performance management

5 Strategies to Improve Productivity and Work Performance


By Oscar Waterworth

Soon after starting a business, many entrepreneurs find out that even if a day was 48 hours long, they would still not have enough time to get everything done. Running and developing a business is difficult on its own and the lack of time isn't helping in any way. That's why many entrepreneurs rely on time management apps to help them out.

Although time may be of the essence, there's neither a magic formula that will help you become productive, nor the one that will help you manage time more efficiently. In the end, it's down to you alone to find what motivates you and what makes you productive. There are, however, various strategies that may help you improve productivity and work performance and here are a few of them.

Try Pulling an All-Nighter

Working all night in order to get things done has worked for many college students over the years. You could try to reconnect with caffeine sources and remember your college days, pull an all-nighter and get the much-needed inspiration and motivation. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that people tend to be more creative when they're tired.

Furthermore, when people are tired, they also tend to be more distracted, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, when we're distracted, our brain performs better when we need to think outside the box and solve quite difficult problems. Therefore, pulling the all-nighter may do wonders for you, but you may also experience an existential crisis mid-night, when caffeine kicks in and you realize you're not as young as you once were.


Get More sleep

It's the oldest trick in the book; get enough sleep, and you'll be able to accomplish so much more. However, sleep is the first thing to go when people have too much on their plates. After all, people believe that sleep is the easiest thing to sacrifice in order to get more time to complete tasks. However, sleep deprivation can do serious harm to your body, as well as your productivity, motivation and creativity.

Not only will you be groggy, stressed out, exhausted and experience mood swings, but you'll actually do much less work and make much more mistakes. Sleeping helps repair your neural pathways, while helping you maintain both long and short-term memory and the ability to learn new things. Therefore, if you want more productivity, don't wear yourself out by skipping sleep.

Let Music Boost Your Productivity

Music is one of the best motivators ever. Not only does it help you focus, but listening to music stimulates your brain to produce more neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, which are responsible for feeling good. Listening to music will help you become more focused, productive and it will inspire your creativity.

This is especially handy when there's a lot of background noise either at your office or at home. In fact, background noise can increase stress levels and decrease your performance and productivity. Therefore, you can always use your in ear headphones to completely eliminate those noises and let music help you focus on what you're currently doing.


Allocate Less Time for Work

A well-known fact is that entrepreneurs tend to work long hours and even exceed 60 hours per week. However, there’s a good reason why a 40-hour week is optimal. The main reason is that it helps improve productivity, while preventing burnouts. Prolonged working hours may lead to severe health issues and substance abuse.

That's why there's that old saying: "Work smarter, not harder." If you allocate more time to finish a project, it doesn't mean that it will magically be finished more successfully, it will only take longer to complete. Instead of burning yourself out and becoming counterproductive, set less time for work and use the much-needed break to recharge your stamina and relax your mind.

Productive Procrastination

Usually, procrastination is a sign of a burnout and that you're physically, mentally and emotionally worn out and unable to find any motivation whatsoever. However, good types of procrastination are actually beneficial for you. But, telling an entrepreneur to procrastinate is the same as telling them to jump off a cliff, because they believe that spending time not working is wasting time in general. However, no one is telling you to procrastinate indefinitely.


Instead, set some time to completely disengage from work and commit to some other activities; doesn't matter what those activities are, as long as they are not work-related. This will help reduce stress levels and help improve your motivation and productivity. In addition, it will improve your overall well-being and help you grow your business successfully.

Managing time effectively to get more work done is more than a difficult task for every entrepreneur. However, the key is to find what works for you best and utilize those practices to improve productivity, while also taking care of yourself both physically and mentally. There's no secret recipe that will solve all your problems at once, but if you make an effort you'll find a way to organize everything.

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

How to Create a Company Culture of Communication

By Oscar Waterworth

Communication is the blood flow of every business and it’s also a critical workflow aspect, which requires time and active effort to streamline and optimize. Unfortunately, many up-and-coming brands fail to take communication seriously and such an oversight usually costs them a lot in the long run, since it can punch deep holes in productivity, growth potential and bottom line. If you want to stay on the safe side of your business endeavor, it may be a smart move to establish a culture of communication as one of your company’s main pillars. Don’t know how to pull it off? No worries: here are a few smart tips to follow if you want to set your brand’s communicative efforts on the right and well-voiced track.

