The definition of job performance might seem straightforward at first thought – it's about how well or poorly employees do their jobs. But when you consider the impact that job performance has on your business, it's essential to take a more in-depth look. Keep in mind how one bad worker can spoil the bunch, but on the other hand, exemplary employee performance can boost morale and the bottom line. Give the latter crew their due to encourage them to keep up the good work. As for poor performers, when your business is in the hands of a seemingly incapable worker, act fast; The rate of business survival is slim enough without poor performers at the helm or on the company deck. Learn as much as you can about how to enhance job performance, then implement protective measures to keep your business and its crew "sailing" in the right direction.

What Is Job Performance?

An entrepreneur might assume that job performance is only about how well employees perform their duties. However, job performance involves various factors. For example, you might expect a particular employee to add substantial value to your company because he's capable of performing his task at a high level. But "job performance" involves both "task performance" and "contextual performance." For example, a shoe salesperson's task performance is evaluated on how many pairs of sneakers, sandals or work boots she sells on average per day, week or month. Her contextual performance rates how well she gets along with co-workers and customers, how effectively she solves problems that affect the team or company and how she keeps busy during slow periods.

Why Is Job Performance Important?

Job performance is important in a few obvious ways and some not-so-apparent ones:

  • A business's success rests mainly on the shoulders of its employees because they're one of its most significant assets, making strong job performance imperative. 
  • Topnotch performers understand your goals and strive to meet or exceed them.
  • Overall good job performance helps to keep stakeholders interested and on board. 
  • A healthy display of work ethics, communication, interpersonal skills and job performance on all levels is essential to long-term success – be the example.
  • A strong level of job performance is an indication that your human resources department is doing their job. Don't leave it all up to HR though; staying abreast of your employees' performance can improve communication and productivity.  
  • Good job performance boosts your business's reputation and is vital not just to consumers and shareholders, but also to potential clients and potential new hires, beyond the organization.  
  • A company that strives for excellent job performance by listing all that's expected in a posted position, spotting a fraud in the interview process and correcting bad behavior as soon as it's evident builds a commendable company culture.

How to Reward Good Job Performance

When you have an outstanding employee on your team, one of the worst things you can do is nothing. If you don't tell him he's a company "rock star," how's he going to know what you think of all his hard work? Don't assume the occasional thumbs-up or friendly slap on the back is enough. Keep tabs on at least a few of the ways he's making you proud. Then, sit down with him, go over the numbers or chat about whatever impressed you, and be prepared to offer incentives for him to continue his high performance. A reward could be as simple as giving him the rest of the day off or a restaurant gift card. Or it could be giving him more hours if he's only working part-time, a bonus, a raise or even a promotion, depending on how often and to what degree his performance impressed you.

Causes of Poor Employee Performance

Sometimes, it's a negative quality of the employee that makes him an under-performer, but sometimes it's the boss's fault. Rather than finger-pointing, take time to evaluate what might be going wrong by looking at possible causes for poor behavior or unmet deadlines:

  • The worker was given clear guidelines but seems under-qualified for the task. 
  • You assumed the employee should know what's expected of her, so you didn't bother to outline your expectations – a big no-no, especially where new workers are concerned, even if they were previously employed in a similar line of work. 
  • The employee (or her manager) appears to be a pessimist rather than an optimist. A worker (or leader) with a negative attitude is never good for business.
  • An employee lacks the confidence to speak up, offer ideas or motivate the team, even though he appeared assertive and poised throughout the interview process. This type of red flag may be pointing at performance or behavior problems throughout the teams, including higher-ups. 
  • A lack of knowledge or direction seems to be making the worker nervous or uncomfortable around clients or customers. It's usually quite evident that an employee is trying to fake their way through a technical task that's beyond their qualifications.

How to Spot a Poor Performer

You might think that if someone on your team is under-performing, her poor work would be blatantly obvious, but not necessarily. Of course, you'll likely spot a fake – someone who oversold themselves during the interview – by how they fumble through a meeting with a client or use the wrong terms when discussing a job's particulars with you or the team. An employee who understands his trade or profession well will relate information with confidence and pick up on how the business could make improvements.

