What are performance check-ins, and what questions should you ask?

Performance check-ins (or continuous performance management) are a series of regular conversations between managers and employees about work, progress and goals throughout the year. Depending on the organisation or individual, they can take place weekly, monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. This series of conversations play a huge part in the success of many high-performing organisations. The multiple benefits it has brought them has convinced many to move away from the more traditional annual appraisals.

performance check ins

A pre-COVID study by Gallup on remote workers found that the more frequently they received feedback from managers, the more engaged they were with their work. And with continuing uncertainties about what the post-COVID workforce will look like, a more agile approach is required.

So, if your organisation is planning to move towards continuous performance management, there are a few rules of thumb your line managers should keep in mind when planning employee check-ins:

  • Remember the purpose of the conversation, and ensure questions are relevant.
  • Ask open-ended questions; questions that only require a simple yes/no response will restrict the conversation.
  • Make sure the questions are clear and concise; ambiguous questions will prompt ambiguous answers.
  • Encourage employees to ask questions as well. Conversations are a two-way street and should not feel like an interrogation.
  • Ensure all outcomes from the discussions are appropriately recorded and tracked. Having the right technology, like integrated performance management software in place is essential so that your conversations remain productive and decisions informed.

To get started, here are some questions line managers could include that focus on three key areas: building a rapport, deciding on short-term priorities, and setting long-term goals.

Building a rapport

Check-ins work best when the tone is informal and supportive. Our survey revealed that about 40% of employees find their current performance review process uncomfortable. Employees shouldn’t feel like they’re being judged or put under the spotlight. Instead, managers should use these conversations as an opportunity to build and maintain a productive relationship with employees.

Starting with small talk (e.g. their wellbeing, the weather, any weekend plans) and asking a few questions that aren’t work- or performance-related can help relax the tone of the conversation.

  1. How are you?
  2. Did you have a good weekend?
  3. Did you enjoy/get to do…? reference something they told you they were planning to do in their free time in a previous meeting.

Deciding on short-term priorities

These questions focus on the here and now. Because check-ins happen regularly (weekly, fortnightly, monthly), it’s important to assess what’s occurred since the last conversation, and any new challenges that have arisen since then. Records of previous discussions are extremely useful to catch up on progress and to re-evaluate current priorities.

  1. How are you getting on with your current project(s)?
  2. Did you achieve your goals?
  3. Were there any blockers?
  4. Is there anything I can do to help?
  5. What are your goals for the next check-in?
  6. Are you happy that you can achieve them?
  7. Would you benefit from additional support/training?
  8. Are you finding anything difficult or stressful?

Setting long-term goals

Long-term planning is vital to employee engagement, retention and the future health of the organisation. Managers should try to understand the motivation and ambitions of the people that report to them, and how they match the overall business strategy. While it’s not a necessity to ask these questions at every check-in, they should be discussed regularly, and the information shared internally as appropriate. This can then be used to influence wider discussions about development and career progression.

  1. How do you see your career with our organisation developing?
  2. Do you have specific goals you’d like to achieve in the next year, two years, longer?
  3. What are you doing to help achieve your goals?
  4. How do you think the organisation could help you achieve those goals?
  5. What can I do to help support your development?

Employee check-ins will only be as good as the questions asked, the quality of the conversation and how well managers follow up.

Find more tips for introducing employee check-ins in this guide.

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