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Using performance management to improve employee engagement

Laptop keyboard with a blue key 'Engage'

Employ­ee engage­ment is one of the key ingre­di­ents for achiev­ing high per­for­mance. Research has shown that high­ly engaged employ­ees per­form 20% bet­ter and that those organ­i­sa­tions with the most engaged employ­ees are, on aver­age, 22% more prof­itable. It make sense then that our per­for­mance man­age­ment process­es should be designed to improve employ­ee engage­ment as much as possible.

To do this, we first need to under­stand what employ­ee engage­ment is and what leads employ­ees to be engaged. There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent the­o­ries and mod­els of employ­ee engage­ment, but our pre­ferred one is that put for­ward by the entre­pre­neur and busi­ness writer Kevin Kruse, as it is aimed at man­agers who are on the front line of per­for­mance man­age­ment. Kruse defines employ­ee engage­ment as:

The emo­tion­al com­mit­ment an employ­ee has to the orga­ni­za­tion and its goals.

His con­clu­sion from analysing exist­ing research on employ­ee engage­ment is that it can be boiled down to 4 things:

  1. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion
  2. Growth & Development
  3. Recog­ni­tion & Appreciation
  4. Trust & Confidence

Let’s take each of these in turn and con­sid­er how per­for­mance man­age­ment process­es can be designed in order to max­imise them.


Kruse: There should be fre­quent, con­sis­tent two-way communication

Reg­u­lar one-to-ones are the best way to achieve two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion with­in a per­for­mance man­age­ment con­text. Kruse advo­cates that line man­agers should meet with each of their team mem­bers for a 15 – 30 minute catch up on a week­ly basis. Deloitte has recent­ly adopt­ed this approach and its man­agers are expect­ed to have week­ly check-ins’ with each of their staff. The key to suc­cess here is ensur­ing that the dis­cus­sions are two-way rather than the man­ag­er sim­ply dic­tat­ing pri­or­i­ties. Pro­vid­ing employ­ees and man­agers with a sug­gest­ed agen­da for these meet­ings can help in this respect.

Growth and Development

Kruse: Team mem­bers should feel like they are learn­ing new things and advanc­ing their career

Growth and devel­op­ment can be achieved through man­agers and employ­ees spend­ing ded­i­cat­ed time dis­cussing career goals and build­ing a per­son­al devel­op­ment plan that will help to build the nec­es­sary knowl­edge, skills and behav­iours to achieve those goals. Many organ­i­sa­tions do this once a year as part of their annu­al per­for­mance appraisal, but Kruse sug­gests that it should be done twice a year to max­imise employ­ee engage­ment. Either way, it is impor­tant that progress against per­son­al devel­op­ment plans is reg­u­lar­ly reviewed through­out the year rather than the plan being put away in a draw until the fol­low­ing year. Our per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem helps with this by show­ing employ­ees’ per­son­al devel­op­ment goals along­side their per­for­mance objec­tives to ensure that they are giv­en suf­fi­cient vis­i­bil­i­ty and attention.

Recog­ni­tion and Appreciation

Kruse: Team mem­bers need to feel appre­ci­at­ed and that their ideas count

This is where fre­quent feed­back is essen­tial. Your per­for­mance man­age­ment process­es should incor­po­rate ongo­ing, reg­u­lar feed­back, at least every fort­night, rather than man­agers sav­ing up feed­back for for­mal reviews or rely­ing on year­ly 360 degree feed­back process­es. Of course, recog­ni­tion and appre­ci­a­tion is about giv­ing pos­i­tive feed­back and say­ing thank you. So man­agers should be encour­aged to give the right bal­ance of pos­i­tive to con­struc­tive feed­back — research sug­gests a ratio of 3:1 is about right. For the pos­i­tive feed­back to be mean­ing­ful, the per­son giv­ing the feed­back should explain the impact that the action or achieve­ment had upon them per­son­al­ly or on the team or the organ­i­sa­tion. Kruse adds that say­ing thank you to a per­son in front of oth­ers (e.g. in a team meet­ing) will mag­ni­fy its impact.

Trust and Confidence

Kruse: Team mem­bers need to trust the lead­er­ship and have con­fi­dence in the organisation’s future

This might seem to be out­side of the scope of per­for­mance man­age­ment, but an impor­tant aspect of build­ing this trust and con­fi­dence is open­ly shar­ing the organisation’s plans and goals for both the forth­com­ing peri­od and the longer term. For this to have an impact, the organ­i­sa­tion­al goals need to be com­mu­ni­cat­ed in a lan­guage that employ­ees can under­stand and relate to. To get employ­ees to relate to those goals, ask them to come up with their own objec­tives that will help to deliv­er the organ­i­sa­tion­al goals, rather than cas­cad­ing objec­tives down to them from above.

Anoth­er aspect of instill­ing trust and con­fi­dence is ensur­ing that your man­agers lead by exam­ple when it comes to per­for­mance man­age­ment behav­iours. Man­agers who devote reg­u­lar time to dis­cussing per­for­mance and per­son­al devel­op­ment, who give fre­quent, pos­i­tive feed­back and who adopt a coach­ing style of man­age­ment are like­ly to gain trust and respect from their team mem­bers. So train your man­agers in these skills, start­ing at the top of the organ­i­sa­tion with your senior leadership.

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