understanding customer needs, concerns, and feedback.
Whether you’re drafting reports, composing emails, or creating other written documents, you should seek clarity and precision in your writing. Improving writing skills involves honing grammar and syntax, practicing brevity, and tailoring the tone to the intended audience, among other skills.
Here are five ways to improve your writing skills at work:
- Read. Reading a variety of materials, including books, articles, reports, and industry publications, exposes you to diverse writing styles and helps you grasp different tones, structures, and vocabulary. This broadens your understanding of effective communication and allows you to incorporate these elements into your own writing.
- Practice. Like any skill, writing improves with practice. Set aside time to write regularly, whether it’s composing emails, reports, other workplace documents, or personal correspondence. Consider maintaining a personal blog or journal to hone your writing skills in a less formal setting.
- Take a writing class. Consider taking writing courses or attending workshops to develop and refine your writing skills. Many online platforms offer courses that cover various aspects of professional writing, including grammar, style, and effective communication techniques.
- Use writing tools and resources: Leverage writing tools and resources, such as grammar checkers, style guides, and AI. These tools can help you identify and correct common errors, improve your writing mechanics, and stay updated on best practices.
- Seek feedback. Ask for feedback on your writing from colleagues, mentors, or supervisors. Constructive criticism helps you identify areas for improvement and provides valuable insights into how your writing is perceived by others.
Giving and receiving feedback
Because giving and receiving feedback is so difficult, your bosses and coworkers will really notice if you build this skill. Learning to provide constructive feedback is vital not just for managers but for anyone working with others. Research shows people want feedback more often than we give it to them. Being open to receiving feedback with a growth mindset enables continuous improvement.
Remember that feedback and evaluation are different things. Feedback is formative and nonjudgmental; evaluation is summative and judges outcomes.
Five quick tips for giving feedback:
- Focus on the behavior, not the person. Use “I” statements. “You” statements can sound like accusations.
- Be specific and constructive. Avoid generalizations and instead highlight particular actions or outcomes. Frame your feedback constructively, emphasizing opportunities for improvement rather than solely pointing out shortcomings.
- Be timely. Offer feedback soon after the observed behavior or performance. This ensures that the details are fresh in everyone’s mind and allows for more immediate course correction. Feedback works best when it is iterative.
- Consider the recipient’s needs. People with different personality types like to receive feedback in different ways. Some people want you to be totally frank and get right to the point (even if that’s not how you prefer to give feedback). Others need a little cushioning. Try to give feedback in the way the listener would prefer to receive it.
- Open a dialogue. Feedback shouldn’t be a monologue. Encourage the recipient to share their perspective and insights. Ask questions to understand their viewpoint and discuss potential solutions together.
Five quick tips for receiving feedback:
- Stay open-minded. Cultivate a growth mindset that welcomes opportunities to improve. You don’t have to agree with all the feedback you receive, but hear it with an open mind first before judging its merit.
- Listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump to contradict the speaker. Focus on understanding, not responding. Be aware of your body language.
- Ask clarifying questions. If parts of the feedback are unclear, seek clarification, either during the feedback conversation or in a follow-up conversation or email.
- Express gratitude. Regardless of whether the feedback is positive or constructive, express gratitude for the insights provided. Acknowledge the effort the feedback giver took to share their observations. This positive response encourages ongoing open communication.
- Reflect and plan for action. Take time to reflect on the feedback received. Consider how it aligns with your goals and aspirations. If you disagree with the feedback, seek a second opinion. Identify actionable steps you can take to address the feedback and improve your performance.
Using your resources
Even though we call it “personal development,” you don’t have to undertake it alone. There are many productivity tools, educational resources, and people in your network that you can call on.
- Productivity apps and performance management tools: There are many online and paper tools to help you track your goals, manage tasks, and stay organized. Try out a few to discover which works best for you.
- Podcasts, webinars, books, etc.: Use your lunch hour or commute to keep up with the latest news in your industry, learn something new, or hone a specific skill.
- Professional associations, conferences, workshops, and seminars: These can connect you to new people and give you new ideas and methods.
- Mentorship and networking: Ask someone to mentor you. Volunteer as a mentor to others. Explore networking opportunities in a way that is authentic to you.
- Online forums and discussion groups: Get involved in discussions within your field, or one you’d like to move toward. Ask for help, offer help, and learn new perspectives.
- Personality assessments and other self-awareness tools: Self-awareness is a key step toward improving work performance. Learning more about your tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses—as well as ways to develop the soft skills that don’t come naturally to you—will benefit all areas of your work life. Think of people you’ve worked with who have high self-awareness, and others who seem to have no self-awareness at all. What was it like working with both types of people? Look for assessments like Everything DiSC, which are both descriptive (telling you about your style) and developmental, providing personalized action steps for increasing soft skills and emotional intelligence. Read more about how DiSC profiles work.
4 steps to improve employee performance
If you’re a manager, what is your plan to improve employee performance in 2024? In theory, you and your employees share a common goal: you want them to be good at their jobs, and they also want to be good at their jobs. It’s the how that complicates this desire.