Internal Communication Channels

Active communication between all relevant workplace links is critical for long-term productivity, favorable bottom line, and business sustainability. In this light, prompt exchange of information and timely feedback are a guarantee of quick resolution of all potential issues which may arise in the line of work. To speed up internal exchange of information, facilitate collaboration, reduce response delays, and boost overall efficiency of communication, you can use an intranet or live messaging system instead of conventional e-mail.

Weekly Reports and Reviews

For peak communication ease and efficiency, direct reports and performance reviews should be presented to the staff on a weekly basis, and preferably accompanied by face-to-face meetings. To avoid stress of one-on-one sit-downs and ensure peak team engagement and communication efficiency, you can organize informal weekly get-togethers: it will allow you to fill your team in on relevant details and casually discuss ways to boost output, minimize waste of resources and other critical performance- and workflow-related aspects.

Monthly Staff Meetings

Face-to-face meetings are a go-to communication mode for monthly and quarterly presentation of reports and key information roundups. For this reason, it might be a wise move to stage staff meetings at least once a month and update your team about vital business decisions, initiatives, performance metrics, and key concerns and priorities for the forthcoming period. Strive to make monthly meet-ups enjoyable, avoid bossiness and leave criticism for one-on-one meetings: after all, you’re supposed to set a positive example for your team.

Regular 360° Reviews

A 360° review is another smart communication tool many businesses use to dial up productivity and bottom line and secure long-term expansion, and it’s also an internal communication mode which helps managers solicit feedback on an employer’s skills and performance from other team members. Using 360° reviews, managers are able to provide positive and constructive feedback to each and every team member based on the analysis of comments and remarks submitted by their coworkers, superiors and subordinates.

Annual Performance Reviews

In addition to monthly and quarterly reports, annual performance reviews can help managers adjust the course of business conduct, scale results and provide critical feedback to their teams. If you’re about to stage a one-on-one meeting to discuss annual review of an individual worker’s performance, aim to make the ambiance formal yet amiable, accentuate the positives and offer a range of constructive tips on ways the employee can optimize performance and exploitation of company’s resources in the year to come.

Anonymous Staff Surveys

Surveys are another critical tool for gathering employee feedback that can be used to hack peak performance, identify problematic workflow aspects and eliminate glitches and conflicts. If you want to create an environment in which your staff will voice their views openly, make the survey anonymous: that way, all team members will feel comfortable speaking their mind, which is vital for gathering information about chief challenges and room for improvement. Feedback obtained from surveys can make the difference between a timely business conduct tweak and shutdown.

Informal Social Outings

Last but not the least, don’t overlook the power of informal get-togethers after work hours. The trip to the local bowling alley or a casual sit-down over a pint of beer can be a valuable source of insights about potential problems and solutions to chronic issues managers can use to fine-tune their approach to certain aspects of the workflow. In addition to that, social events outside work hours are a cost-efficient way for managers to foster close team bonds and collaboration across departments, so don’t overlook team building if you want to dial up communication at work.

Up the Game

Are you ready to take your brand’s communication to the next level? Use the instruments above to set up a tight communication network and streamline exchange of information between vital links in the workplace hierarchy puzzle, and your company’s sustainability and growth will be as safe as well-communicated messages. Good luck!

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

Human Resources Trends for 2017

By Oscar Waterworth

The year 2017 will be particularly challenging for human resources teams as they will need to constantly adapt their strategies to emerging trends and ongoing changes in the working conditions and environment. Here is a look at some of the top human resources trends for 2017.

Company Culture and Employee Engagement as a Priority

As testimonials of employees and candidates are more visible with the rise of employer review websites, corporate practices are more transparent than ever. This is marking the end of unethical practices, and the beginning of taking care of issues such as respectful treatment of employees at all levels including benefits, job security, etc. Companies need to focus on corporate culture and values in order to retain employees and attract future candidates.

