Check-ins as a Component of Continuous Performance Management

How often should managers check-in with their employees about their performance?


This is a great question we hear often and one we really appreciate since the impetus is that managers should indeed be checking in with their team on some regular basis.


But how often is enough?  Or too much?


As with many things in performance management, the answer is that it depends.


It depends on a number of factors, including the individual relationship between the manager and the employee.


It depends on the current workload and any project urgency.


It depends on how concise or comprehensive the conversation needs to be.


It depends on the level of compliance and documentation necessary.


It depends on how much time you want to save prepping for the annual performance review.


Okay, maybe that last one is a clue for one of the benefits to meeting with your employee more regularly.


One-on-Ones, Pulse Checks, Stand-ups, Check-ins…they all mean essentially the same thing.


For our purposes in this article, we will refer to them as Check-ins, and we’ll explore best practices for not only frequency, but also structure and format.


Best Practices and Frequency of Check-ins


Check-ins are not a new concept to performance management, but they are a relatively new feature in performance management systems.


As such, we’ve observed some confusion around the use of Check-ins and field questions about whether they are helpful, and how best to do them.


Most often we hear (from managers) that they are already checking in with their direct reports on a regular basis.  The formats of which vary widely based on organizational culture, size, and simple preference of the manager.


“Check-in” is a generic term, and, unlike its more structured cousin, the performance review, it is more open for interpretation.


I believe this has led to somewhat of a “wild west” approach and implementation of this relatively new tool.  But does that matter?


Let’s start with what are Check-ins, and why leaders in all industries are pushing to integrate this into their cultures and why HR professionals proclaim this as a “must-have” in their performance management system.


The human resource industry has been talking about “continuous performance management” for years now and for good reason.  It doesn’t take a SHRM SCP designation to know that the traditional process of once a year performance reviews doesn’t really work.  In fact, it’s a detractor from employee engagement.


If we understand that our personal relationships will suffer if we only have a meaningful conversation once a year, why do we expect our manager and employee relationships to withstand this?


Enter Check-ins.


Check-ins are a way for managers and employees to hit the “pause” button, hopefully several or more times a year, and discuss what’s working well, what isn’t, and assess individual alignment and satisfaction.


Gallup research found “over half of exiting employees (51%) say that in the three months before they left, neither their manager nor any other leader spoke with them about their job satisfaction or future with the organization.”


How do you think these individuals performed during those last three months? Would you want to give all you had for leaders who didn’t seem to notice you?  Or care about you?


Research like this is why I’m baffled when I hear managers cite “they’re too busy” as a reason why they don’t check-in regularly with their employees.  Or they fool themselves into thinking the elevator ride-up (to the third floor) is enough time and attention to count as a check-in.  (This was a real conversation I had with a “manager” one time).


To be fair, sometimes managers are indeed too busy.  Sometimes our organizational design or lack of lean processes are the culprit.  (To work on these items, read our book Performance Culture:  Drive Profits and Create a Great Workplace).  Or we’ve asked “doers” to become people leaders on top of their daily tasks and little time or training is afforded to people development.


But when the cost of replacing an employee can be upwards of two times salary, why wouldn’t organizations implement a simple process that will dramatically decrease a painful budget item?


And you know what else?  It’s the right thing to do.


Check-in quote box


Genuinely Appreciate Your People


Want your employees to perform at a high-level?  Then treat them with the same respect you would want to be treated with.  Listen to them, appreciate them, coach them, and help them succeed.  Don’t let the rat race of patient schedules, revenue cycles, or budgets due get in the way of taking care of your people.  Take care of them, and they will take care of you.


This backs up Gallup’s findings on why more than half of employees leave. They don’t feel appreciated.  They don’t think anyone cares about their career progression or personal goals.


So now that we understand the importance of meeting with our employees on a regular basis, how often should we meet?


Again, this is a common question that depends on a number of factors, but allow me to submit some best practices.


We’ve observed within our own client base that organizations with more frequent check-ins between manager and employee have higher employee engagement and job satisfaction.  Our Workplace Satisfaction reports have yielded very interesting employee comments over time, the most shocking and discouraging of which seem to be correlated with organizations with low-quality and low-frequency coaching sessions.


But we’ve also seen some organizations go overboard and tax their staff with Check-in requirements that are too stringent, too long, or too complicated.


Rules of Thumb for Check-in Frequency


We suggest the following as a rule of thumb:

For new-hires:

  • Weekly Check-ins, at the beginning of each week, for up to 90-days.
  • When the employee shows sufficient progress, and generally seems to be getting the hang of things, switch to monthly check-ins, again, at the beginning of the month.

For all others:

  • Monthly Check-ins, at the beginning of each month, culminating into a once or twice a year performance review.

Why the focus on the beginning of each cycle?  Would you rather they be successful from the start, or have to learn every lesson from a mistake? Checking in proactively versus reactively produces alignment from the beginning, leading to a more successful week or month for both the employee and the organization.