Rethinking accountability can help you and your employees become more aligned on goals and how to reach them. Rather than thinking of accountability as punishment, your team can embrace a constructive approach to accountability. This requires honest and ongoing communication with your employees.
Self-awareness tools for managers can help you uncover your natural management style and how to better motivate and coach your employees.
Set SMART goals
It is important to involve employees in goal-setting. When managers and employees talk through goals and expectations—and especially when employees understand the why of their tasks—employees are more likely to feel committed to the work. As you and your employees set goals together, remember to use the SMART criteria:
Specific: Clearly define what needs to be achieved.
Measurable: Establish tangible criteria to track progress.
Achievable: Ensure goals are realistic and attainable within the timeline.
Relevant: Align goals with broader organizational objectives.
Time-bound: Set a deadline to create a sense of urgency.
SMART goals bring a level of precision and clarity that empowers employees by letting them know the expectations and tying their work to the larger mission. This framework gives them the satisfaction of working toward tangible and meaningful accomplishments.
Provide consistent feedback
Feedback is a powerful tool for continuous improvement. Regular, constructive feedback allows employees to understand their strengths, identify areas for growth, and course-correct in real time. Implementing a feedback culture involves both positive reinforcement for a job well done and constructive criticism when improvements are needed. Consider:
- Timeliness: Offer feedback promptly for maximum impact.
- Specificity: Be specific about what worked well or needs improvement.
- Balance: Strike a balance between positive and constructive feedback.
- Encouragement: Provide encouragement and support for ongoing development.
Consistent feedback creates a feedback loop that promotes a culture of learning, adaptability, and increased employee engagement.
Offer opportunities for personal development
Investing in the personal and professional growth of employees not only benefits individuals but also contributes to the overall success of the organization. You may or may not have a say in company-wide staff development initiatives, but there are many big and small ways to help your employees grow. Consider:
- Training programs: Offer workshops and training sessions.
- Educational assistance: Support further education or certifications.
- Mentorship programs: Facilitate mentorship for career guidance.
- Cross-training: Encourage exposure to different roles or departments.
By fostering a culture of continuous learning and development, you’ll help your employees feel valued and motivated to contribute their enhanced skills to the organization.
Encourage a positive workplace culture
Workplace culture plays a pivotal role in shaping employee attitudes, behavior, and performance. A positive and inclusive environment fosters collaboration, creativity, and a sense of belonging.
- Recognition: Acknowledge and celebrate achievements.
- Open communication: Encourage transparent and open communication.
- Work-life balance: Promote a healthy work-life balance.
- Team building: Organize team-building activities to strengthen bonds.
A positive workplace culture contributes to higher job satisfaction, increased morale, and a collective commitment to achieving shared goals.
Identifying the right place to grow
Personality assessments, when used appropriately, can offer valuable insights into improving personal and team performance in the workplace. These assessments provide a structured framework to understand individual preferences, tendencies, and behavioral patterns. Here’s how personality tests can contribute to enhancing performance at both the individual and team levels:
- Understanding strengths and weaknesses: By understanding one’s natural inclinations and preferred working styles, individuals can leverage their strengths and find strategies to improve upon their weaknesses.
- Enhanced self-awareness: When people understand their preferences, communication styles, and interpersonal dynamics, they can make conscious choices that align with their strengths and adapt their behavior in different situations.
- Effective communication: Assessments like DiSC emphasize understanding your communication style and that of others, offering strategies for improving interpersonal communication. Team members can adapt their communication approaches to better connect with others, reducing misunderstandings and enhancing collaboration.
- Team building and collaboration: Understanding the diversity of personalities within a team helps managers optimize collaboration, assign tasks according to individual strengths, and foster an inclusive environment where each team member feels valued.
- Conflict management: Personality tests can help teams and individuals navigate conflict, making disagreement a productive part of work, rather than letting it derail a project.
- Increased motivation and job satisfaction: When employees are engaged in work that aligns with their natural inclinations and preferences, they are more likely to be motivated, productive, and satisfied in their roles.
Assessments that are developmental, rather than just descriptive, will guide the learner through strategies to grow their soft skills, communicate better, and gain confidence in adapting to a variety of situations.
Conclusion: Take action to improve work performance
If you want to improve your own or your employee’s performance this year, you’ll need to be specific about what that means. Set tangible goals and follow through.
In summary, consider these top ways to improve work performance:
- Limit distractions
- Prioritize your tasks
- Know when to delegate
- Avoid multitasking
Focus on developing these soft skills:
- Giving and receiving feedback
Utilize these resources:
- Productivity tools and apps
- Continuing education
- Professional associations
- Online forums
- Personality assessments
Top ways to help employees perform better:
- Set SMART goals
- Provide consistent feedback
- Offer opportunities for personal development
- Encourage a positive workplace culture
Individuals looking for a personalized set of strategies for improving work performance will find it in Everything DiSC Workplace®. In addition to Workplace, managers have a great resource in the Everything DiSC® Management assessment.