Further Rise of Blended Workforce

A major HR trend still relevant in 2017 is the continuing change in structure of the global workforce. While full-time employees still form the greatest part of the workforce, there has been a constant rise in numbers of non-traditional workers such as freelancers, interns, remote and part-time workers, etc. Since permanent employees are working side by side with temporary or non-traditional workers, the HR teams will face new challenges when it comes to organizing different types of workers while working together on the same project.

Changes in Performance Management and Reviews

While the annual performance reviews are increasingly abandoned in favor of continuous, more personal methods of delivering feedback to employees, the companies are yet to find a performance management strategy that best suits their working environment and their workforce. Most employees, especially the younger generations, appreciate regular and relevant feedback, so they can focus sooner on areas in which they can improve their performance. In 2017, companies will likely switch from performance measurement to performance counseling—as comments and discussion with employers and peers will replace the traditional rating systems.

Separating Performance Management and Compensation

As companies redefine or completely abandon performance rating, the question of what to do with performance-based bonuses still remains. Some companies have already eliminated monetary rewards based on performance, as it was concluded that they don’t significantly improve performance or employee morale while potentially causing rivalry in the workplace. It will be important to determine how to calculate pay and bonuses in a fair and competitive way, while respecting the newly established culture of continual feedback instead of keeping the classic performance ratings.

Turning Towards In-house Training

In order to keep their existing employees’ skills up to date, companies have often turned to outside sources for additional training and education. In 2017, HR teams will be looking for useful skills which employees already possess and the ways these skills can be put to use in a more cost effective in-house training.

Increasing Appreciation of Work Flexibility

Flexibility may be the benefit that is currently valued the most as work/life balance seems to be very important to employees, especially younger workers. In order to keep the talent working for them in the new results-driven environment, companies are increasingly flexible with working hours and location of their employees. In order to effectively keep track of a growing number of workers with different schedules, the use of a reliable time tracking software will be essential throughout 2017.

Using the Advantages of Big Data Analysis

To remain competitive, companies will invest more resources in big data analysis as the results of it have the potential to improve every aspect of the business.  Interpretation of the data will be helpful in areas of recruitment, improving employees’ performance and retention as well as reducing the number of bad hires.

Rising Interest in Wellness Programs

Companies are using wellness programs to reduce absenteeism, attract and retain talent, as well as save on healthcare costs. Creating a healthy and supportive work environment will help maintain employees in an optimal mental, emotional and physical state of well-being.

The successful implementation of good strategies in HR will lead to improved performance and greater satisfaction of the employees. This will largely depend on the ability of HR teams to tackle the challenges that will come with the latest trends while searching for adequate solutions for the new working situations.

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

The HR Hammer’s Christmas List

By Stephanie Hammerwold

I like to think I’ve been pretty good this year and that I ended up on Santa’s nice list. So, in the midst of wrapping presents and snacking on one too many holiday cookies, I wanted to take some time to share my Christmas list for the workplace:

