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Improving Employee Performance through Experience

‘Real’ Learning

We now know that ‘real’ learning is best defined in terms of behaviour change. Like other animals, human learning occurs as a consequence of interaction with our environment.  In humans we can distil the conditions for real learning as being the outcome of a combination of four activities:

  1. Exposure to rich experiences
  2. The opportunity to practice
  3. Conversation and exchanges with others
  4. Space and time to reflect

Experience, Practice and Reflection – An Active Process

‘Experience is a hard teacher...she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards’. Anonymous

Learning is fundamentally about sense-making and ‘constructing’ knowledge rather than simply transferring information. We test our inbuilt or previous knowledge and theories through action and experiences, and then review the results. If there is discrepancy, we adjust our understanding based on these new experiences.

We also know that the human brain generally learns better through exposure to new experiences and active participation than it does through either hearing about or seeing something, although stories and images that elicit strong emotional reactions are also effective inputs to the learning process.

Experiential learning is represented within the ‘70’ of the 70:20:10 framework although, as with social learning, it occurs in the other areas – across social and formal learning processes, too.

Rich Conversations – Learning is Essentially a Social Activity

‘Our world is others’. Jerome Bruner

By our nature and culture, humans learn extremely well through and with others.

Jerome Bruner’s work has shown us that we experience our world with and through others, and much of our learning is the same way.

Our increased understanding of social learning as a vital activity outside of structured or directed learning has led directly to a better grasp of what we need to do in order to effectively support individual, team and organisational development from a social learning standpoint.

Social learning is represented within the ‘20’ of the 70:20:10 framework, although, of course, it occurs in the ‘70’ part through experiential learning and the ‘10’ part as well, reinforcing the fact that the different types of learning in 70:20:10 are neither ‘neat’ nor discrete.

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I really think the idea of 'constructing knowledge' rather than transferring information is a powerful interpretation of how learning occurs. Giving people information, breaking it down into simpler parts, making available additional tools or resources, and encouraging people to use all of this information and tools, allows them to build a system of learning that best suits them.  This allows even the most experienced person a pathway of learning and development, and not just new people to learn. 

Having a tool box of resources, information, displays, notifications, and structured learning will be a great motivational force for many people.

How to Improve Employee Performance in a Company

1. Find why an employee is underperforming

It’s important to not jump to conclusions regarding why an employee is underperforming. Rarely does a person set out to intentionally do a bad job.

The problem could be as simple as not having the proper resources or being under trained. There could be outside influences distracting them from their work. It’s possible that the employee is conflicted about company goals or has lost motivation to fulfill the mission of the company.

Whatever reason is underlying their underperformance, is important to know what it is first if it is to be improved.

2. Encourage Communication

Clearly communicating underperformance is challenging but necessary. Managers should also open the floor to the underperforming employee to articulate what barriers are standing in their way so that the manager can improve their circumstances.

Employee performance can be improved when both the manager and the employee understand where they are, where they need to be, and how they are going to get there.

In addition to the manager and employee having open communication, the entire team should be encouraged to communicate everything from progress, deadlines, expectations, and resources.

Doing this makes it easier to navigate an objective from start to finish within the framework of the team. It opens up opportunities to collaborate and can improve the performance for everyone.

3. Create a positive work environment

With open communication underway, it’s now time to review the work environment. It wouldn’t make sense to encourage communication in an environment where people are intimidated by superiors, arbitrarily reprimanded and their concerns dismissed.

Rather, work towards a work culture that allows employees to voice their opinion and reinforce that their opinions are heard. Giving employees a healthy and happy work environment will foster better results.

Employees will be more likely to contribute their good ideas and hard work to a company that wants to hear them.

4. Provide effective training

Right from the start, provide all new employees with proper training. Make sure that employees know what to do, and the most efficient way of doing it. Once the processes for getting the job done are routine, they’ll be able to contribute their unique ideas and be effective at getting things done.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking training is a one-time thing. Training should be ongoing so that employees can continue to develop their skills. Ongoing training is the way to continuously improve employee performance.

5. Don’t forget to have a little fun

To improve employee performance, make it enjoyable to be at work. Spending 40+ hours a week in an uninspiring environment is a recipe to get uninspiring results.

Study after study has shown that performance is improved when the workday is broken up by small breaks, leisurely strolls, and fresh air. Adding in team building experiences and opportunities to laugh are sure to go a long way towards improving employee performance.

Gamifying work can also improve performance. Set goals that are attached to fun activities, bonuses, or extra vacation time. Friendly competitions can encourage employees to push their performance to the next level.

6. Acknowledge contributions

If you want to boost your employees’ morale and motivate them to give the best they can, then you have to recognize their individual contributions and accomplishments. Be generous with your praises and you’ll notice that staff will become more creative and eager to work.

But be careful. Being generous with general praise will diminish the value and impact of your praise.

Instead, make a habit of mentioning the specific effort you are praising. Rather than simply saying “Good job” say, “Good job on putting together that presentation. It really drove the message home for our client.”

Specific praise will also work towards your goal of encouraging communication. This way, employees will know when and what work is appreciated to be able to do it again.