22 April 2019

The Dos and Don’ts of Performance Check-Ins

Two women sitting by a shop window with writing on it

Replacing annual appraisals with real-time performance check-ins is something every organisation should do. But such a cultural shift requires the right planning, preparation and mindset.

If you get the process right, check-ins will transform your organisation’s approach to performance management, resulting in a happier, more engaged, and goal-oriented workforce. Get it wrong, and you risk doing more damage than good.

To help you make the switch to check-ins a success, here are some ideas to embrace – and some to avoid.

Do train your managers

The success of any performance management strategy depends on the quality of your people managers – and this is particularly true of check-ins.

Making the switch from annual appraisals to check-ins will only be a success if your managers are comfortable with the human side of management. Regular facetime with a bad or ill-equipped manager will do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, in many organisations, people are promoted to managerial positions for the wrong reasons. This may be because they are high performers in their respective field, or because they exhibit certain characteristics that we associate with positions of power – self-confidence, ruthlessness, assertiveness, etc. But this old-fashioned view of a manager as an authoritarian ‘boss’ is no longer in line with our needs and expectations in the modern workplace.

Today, the role of a manager involves much more than telling people what to do. We now expect our managers to motivate, inspire and mentor us. And to do this they need excellent people skills – the ability to listen, empathise, and to find the right balance between the professional and the personal.

For this reason, effective manager training is critical – for the procedural side of check-ins, but more importantly for the human side. Arm your managers with the information and skills they need to ensure that everyone gets the most out of check-ins.

Don’t make it formal

Unlike an annual appraisal, a check-in is an informal conversation between two adults. As such, it is critical that employees see check-ins in a positive and constructive light, and not as something to fear.

This may be hard for some employees to grasp. Many employees naturally have their guard up when meeting a manager, and fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. They may instinctively feel that they are on trial, and adopt a defensive mindset as a result.

Remember that this is not an opportunity for the manager to give orders, discipline for poor performance, or tick boxes. It is a chance for them to listen, understand, and work with the employee to find new and better approaches to work. It’s also a great way to discuss personal and professional development.

To help encourage a relaxed, informal vibe, choose a space where you will both feel comfortable.  

Do be flexible

Check-ins give employees a platform for raising any concerns or issues they may have. This could be problems with their workload, skills gaps, personal issues, or any other factor that could be impacting their experience of work.

To do this you need to create a culture of openness and honesty, where employees feel they can discuss any concerns they may have with impunity. The aim of this process should be to ensure that the employee is engaged with their work and enjoying it.

Ideally, you’ll be able to meet your staff in the middle and be willing to shape and adjust work in a way that helps them to get the most out of it. While it isn’t always possible to give an employee exactly what they want, a degree of compromise nearly always is.

Don’t let managers dominate the conversation

Traditionally, when a manager meets with an employee, it is the former that does most of the talking, and the latter that does most of the listening. Managers are used to taking the lead in most meetings – in fact, they are expected to.

A check-in requires a different approach, however. Rather than being dominated by the manager, check-ins give the employee a voice. After all, it is their performance, goals and concerns that are the subject of discussion.

As such, managers must learn to take a step back and listen to what their employees have to say. As a rule of thumb, ensure that the employee spends more time talking than the manager.

Do harness the power of technology

While check-ins are essentially informal conversations, they are also more than that.

Instead of a series of standalone meetings, the check-in process should be seen as a chain of connected conversations, each one following on from the previous. The themes discussed in previous check-ins can be returned to, reflected upon, and hopefully resolved.

To make this possible, the contents of check-ins must be recorded – everything from the subjects discussed to the agreed actions and outcomes. Without a tool to enable this process, this vital information will be lost.

Thankfully, there are software platforms designed to facilitate the entire process, from scheduling through to recording information.

Ideally, both manager and employees will have access to the platform, allowing both parties to record and visualise progress, goals and outcomes.

Nick Edwards

Nick Edwards is a Content Writer at MHR

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