  1. Paid leave for parents—The U.S. lags behind many other countries when it comes to paid leave for those who recently had a baby, adopted a child or took in a foster child. Some companies have jumped on board and implemented their own paid leave options, and some states have paid leave programs, but we need to have a nationwide law that reflects the realities of working parents.
  2. Easier access to employment for the formerly incarcerated—One of the keys to lowering recidivism is helping the formerly incarcerated find jobs with a decent income. Unfortunately, having a criminal record can be a huge strike against someone in their quest to find employment. Once released, people have paid their debt to society and should be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Opening up access to employment is a huge step toward that.
  3. No more performance reviews—If you are a regular reader, you know my feelings on this topic. It’s time to ditch the traditional review and to go with a system of ongoing feedback.
  4. And speaking of things to get rid of…let’s think about doing away with salary negotiation. I am not a big fan of the game playing that goes on in the negotiation process. I think it immediately sets up a relationship of employer vs. employee. I prefer a straightforward offer and a process that does not solely favor those who happen to be good at negotiation.
  5. Benefits that extend to all employees—Too often when we hear about a company offering excellent benefits, they only extend to office staff. Those who work in low-wage jobs, such as in distribution centers, are often excluded from generous paid family leave and other perks. Some of the hardest working people I know work in low-wage jobs, and we should not forget the value they add to a company when designing benefits programs.
  6. Productive conversations about finding ways to raise the minimum wage—The minimum wage is not livable for employees, and employers worry that raising wages will be unaffordable. We need to have conversations around this issue and find solutions to the huge wage gap we are currently experiencing in the U.S.
  7. A move toward kindness—I recently wrote about this, and I think it is an important reminder as we get further into the presidential election cycle where mud slinging and hate speech are commonplace. There is power in being nice.
  8. Workplaces free from discrimination and harassment—No one should go to work and worry about being harassed or discriminated against because of who they are. We live in a time where same-sex marriage is legal, yet sexual orientation is not a protected class in every state. We have also seen local laws in some place that are aimed at restricting bathroom access for transgender people, and we have heard horrible anti-Muslim rhetoric from some high profile figures. These forms of discrimination are not acceptable, and we owe it to our employees to create workplaces that are accepting and welcoming to everyone.
  9. A focus on finding ways to improve the workplace for employees—Employees are a big part of what can make a company successful, so it is important that we find ways to support them through good wages, excellent benefits, employee appreciation and more.
  10. More books—OK, this one is for me more than the workplace, but I want to encourage everyone to take some time to read in the coming year. It is an excellent escape from all the stresses of work.

Have a wonderful holiday season!


Is it Time to Ditch the Traditional Performance Review?

Photo by jntvisual/iStock / Getty Images

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Performance reviews are a hot topic in HR right now. An overwhelming majority of HR professionals, managers and employees seem to be unhappy with them and would be happy to move on to another system, and some companies are finally responding by taking the drastic step of ditching the traditional annual review. October’s meeting of the South Orange County chapter of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) featured Noma Bruton, the Chief HR Officer at Pacific Mercantile Bank. Bruton spoke about how her company eliminated traditional performance appraisals and how they created a system that better supports employees and the company.

Bruton was joined by Lonnie Giamela, an attorney with Fisher & Phillips. Giamela started off the presentation by talking about the ways in which the traditional system of ranking with no narrative is under scrutiny. With an annual review, the emphasis is on once-a-year feedback rather than on real time feedback, which is much more relevant to how we work. Giamela gave the example of how his young kids will tell him how they feel about his performance as a dad immediately, and the feedback does not come in the form of a number. It is a narrative such as “You are the best daddy in the world” or “You are very frustrating today.” If our tendency is to give feedback as a narrative, why do we still rely on a system based on numerical ranking? Anyone who has written a review knows that it can be a challenge to assign a single number to a year’s worth of work. Criteria for ranking can vary greatly from manager to manager, which creates an unfair system.

When a company follows a forced ranking system, Bruton explained that it pits employees against each other. Rather than focusing on competition external to the company, employees are more focused on competing with each other. Bruton admitted that she had advocated for traditional reviews for 20 years before realizing that it was time to do away with a system that relied on numerical ranking. She cited statistics that revealed that 92% of managers do not think reviews have value, and 95% of HR professionals believe ratings are not accurate. Clearly it is time to make some big changes.

One of the first steps that Bruton tackled was delinking compensation and performance. Many companies tie pay increases to the employee’s score on their annual review. Bruton did away with this practice by basing increases on market research for the jobs in her company. Employees were evaluated based on years of service and skill level to determine where they fell in the range. They picked a common date and adjusted employee salaries on that day to put their jobs in alignment with the market price for each job. In short, the company did away with merit increases and based raises on a market adjustment.

Bruton said the most common question from employees was about not being paid based on performance. She explained that the market-based increases do reflect performance in that when the company does better, they are able to give more money for raises and placing people above the market average. The company’s success is a direct reflection of the employees’ performance.

The company replaced the annual review with a system that managed performance without the use of ratings. Managers have conversations with employees to review things like job responsibility, competencies and goals, and Bruton pointed out that the focus could then be more on development. Currently her company required that managers meet with employees for performance conversations twice per year. They use their HR technology system to record goals and what was discussed in the meetings. Employing technology can help give employees real time access to how they are progressing on goals.

