Whether you’re providing a scheduled performance review or offering regular feedback to your team members, it can be helpful to understand general areas of improvement that make for a highly effective contributor and, as a result, a successful career. While your feedback should be specific to each individual based on their proven impact, growth and overall performance, below we will outline several core competencies you might consider when offering performance reviews.
For more on how to provide regular reviews for your team with examples, read our guide on Giving Useful Performance Feedback.
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Why is professional improvement important?
Professional improvement is important because people who feel challenged to excel in a healthy way can be more engaged and satisfied with their jobs. When people feel supported by their leadership with both positive feedback and constructive criticism, they are more likely to grow in their career and become a more effective contributor over time.
Many managers perform regular, one-on-one performance reviews with their direct reports to evaluate their work and provide them with useful feedback on areas of improvement. Every individual, including managers, can work to improve specific skills in order to:
- Perform better in their current jobs
- Advance in their careers
- Adapt to change or take on new job duties
Reach certain goals
Improved performance can benefit everyone in the workplace by saving time and money, producing higher-quality work and increasing employee morale and retention.
Areas of improvement for employees
While you should provide individuals with feedback based on their specific work, skill set and role, there are some common areas of improvement you might consider when evaluating performance. Here are 20 common areas of improvement for employees with recommendations for improving each:
1. Time management
The better people can multitask, meet deadlines and manage their time, the more productive they will be at work. Good time management skills can also make their job less stressful, providing them with more time to work on projects and career development opportunities they are passionate about.
Ways to improve time management: Creating to-do lists, using free scheduling software or applications, using task-tracking programs, setting digital reminders and managing a daily or weekly schedule closely. Keep track of how you spend your time and evaluate whether your schedule is optimized for your priorities and goals.
2. Customer service
Good customer service can significantly affect a company's reputation and ability to get repeat customers. Customer service is a good skill in any job, including those that don’t work directly with external customers. For example, customer service skills are also applicable when working with colleagues.
Ways to improve customer service: Shadow and mimic a coworker known for their excellent customer service, ask a colleague or manager to practice customer interactions or explain how to handle challenging situations, take online service training courses or work with a customer service coach.
Teams who collaborate well can reach objectives and solve problems faster, easier and often better as a group versus separately. Working in a group effectively can also diversify decisions and workflows, making processes smoother and improving the product or service's outcomes.
Ways to improve teamwork: Develop communication and interpersonal skills, speak with coworkers in person rather than always digitally, compliment them for a job well done, take time to celebrate achievements and milestones, schedule regular team lunches or outings to encourage discussion and camaraderie outside the office.
Read more: Teamwork Skills: Definition and Examples
4. Interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills—the ability to communicate and interact with people effectively—can help people connect with colleagues and customers alike. These skills can help make individuals better team members and improve customer service.
Ways to improve interpersonal skills: Take courses on or practice traits such as active listening and empathy. Observe other employees' interpersonal interactions or work with a mentor on this skill. Maintain eye contact and be aware of body language during meetings and conversations.
Communication skills can be written, verbal and nonverbal. Communicating well can help individuals be productive and well-organized—and it's good for morale.
Ways to improve verbal and nonverbal communication: To improve communication skills, talk to coworkers face-to-face when possible, listen closely when they speak and ask questions. Practice what you are going to say before you say it if needed. Pay attention to body language and adjust your communication style accordingly.
Written communication skills are important for professional development. Many jobs require some level of writing, whether your team creates briefs, proposals, presentations, analyses or correspondence with colleagues, clients or customers.
Ways to improve writing skills: Study the company style guide for communications and written content if available, install a free spelling and grammar checker to find writing mistakes, ask a colleague or manager to proof or review content and offer feedback on how to improve it.
6. Accepting feedback
While accepting and applying helpful feedback takes practice, it can also help people make better decisions and improve performance.
Ways to improve feedback acceptance: Practice listening and ask questions about how you can improve, maintain a calm attitude and facial expression, practice a “matter-of-fact” mindset instead of feeling defeated or angry. Thank the person who gives you the feedback, regardless of whether you agree with them. For example, "I appreciate you taking the time to give me some advice.”
Good organization skills can help people be more productive, focused and efficient at work. Your well-organized team members are likely able to gets tasks done on time and with less stress.
Ways to improve organization: Create a schedule each day that lists the things you need to do and in what order. Create a clean work environment to avoid losing documents or to-do lists in piles of paperwork. Use digital records and daily organizers to reduce the amount of paper to manage. Create electronic filing systems for all projects to quickly and easily access them when needed.
If you maintain more flexibility at work, your team members may find it easier to adapt to change and take on multiple responsibilities.
Ways to improve flexibility: Show a willingness to accept a variety of projects or assignments. Show interest in learning additional skills and practice ways to remain calm when plans change suddenly. This might include meditation or breathing exercises, taking scheduled breaks or consulting with a friend or mentor.