It’s important to define employees’ performance objectives and workplace behaviors as soon as possible.  In the Performance Culture System, these can be included on the employee’s Check-in form.  This prompts discussion around current progress, and most importantly, expectations of each party.  No more waiting for the year-end review to find out my manager’s perception of “excellent” is completely different than mine.


One last note about the frequency of check-ins:  committing to a regular cadence creates high ROI habits in your organization that not only increases employee productivity but also provides risk mitigation for the unfortunate times when you may need to part ways with an employee.  If I had a nickel for every HR Professional that has complained to me about their managers having no documentation to support that they’ve discussed performance or behavior issues with the employee they’re wanting to fire, I’d be a rich woman.


How to Structure Meetings


So we’re going to meet regularly with our employees.  How about the structure of these meetings?


Do we meet in person?  Document digitally?  Not at all?  Do we meet in the office or at a coffee shop?


Setting can indeed matter, and we won’t aim to provide common sense answers, but it would be wise to consider context, privacy, and the goal of your meeting when choosing an appropriate setting.  The biggest factor to remember is to choose a time and place where few to no interruptions will take place – at least from other workers or customers.  Getting a refill of your coffee is acceptable and encouraged.


How long should these meetings last?  That again depends on the goal of your discussion, but for the more frequent, in-office check-in, 10 – 15 minutes is a good time limit.  Much more than this leads to manager frustration around the process because they can’t get to their other duties.  Before you know it, they’ve stopped checking in with their employees altogether because it takes too much time.  Managers and employees alike must be disciplined in their conversations, tabling non-agenda item discussions for another time.  For the manager that has numerous direct reports, this is particularly important.


Check-in quote


However, when you can get out of the office to meet with your employee, an informal, or non-documented conversation should be encouraged whereby the employee is free to discuss his personal vision, career aspirations, or ask his manager questions that may have been on his mind.  At Performance Culture, we’re big on the “walk and talk” to build team chemistry and employee personal satisfaction, as well as increase clarity and memory for each party.


For the rest of the time, an agenda that is provided in advance to the employee is best.


Three Types of Feedback: Coaching, Appreciation, and Evaluation


feedback buckets check-ins


In our Check-in Best Practices Video we discuss the three types of feedback and how you can address two of the three with three simple questions:


  1. What are your biggest accomplishments since our last check-in?  What are you most proud of? Appreciation
  2. What are your key priorities for this next check-in cycle? Coaching
  3. How can I best help you? Coaching

The third type of feedback, evaluation, may naturally occur in your discussion, but is often more formalized during the performance review.

Be sure to watch the video below for a breakdown of how important each of these questions is, and how leaders should approach the answers provided by their employees.


Our recommended structure is for Check-ins to be employee driven, not manager driven.  Providing prompting questions for employees to begin processing their performance, where they are succeeding or struggling, what they might need help with, and where they should focus their thoughts and energy helps the manager know exactly how to coach the employee for success.  Otherwise, we’re operating under a ton of assumptions and we know where that can lead.


Now here’s a kicker – provide these questions in a written format and have employees reply in written format back ahead of your meeting.  *Sigh*  Sounds like homework to some of you, I know.  (Hint:  The Performance Culture System has made this process painless with automatic reminders and quick workflows).


Why is it important for your employee to write out their answers?


Because writing forces clarity and I promise your employee will provide much deeper and accurate responses when he or she has had a few quiet moments to allow their brain to process.  Introverts especially hate to be caught off guard with a Q&A session they have not had time to think about.  Extroverts can usually wing it, filling in the gaps of silence, but mostly with ridiculous answers that are not well thought out (I can say this because I am one).


Managers alike coach better when they’ve had time to process employee’s thoughts, especially if any emotional responses are triggered by the answers.  “How could they think they have too much work?!” may be the first thought in a manager’s mind after hearing what the employee believes she needs help with.


Ask Coaching Questions


Reading an employee’s responses and allowing your own brain time to process, and in some cases, calm down, allows your neocortex to get back in the game and respond instead with a coaching question such as, “Tell me more about what you believe is getting in the way of you meeting this goal.”


Remember back in school when you were completely stuck on a particular homework problem?  You sought help from a parent, friend, or teacher and started talking it out.  And before you even finished, the answer came to you. What the?!  How did that happen?


Asking coaching questions versus simply telling your employee the answer accomplishes a very similar result – and one that is far more effective and lasting.


Now, recall our hint at the beginning of the article about check-ins helping to reduce the workload at performance review time?  By implementing the best practices mentioned above, this once laborious task is reduced to a light summary of our already documented conversations, with more time allowed to focus on the future.


And if we’ve already addressed performance or behavior concerns when they occurred, there’s no need to bring those up again, and no need for surprises for the employee on unclear or unmet expectations.


Remember, healthy organizations have the shortest amount of time between conflict and resolution, and frequent check-ins are one of the best ways to address this.


How often do you now plan to check in with your employees?


To learn more about Performance Culture or the Performance Culture System, contact us at [email protected], or by calling 888-505-6050.