Bruton ended by reviewing some of the lessons she learned from implementing the new system. She said the process has been a lot of work, but she has been receiving positive feedback from employees and managers. She advised those considering a big change like this to be prepared to support the case for a new system with plenty of market data because upper management may be resistant to undoing an annual review system that has been in place for decades. She also said it is important to train managers, and her company even brought in an outside trainer to go through supervisory basics.

With all the conversation around doing away with the annual review, it was nice to hear a case study from someone who is putting talk into action. As HR professionals, it is important that we recognize the areas where restrictive policies and processes may be getting in the way of progress at our companies. In a time where we are growing more and more accustomed to instantaneous feedback, our performance management system should reflect that.

Bruton’s system does two things really well on this front. First, it bases increases on market research rather than merit, which means that discussions around performance are about what an employee is doing rather than the number on their paycheck. To me, this seems more fair. With the traditional system where a score determined an annual raise, increases were left to the managers—some of whom would engage in questionable practices to inflate scores to get an employee a good raise. If an employee is having performance issues, coach them on the problem through conversation and not through affecting their pay at annual review time.

Second, Bruton’s system encourages conversations with employees and setting goals based on competencies. This sets the stage for ongoing conversations between managers and employees about meeting goals and work performance. Performance management should not be an annual thing. It should be an ongoing process that involves real time feedback if we expect employees to improve and grow.

Photo by jntvisual/iStock / Getty Images

Stop Letting Restrictive Policies Get in the Way of Work


By Stephanie Hammerwold

For almost two years now I have been building my own business with my partner. Being away from the corporate life has given me time to reflect on all the structures we impose on the workplace and whether or not such things are effective tools to maintaining an ordered and fair environment. As a human resources professional, much of my work life has been devoted to establishing policies and processes for this reason. Things such as harassment training and anti-discrimination policies are in place to create a fair, equitable and healthy environment and can make the workplace better. But what about some of the other processes we put in place? Are things like open office plans and performance reviews getting in the way of productivity and creativity in the workplace?

Restrictive Policies

I got my start in HR at a company that was a policy heavy environment. As a result, I learned quite a bit about HR, labor law and how to draft a thorough policy. Unfortunately, this approach aggravated employees. With so many rules, it was hard to keep every process straight. Written policies help communicate the rules and guidelines of a workplace, but if your policies are extremely detailed and restrictive, it can be hard for even the best employee to never mess up. Restrictive policies also put the emphasis on the rules rather than the work. Find a happy medium between satisfying legal requirements and meeting the needs of employees.

At one point I was given the task of writing a payroll procedures policy. My first draft was one page, by the time it went through many rounds of revisions, it ended up being six pages long and included instructions that would make building Ikea furniture look easy. The written policy did little to help managers follow the correct payroll procedures because it was too long, detailed and complex.

One step many companies avoid in drafting policies is to get input from employees. When writing or updating a policy, try to get a few employees to read it and give feedback. Ask what parts are confusing and if there is anything that interferes with the way employees work. A good policy should take into account how people work at your business. Otherwise the policy takes over and gets in the way of people doing their jobs.

Open Office Plans

I am not a fan of open office plans. Every time I read something talking about how open office plans foster community and encourage creativity, I want to build a blanket fort and go hide in there with my laptop while I work. The beauty of working from a home office is that I do not have to worry about some manager deciding to throw me in a big room with a bunch of coworkers.

Open office plans can be noisy and full of distractions. In an article for The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova points to work done by organizational psychologist Matthew Davis in 2011. She writes, “He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission,…they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking and satisfaction.”

Every time I read something talking about how open office plans foster community and encourage creativity, I want to build a blanket fort and go hide in there with my laptop while I work.

I recently wrote a piece on open office plans for Blogging4Jobs in which I expressed my dislike of the open office plan. When I shared the post on various social media sites, I did not have one person who spoke up in favor of the open office plan. In all my years in HR, I have also worked to solve noisy work environment problems for countless office workers. While I am sure there are those out there who thrive in a noisy, busy environment, I know many of us like a calm environment in order to focus. What makes me cringe whenever I hear someone touting open office plans is that it seems to be a solution thrown on a whole office without much thought toward the needs of individual workers.

