Performance check-ins – why they matter and how to get it right

There’s a real buzz in the world of performance management right now around the use of regular ‘check-ins’ between managers and their teams. A growing number of companies (Adobe, IBM and Deloitte to name a few) have switched on to the role they can play in building engagement, improving productivity and making organisations more agile.

illustration of two people talking on a desk

This shift to continuous performance management is popular with employees too, who feel they benefit from on-going dialogue with their managers and the greater influence this gives them over the way their job and career pans out.

A recent survey by Gallup found that when managers provide weekly (vs. annual) feedback, team members are:

  • 5.2x more likely to strongly agree that they receive meaningful feedback
  • 3.2x more likely to strongly agree they are motivated to do outstanding work
  • 2.7x more likely to be engaged at work

They also warned , that while the move away from reliance on the traditional annual appraisal was generally a positive move, companies are not always getting it right when it comes to the way they implement check-ins.

So if you are planning to adopt a more fluid, in-the-moment approach to performance management, what do you need to do to make sure it’s a success?

1. Prepare the business for the change

It’s not enough just to introduce a new system of continuous performance management and expect people to immediately jump on board. Managers may worry that it will add to their already heavy workload, and employees may be concerned that it means someone will be constantly looking over their shoulder. HR needs to ensure managers understand the reasons behind the shift and can see how adopting a coaching approach will actually make it easier for them to keep employees motivated and focused on their objectives. Employees need to be reassured that this isn’t micro-management, but the chance for them to have a greater say in the way they achieve their goals and an opportunity to get more support with their challenges and development needs. It’s about helping people make a shift in mindset – not just the practicalities of a shift to a new system.

2. Train managers in a coaching approach

Don’t assume that managers will automatically be able to adapt to this new, more fluid way of managing their people. Those who have been used to a more autocratic style of management will need help to shift to a coaching approach. Giving effective feedback is something managers who have been used to the ‘tick-box’ approach to the annual appraisal could particularly struggle with. Many have a tendency to shy away from giving negative feedback when needed, for example, or struggle with how to give positive feedback without raising unrealistic expectations. A shift to continuous performance improvement will only be successful if the managers who are having the conversations are supportive of the approach and well-versed in the skills needed to have open and honest dialogue with their teams.

3. Make it a two-way street

HR needs to make sure managers understand that by its very nature, an informal check-in needs to be a two-way street. Encourage managers to do as much listening as they do talking. People need to feel that their regular catch-ups are a ‘safe’ opportunity to talk about any challenges they are facing and to ask for help. It’s also a good opportunity to let people raise any ideas they may have about alternative ways of approaching the job, projects they’d like to get involved with or innovative ideas they’d like to pursue. One of the advantages of informal check-ins is that they are ‘live’, providing the manager with the chance to give positive feedback on what’s going well and to focus on the future – as opposed to the traditional annual appraisal, which is often more about trying to remember what happened a year ago and highlighting what didn’t go so well.

4. Equip people with tools to support them

HR software can do much to overcome some of the challenge associated with continuous performance reviews, and help make check-ins an integral part of ‘the way we do things around here’. Systems like Cezanne HR, for example, provide a quick and easy way to record conversations, achievements and agreed goals or outcomes, so it’s easier to ensure everyone is aligned. The screens are designed to facilitate a more collaborative way of working, providing a frameworks for conversations that are much more engaging than tick-in-the-box exercises. Notifications can be triggered let participants know when a conversation has been updated, or a goal is overdue.

5. Act on what’s been agreed

There’s nothing more frustrating for an employee than being offered a stretch assignment or a development opportunity, only for it to disappear down a black hole and never be mentioned again. If managers don’t act on what has been discussed or agreed, they risk alienating employees, who will feel that the conversation hasn’t been genuine and that only lip service is being paid. This makes it important that managers don’t over-promise and under-deliver. If there’s no room in the budget to send someone on a training course, for example, this needs to be made clear, but equally could be supplemented by a discussion about other ways the employee might develop those skills, perhaps by going on secondment or finding a mentor who can help them. Regular check-ins will help to build the relationship between managers and their people – so that when it’s not possible to respond to people’s desires or requests, the door is open for a constructive discussion about alternatives.

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