How Regular Performance Check-ins Help Your Team Outperform Competitors
In the business world, the biggest winner is the one who is quickest to adapt. But how can you adjust your strategies if you're not constantly gauging performance? Not annually. Not bi-annually. Regularly, consistently, relentlessly.
Performance check-ins are about communication and real engagement with your team. It's where you discover the blockages, celebrate the wins, and pivot before minor issues snowball into avalanches.
This article will cover:
- everything you need to know about performance check-ins;
- how regular performance check-ins can propel your team to the top of their game;
- 3 examples of companies incorporating performance check-ins in the performance management process;
- an actionable guide on how to conduct an effective performance check-in
- 13 performance check-in questions that go beneath the surface.
💬 What is a performance check-in?
A performance check-in is a regular, informal meeting between an employee and their manager or team leader to discuss the employee's work performance, progress towards goals, challenges, and areas for development.
The nature of these discussions is generally conversational and aimed at providing continuous employee feedback, fostering open communication, and addressing any issues promptly.
Performance check-ins can either replace or complement traditional reviews. They are more casual than yearly reviews, but they still have a clear structure and expectations.
Performance check-ins are an essential part of the philosophy of continuous performance development. This performance management process goes beyond annual measurements to actively support employees' growth year-round.
The benefits of continuous feedback are clear: just like with a romantic partner, you're set for a happier and more long-lasting relationship if you bring up challenges instantly rather than allowing them to accumulate for weeks, months, or even years.
🆚 What is the difference between a performance review and a performance check-in?
The idea with performance check-ins is that they happen frequently, evaluating the recent past rather than ruminating over what happened months ago.
Organizations can choose to have performance check-ins quarterly, monthly, or as often as weekly.
Regular performance check-ins allow employees to evolve more rapidly – and thus enable your organization to hit your goals faster.
The increased frequency places expectations on managers and team leaders to act as coaches and be more involved in the day-to-day performance of their teams. One critical aspect is to make employees feel comfortable to share honestly.
➡️ Want to learn more? Check out our article on performance review vs. continuous feedback.
Employee performance check-ins have a much more casual vibe than annual appraisals.
An example is Spotify, where managers hold informal coffee chats to discuss performance with their reports.
The advantage of more casual employee performance conversations is that it helps employees feel relaxed and open up about potentially sensitive topics. This is key to help resolve conflicts or identify weak spots that stunt their growth.
➡️ Want to brush up your skills as a meeting host? Check out our guide on how to conduct successful one-on-one meetings.
Regular performance check-ins allow managers to be specific when giving performance feedback. Rather than talking about overall performance, which is less helpful for the employee, they can give concrete examples and mention particular situations to motivate their evaluations.
It's easier to have a meaningful conversation from which the employee walks away feeling motivated after a performance check-in. Naturally, the old-school annual reviews allow challenges to stack and increase the constructive criticism needed.
While traditional performance reviews dwell on the past, performance check-ins have a more visionary approach. During a performance check-in, you look at what you want to achieve in the future. This gives a more growth-oriented focus that incentivizes employees to evolve.
🏢 3 Examples of companies incorporating performance check-ins in the performance management process
Adobe was one of the first big companies to abandon annual performance reviews in favor of flexible check-in meetings.
Adobe coined the term "performance check-ins" and compared it to pit stops in race car competitions: your employees focus on reaching their next goal and just make a quick and efficient stop to tighten any loose screws impairing peak performance.
The performance check-ins at Adobe contain three steps: Goals and expectations, feedback, and development. During the feedback stage, employees receive but also give feedback.
➡️ If you want to draw inspiration from employee performance reviews at Adobe, check out our in-depth case study.
Cisco has continuously been voted "best place to work" in prestigious competitions. They stopped doing annual reviews after feedback from their employees. Cisco people deemed their performance assessments too infrequent and focused on the past rather than envisioning the future.
➡️ After that, employee performance reviews at Cisco went through a makeover.
The focus is now on teams and to make every team perform on par with the best-performing team. After doing internal research, Cisco found out that the secret behind a top-performing team is to allow each member to focus on what they shine at.