As for the less-distinct signs of poor job performance, you may have to keep your eyes and ears open to spot them. For example, if the employee in question usually works on a team, he may be able to hide his work inefficiencies by piggy-backing the others, adding little value and going unnoticed if no one speaks up. Watch for signs that your best workers seem to be carrying more than their share or that their usual high morale or enthusiasm is waning.

Downfalls of Bad Job Performance

The effects of bad job performance can vary greatly. Some of the ways that an employee's poor performance might cause difficulties or a downright disaster include:

  • Extra work for coworkers since they must take up the slack.
  • A lull in morale because no one wants to work with a lazy, pessimistic or unqualified person.
  • A team-wide drop in energy, if the employee is underperforming due to low energy, a lack of team spirit or an all-around bad attitude.
  • A drop in performance from other workers, if management doesn't step up and deal with the worker who demonstrates poor job performance. If you don't appear to care about your business, why should anyone on your payroll care about it? 
  • A drop in sales, if you don't correct poor performance promptly. 
  • An overall tarnished company reputation that may or may not be salvageable.   

How to Improve Employees' Job Performance

It's seldom possible to pick a perfect team of topnotch performers from the interview process, so don't beat yourself up for bringing a poor one on board, now and then. It's only ethical to work with what you have, so, when possible, consider ways to improve your worker's job performance:

  1. Identify what's causing an employee to underperform. Does she understand her role? Is she working well with the team or seem like she doesn't fit in? View the situation with an open mind. For example, rather than asking yourself, "What's wrong with that employee?" ask, "Why is that worker having difficulties performing her job?" That way, the focus remains on the situation, rather than becoming personal. 
  2. Confront a poorly performing employee immediately. Do it in private, with data or evidence to back up the discussion, so that there's no misunderstanding, and without an emotional outburst.
  3. Ask for the employee's opinion on the situation. That way, you know that he understands where he's going wrong. He can begin to think about ways to redirect his focus and improve performance. The meeting should be quick, simple and non-threatening.
  4. Listen to your top performers' concerns and suggestions. Get them involved in motivating and aiding the success of the low-performing coworkers. Ideally, you want to coach and rehabilitate struggling workers before taking more aggressive steps, such as demotion or replacement.  
  5. Quantify employee performance by using a rating scale or benchmark analysis to measure their success. Whichever method you use, make sure that the written evaluation includes quality and quantity of work, individual achievements, working relationships and job knowledge. Optimally, ratings should motivate your employees, encouraging them to do more, not less.
  6. Reward improved performance with recognition, compensation, perks or a simple show of appreciation. 

On the flip side, if your leadership skills may be causing one or more employees to perform poorly, don't stress out about it – do something about it. What can you do? For starters:

  • Perform a business checkup; Is your organization providing sufficient training, tools and support for new employees? Starting a new job can be intimidating, especially if employees aren't given clear guidelines. If you've had the same training module since you opened your doors, years ago, it may be time to review and update it. 
  • Ask for feedback. Are you checking in often to see how employees feel they are progressing, or to ask if they have any questions or concerns? New employees might not approach you out of fear of appearing inadequate or judged. But when you approach them with sincere openness and a willingness to help, you aid in their success, and ultimately the success of your business. An employee's first year is critical to her success; Check in regularly, watch for improvement and listen for clues that all is not well.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Just like you expect your employees to listen to your work-related direction and needs, you have to listen to their requirements, too. They may not come to you directly, so train your ear to pick up on frustrations, low team morale or complaints within work groups. 

Regardless of why an employee is performing poorly, don't take a wait-and-see approach. The sooner you get to the bottom of a worker's poor job performance, the sooner you can sort it out and get business and morale back on track. Less-than-ideal performance can occasionally leach into any business, even yours. Ideally, you'll spot trouble in the making and use the dilemma to build on your interviewing, training and coaching methods. In the best case scenario, you'll move forward with the offending employee working to improve, but if that's not possible, it may be time to assign her a more suitable position or to part ways. Your company is only as good as the people who work there, after all, so be watchful and diligent for the best chance of success.