Maximising Employee Performance - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #084

Maximising Employee Performance

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Aligning the personal goals of employees with organizational goals can bring huge benefits but it is not easy. This Idea looks at the benefits of a management model based on the perspective of the employee, which can provide better communication with employees and, as a result, more effective performance from them; and suggests some ways to go about it. 


Based on interviews with more than 50 employees across 12 companies, as well as questionnaire data from more than 200 employees London Business School’s professor, Julian Birkinshaw, along with his fellow researchers, say that management should be about “seeing the world through the eyes of the employee.” In other words, it is a manager’s job to enable employees to do their best work, and help them reach their own personal goals while also delivering on the organization’s goals.

This is not necessarily an easy task, and requires a deeper understanding of an employee’s point of view. Their findings shed some light on this, and include the following points:

  • Broadly, there are five characteristics that employees recognise as important and valuable: 1) having responsibility for doing something worthwhile; 2) being given a high level of freedom for how results are achieved; 3) having an opportunity to extend oneself and to develop expertise; 4) being given an opportunity to work with good colleagues; and 5) achieving recognition for doing a good job.
  • Though the list of fears, concerns and frustrations mentioned by employees to the authors was very long, the main issues include lack of opportunities for personal development, fear of failing to deliver on (high) expectations, frustration with ineffective processes and concern about not fitting in.

The best managers are those that look at the world through the eyes of their employees, as this provides the right mindset to structure work carefully, communicate more effectively and push decision-making down to the appropriate level.


Though there are no shortcuts to becoming a good manager, the following three steps can help improve management skills:

  1. See the world through the employees’ eyes on a regular basis: this is the ability to put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Some examples of how to do this include web-enabled chat and discussion forums, reverse mentoring and front-line work. An example of the latter is of Tesco’s executives, who spend a few days every year stacking shelves and working on checkouts.
  2. Package work, even routine work, into projects: one way of making routine work more fulfilling and motivating for employees is to structure their work into a series of projects. In other words, give the work (a) a clear objective, (b) a deadline by which the objective needs to be reached and (c) a clear sense of who is doing the work and who is responsible.
  3. Work yourself out of a job: a useful way of approaching a management job is to imagine that the role won’t exist after a short time, e.g. two years, and your job is to train everyone so that they can do your job as well as their own. This encourages you to hire and promote the best people, forcing you to question why you do certain things, and inspiring you to delegate many tasks your employees.



Bringing Out the Best in Employees, “Birkinshaw, Julian”, “Rollins, Vyla” and “Turconi, Stefano”, Business Strategy Review, Issue 1 (2012), p. 39–43

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Idea conceived

January 1, 2012

Idea posted

Jun 2013
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