"Conducting regular Check-Ins is the best way for leaders to stay connected to their team members, understand the work they are doing, shape their priorities, align them to work that leverages their strengths, remove obstacles to success and keep them engaged in the face of shifting demands" Cisco, Team Space, Check-In Guide.
Spotify is at the forefront of employee enablement in many ways. They organize their work in small agile teams called squads, each with eight members. Squads are grouped around core functions like web development or quality assurance in a unit called a chapter.
While a squad has no official leader, a chapter has a manager responsible for mentoring and coaching. Each squad has biweekly review meetings evaluating performance.
The system for employee reviews has four elements. What's remarkable is that there are no hard and fast rules for conducting performance reviews as long as all four elements are present within a year. The elements are:
- Continuous 1:1s are held as frequently as every week with the chapter manager. These are informal in nature and can happen over a coffee.
- Development talks: It's recommended to have these twice a year with the manager. The focus is on the employee's career path and personal development.
- Talent snapshot tracks how each team member is currently doing regarding performance, strengths, and weaknesses. This allows you to address challenges quickly and discover unused potential, things that can boost performance but often go unnoticed in the everyday busy-ness.
- Compensation reviews typically occur once a year.
➡️ Check out our guide to get inspired by the performance reviews at Spotify.
📈 How to conduct an effective performance check-in
Find the right cadence for your check-ins
By now, you've seen the multiple advantages of frequent performance check-ins. However, this doesn't mean you should micromanage your people. Micromanagement signals a lack of trust in your employees and can have a detrimental impact on performance.
Lead with clarity
Before the first session, make sure the employee understands the role and scope of these meetings. Just because performance check-ins are more formal doesn't mean they lack structure or don't require any preparation!
➡️ In a rush? Steal our quarterly performance check-in template!
Prepare for the discussion
Set the agenda and email it to your employees. Also, review past feedback, even if you think you're up to date – you want to make sure everything is top of mind.
➡️ Have a look at our collection of one-on-one meeting templates.
Create a structured and comprehensive meeting agenda
We recommend the following outline:
- short-term goals;
- long-term goals;
- team performance and sync;
- support and extra resources the employee would need;
- space for your employees to give feedback to you and the team.
➡️ Want a sneak peek at our most powerful questions to ask? Check out our top performance review questions.
Ensure a two-way dialogue
As mentioned above, you don't want to only focus on goal progress – you also want to ensure employees share their feedback and concerns. The more comfortable you get conducting check-ins, the easier it will be for your employees to open up.
Set clear objectives and next steps
The meeting doesn't end after the feedback exchange. A critical part is agreeing on where you're heading next by setting clear objectives and outlining the next steps.
Take notes and document everything
Documenting will help both you and your employees. If you disagree at a later point or don't see the progress you expected, you can refer back to what was discussed during the meeting. Or what was not said.
Remember, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out, 'The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.' By keeping a detailed record, you can safeguard against this common pitfall, ensuring that if there's ever a discrepancy in recollections or expectations about progress, you have a clear, agreed-upon account to refer back to.
Best practices from Adobe
As mentioned, Adobe is at the forefront of conducting lean performance check-ins. They have clear documentation in place and share best practices with their managers. These are divided into three parts: Expectations, feedback, and development:
"1. Expectations: First, agree on what is expected of employees for the year in terms of deliverables, behavior, and contributions.
2. Feedback: Next, provide frequent, two-way feedback to see how employees are progressing against expectations and let managers know if they could be doing something differently to better support the employee.
3. Development: Then, when employees know how they are performing, they can plan actionable goals in terms of learning, career, and experience." Adobe's Check-in Toolkit.
Best practices from Cisco
Cisco employs weekly check-ins. Each check-in has four core components:
- 2 focusing on each team member's unique talents: strengths & value, loves & loathes.
- 2 focusing on aligning each team member's priorities: work priorities, and leader support.
Managers ask questions such as:
- Did you use your strengths every day? Did you add outstanding value?
- What activities did you love last week? What activities did you loathe last week?