When considering the implementation of major changes to foster creativity and communication, ask employees what would help them do their jobs better rather than assuming the latest trend will improve the workplace.

Performance Reviews

How can I not bring up the dreaded performance review in a discussion of restrictive policies and processes? Someone in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) LinkedIn group started a discussion on performance reviews recently. An overwhelming number of HR professionals weighed in to say that the traditional annual review needs to go. Despite many of us in the profession disliking annual reviews, they persist.

Annual reviews attempt to summarize a whole year’s worth of work in a few pages. Goals are set on an annual basis as though work happens in 12-month periods. Feedback given in this format is stressful. I have worked with very few managers who get excited about reviews. Most of them grumble and worry about what to say. Employees get anxiety about what their managers will say and often only focus on whether the review will include a pay increase without hearing any feedback that their manager is giving them.

Performance management should be ongoing. Managers should meet with their employees on a regular basis to check in on projects, ask where the employee needs help, suggest areas for improvement and to give positive feedback. If a manager documents these interactions, the need for the annual performance review disappears. Also, making performance management and feedback a regular part of the work flow takes the stress off of formalizing such conversations.

The key here is to make the process a little less formal. With proper training, managers should be able to develop a system of ongoing feedback and documentation that can be used to justify employment decisions without using the annual review. Such an approach puts the focus on the work and takes it away from unnecessary paperwork.

What types of policies and processes get in the way of doing your job? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Konnikova, Maria. “The Open-Office Trap.” The New Yorker 7 January 2014. Online.

Top Ten Things to Remember When Firing an Employee

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Terminations are one of my least favorite parts of working in HR. Even when an employee has committed a serious enough violation to warrant it or when they have been given opportunities to improve, the decision to fire someone is not an easy one. The decision to terminate should be carefully thought out, and you should feel confident in your decision by the time you get to the termination meeting. Here, in no particular order, are the top ten things to remember when dealing with a termination.

  1. No matter how hard the termination is for you, it is much harder for the employee who is losing their job.
  2. Be confident in your decision, and avoid lengthy discussions about the termination when you meet with the employee. By this point, the employee has already been given ample opportunity to improve, or they have committed a major policy violation that warrants immediate termination. There is not much room for an employee to plead their case.
  3. Have plenty of documentation to back up your decision to terminate. This can include warnings, performance reviews, email, samples of work, investigation notes or anything that supports your decision.
  4. Review other terminations to ensure that similarly situated employees have been treated the same way.
  5. Get your emotions in check before the termination meeting. Do not enter the meeting feeling extremely angry or upset.
  6. Give the employee the space to have an emotional response to getting the news that they are losing their job.
  7. Have another manager or HR person in the room during the termination meeting as a witness in case any issues come up. This person can also escort the terminated employee from the building.
  8. Plan the termination meeting for a time when it is easy for the terminated employee to leave the building easily without having to talk to coworkers.
  9. Have a plan in place for how the terminated employee will gather their personal belongings from their workstation.
  10. Be kind. Getting the news of termination is difficult to hear, so approach the conversation with compassion.

For more tips on making terminations a little less difficult, see my Blogging4Jobs post.

Top Ten Performance Management Tips

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Earlier this year I spoke with John Wright of HR Today about performance management and outsourced HR. At the end of the interview, I gave my top ten performance management tips. You can listen to the interview on SoundCloud. For more tips on performance management, check out my post on performance management basics over at Blogging4Jobs.

  1. Performance management isn’t just about the annual review. (See number 2.)
  2. Provide ongoing feedback throughout the year.
  3. Document! Document! Document!
  4. Meet with employees for quick check-in meetings on a regular basis.
  5. Observe how workers manage their time.
  6. Keep job descriptions updated, so employees know what’s expected of them.
  7. Communicate clear goals.
  8. Have employees help draft their own goals.
  9. Train managers on performance management.
  10. Don’t forget about giving positive feedback.

Did I miss anything? Share your top performance management tips in the comments.