Read more: How to Be Flexible at Work
9. Problem solving
Strong problem-solving skills can help you identify an issue, assess the possible options, choose the best solution and then implement it. Problem-solving skills can also help resolve workplace conflict, overcome project roadblocks and find creative ways to reach goals.
Ways to improve problem-solving skills: Watch coworkers you respect to see how they resolve issues in the workplace. After experiencing a problem, think through ways you might have handled it differently and take note for next time. Remain calm and collaborate with others, relying on people who may have skills you don’t.
Good leadership skills can help any individual reach goals, solve problems and communicate with project partners. Even individual contributors can benefit from improving leadership skills to run successful meetings and projects and collaborate with others towards a common goal.
Ways to improve leadership skills: Practice leadership outside of work with team-building exercises or by volunteering to lead nonprofit or fundraising efforts with organizations you are passionate about. Take online on in-person leadership courses. In the office, listen to coworkers, give positive feedback and regularly recognize people for their contributions.
11. Setting goals
Goals can motivate employees as well as help them focus and prioritize tasks. Some goals are easy to measure, such as total sales, while others may be more challenging to assess.
Ways to improve goal setting: Set and meet deadlines or timelines for completing projects. If you don’t, determine why and ways you might next time. Give yourself a clear goal, and challenge yourself to meet it. Communicate goals to your colleagues and work as a team to meet deadlines or performance metrics. Set SMART goals—ones that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.
Related: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples
12. Conflict resolution
Managing conflicts between employees—regardless of whether you are involved in that conflict—can help prevent negative work environments, stress and a lack of productivity.
Ways to resolve conflict: During conflicts or disagreements, stay calm and try to control emotions. Clear communication is important in these situations. Discuss the issue face-to-face rather than through email. Listen to what the other person says so you can understand both sides. Once you can both identify the cause of the conflict, use communication and problem-solving skills to resolve it. Escalate to leadership when appropriate.
Active listening is a key skill for leadership, collaboration and communication. Listening to colleagues, leadership and clients can help you effectively transfer and receive important information.
Ways to improve listening skills: Remove distractions such as your phone or email when talking to someone. Look them in the eye, use open, positive body language and ask questions to clarify complex ideas. To validate that you understand an idea correctly, repeat it back to them. You might use phrases such as, "So what you're saying is ..." or "Let me make sure I have this right ..."
In a fast-paced, deadline-driven work environment, it can be difficult to remain patient. However, patience can help navigate challenges, make smart decisions, avoid mistakes and keep stress levels low.
Ways to be more patient: Practice staying calm when something causes a delay in your workflow or when making important decisions. This might require pausing, taking deep breaths or counting to 10 to slow yourself down. You might also take a short break or find a temporary distraction.
Honesty in the workplace is key to building a strong team that trusts each other. It is also a great way for your team members to build a reliable and professional reputation, which can build strong and lasting work relationships.
Ways to improve honesty: To build integrity and a good reputation among your coworkers, always keep your word when you say you are going to do something. When you make mistakes, take responsibility for them. Be transparent in everything you say and do. Also respect confidential information, whether business-related or personal.
16. Proving impact
Tracking and communicating the impact of an individual’s work is crucial to their success at a company and in their career. Doing so helps leadership understand how their work helps the business achieve key goals and can help individuals communicate achievements on their resumes as well.
Ways to prove impact: Set clear goals that align with key business objectives. Work with leadership to understand business priorities and adjust your time management accordingly. Track your progress towards goals and clearly communicate your achievements during performance reviews and one-on-one meetings with your manager.
17. Critical thinking
Thinking deeply about the needs of the business, your clients and customers and products can help people develop successful, impactful ideas. Critical thinking is also a key skill for problem solving, helping individuals achieve business goals with creative solutions.
Ways to improve critical thinking: Learn more about a problem by meeting with different people around the business to gain various perspectives.
Taking action before you are asked is a great way to show leadership and decision-making skills. It also relieves management of needing to closely monitor or “hand hold” employees when than can show accountability for their own work.
Ways to be more proactive: Consider what information your clients, coworkers or leaders may require and send it before they have to ask for it. Pay attention to patterns of work so you can anticipate the needs of the people you work with.
Related: 9 Tips for Taking Initiative at Work
Advocating for yourself is necessary to be successful in the workplace. If you’re responsible for certain goals, it's also your team's responsibility to communicate their needs in order to achieve them.
Ways to advocate for yourself: If there are roadblocks to your growth or your ability to achieve a specific goal, communicate them to your manager as soon as possible. Include any resources you’d require to be successful, such as time, budget, tools or help. If you’re experiencing an unmanageable problem at work without being able to make any more progress, ask your manager for help and explain the steps you’ve already taken.
Perseverance is the ability to press on through challenging situations. Building perseverance over time can help your team members sustain morale while working through problems, whether with other colleagues, clients or lack of resources.
Ways to build perseverance: When met with a challenge, take a moment to analyze the situation. Keep a calm demeanor, take time to understand the causes of the issue and work with others to develop possible solutions. Maintain an optimistic attitude whenever possible.