❓ 12 Performance check-in questions that go beneath the surface
The logic behind these questions is to shift the focus from mere task completion to a more holistic view of the employee's role and contributions. They are intended to encourage employees to consider not just what they are doing but how and why they are doing it, fostering a deeper understanding of their work's purpose and its alignment with personal growth and organizational objectives.
These questions aim to identify areas of strength and opportunities for development while recognizing individual efforts and encouraging forward-thinking.
💡 Tip: This approach not only aids in performance evaluation but also serves as a catalyst for coaching by revealing the underlying motives, aspirations, and perspectives of the employees.
🤝 Discover the 11 coaching skills that make a great manager. You'll also find a free training plan.
🏆 Why are performance check-ins important? 9 Benefits of performance check-ins
- Timely acknowledgment for employees: Feeling acknowledged is one of the main drivers behind motivation. Sticking to annual reviews can make your employees feel like they don't matter as much or make it harder to connect the dots and see how their individual efforts contribute to the organization's success.
- Real-time feedback aids faster improvement: Most employees are hungry to grow and evolve. Regular check-ins help stay on track and accelerate their development, supporting people and profits. Mishaps and misunderstandings can be fixed faster.
- Clarified expectations and goals: In today's climate, things are shifting fast. Unexpected changes, such as losing a client or onboarding a new resource to the team, call for clarification of expectations and goals. Regular performance check-ins help manage expectations.
- Expectation re-alignment: Even if nothing has shifted since your last check-in, it's better to be overly clear and repeat the expectations and goals to make sure you and your employees are on the same page.
- Enhanced motivation: Employees who feel valued get more motivated. Motivation has repeatedly been voted the most important factor behind overall employee satisfaction – above salary level.
- Getting 1:1 coaching time: Thanks to the frequent nature of performance check-ins, they're an excellent opportunity to coach your employees. Coaching helps your employees become more motivated and self-aware and helps them rise to their highest potential.
💡 To become a better coach, opt for open-ended questions and practice active listening. Want more guidance? Check our analysis on the importance of managers as coaches.
- More timely identification and addressing of issues or gaps: Performance check-ins allow you to catch problems as soon as they arise. It gives invaluable insight into the teams and feedback on what's working and where there's room for improvement. It's much more efficient to address something not working early than waiting for 11 months.
- Better team dynamics and reduced turnover: Regular check-ins help spot untapped potential and ensure the right person is at the right spot. Keep the attitude of a soccer coach: they make active decisions to help the team win during the game rather than waiting until the game is over with their feedback. Rightly done, these ongoing conversations also contribute to a lower turnover rate. Employees who feel seen and valued will want to stay with you.
👀 Learn how to conduct effective coaching skills training for managers (and how not to).
- Streamlined communication with team members: One of the major challenges with teams is to ensure smooth communication. Regular check-ins help reduce this problem. With time, employees will feel comfortable bringing up friction points so you can resolve them quickly.
- Improved relationships: Communication is critical in all kinds of relationships – including professional ones. When you meet with each employee weekly, you'll develop a closer relationship with them. This helps establish trust, and your employees will be more motivated to do a great job and overdeliver and trust your leadership through challenging situations.
➡️ Keep performance on pulse — Regular check-ins, consistent excellence, with Zavvy
By now, you may feel tempted to reap the benefits of regular performance check-ins. But you may also feel lightly overwhelmed over where to start – and the amount of administrative work that goes into performance check-ins.
That's where Zavvy can help you!
- 📊 Zavvy is a performance review software that will make you want to delete all your spreadsheets pronto. It will help you save time and, thus, money. Use our templated meeting invites and reminders that are sent out automatically. The functionalities for storing notes and results from previous check-ins make for easy reference.
- 💬 With our built-in one one-on-one meeting software, you can seamlessly host regular check-ins with employees across the globe.
- 🎯 Use our goal management software to align your people with goals and track progress in an easy-to-follow, exciting way. This adds an element of gamification and a motivation boost.
📅 Book a free demo today to see how Zavvy can help you implement regular performance check-ins and see your results skyrocket within the next quarter!