March 27, 2018

7 tips for check-ins that drive performance and happiness

BY: Charles Watson
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How to make your manager, your employees and your bottom line love you.

Nearly 80% of global executives say redesigning performance management is a top priority, a recent Deloitte report shows.[1] Which isn’t surprising, given 92% of companies don’t believe (traditional) performance management drives high levels of value.[2]                                                                                                        

There’s a global shift away from static annual or semi-annual performance appraisals towards continuous performance management (CPM) – which champions a continuous dialog about performance.

The companies getting CPM right enjoy improved performance, increased engagement and smarter HR decision-making. (Read more about those benefits

So how do you get CPM right?

Regular, consistent and valuable check-in discussions are one of the two vital ingredients. (The other is great goal setting. Here’s our how-to.)

But many managers aren’t getting value from their check-in discussions, even when they’re making the time for them. They end up being painful experiences for both manager and employee, and certainly don’t drive performance or engagement.

That changes now. Here’s how.


1. Build a cluster of data points to inform check-in discussions

A big problem with traditional appraisals is lack of data.

You know Charlie’s not performing, but you can’t think of concrete examples because you haven’t documented anything. So Charlie gets vague feedback and he never improves, needing more of your time than ever. Until you can’t take it anymore and decide Charlie has to go. Sound familiar?

Or you’re sure Vanessa does a great job, but you don’t know how good and can’t prove it to support a reward. So you don’t promote her when you should or give her pay increases and bonuses commensurate with her performance and eventually she leaves for a company who’ll reward her fairly.

If instead we collect and use employee performance data continually, we can have more meaningful discussions. Here are a few ways to build a cluster of proof points about performance:

  • Everyone gives unsolicited feedback and praise about peers
  • Managers actively solicit feedback about employees from internal and external team members
  • Employees assess their own progress towards goals and highlight challenges

Each feedback moment is simple and fast – and spreads the responsibility for performance appraisal to give a broader picture. If you have an effective system (like TalTrack!) to capture all this feedback, praise and assessment in one place then managers don’t have to rack their brains for proof points to support appraisals, because the data is right there.

So valuable discussions can happen more easily, and more often. That’s a time-saver, not a time-suck.


2. Spend some time preparing so you can formally structure conversations 

Even if your data is all in one place, managers still have to put those insights into action. Which means a little preparation.

Depending on the frequency and duration of the check-in, managers should spend 15 minutes or so, analysing the employee’s feedback so they can structure the conversation for maximum value.

For example, in Q1 Kate is a 9/10 for communication, but 4/10 for organisation. You set organisation as a skill goal for her next session, and share some ideas to help her improve. Then in Q2, you start the conversation looking at her organisation across Q1.

Using ratings about her progress helps quantify performance improvement against goals, so Kate knows exactly what you’re assessing her on. No nasty surprises when the next check-in rolls around. And because she’s got a tangible goal to frame the discussion, she’s more likely to improve. 


3. Give the right sort of praise

Employees who feel acknowledged and praised are more likely to repeat the praiseworthy behaviour, more engaged, and less likely to churn.

To maximise those benefits, you have to give praise in the right way. Which means following this structure:

  • You give context for the feedback
  • You explain specifically what you’re praising
  • You describe the impact the good work had
  • You link the praise to the skills you want to reinforce
  • You congratulate and reinforce the praise

So, not

‘Well done Jamie, that report was great.’


‘Well done Jamie. That report you wrote yesterday was really well-structured and clear. Amy was thrilled, and they’ll definitely seek your involvement again. This really proves your strong research skills. Well done, great work.’

That way, Jamie knows what to replicate next time. So you get more positive, productive behaviour.


4. Give the right sort of improvement feedback

The above said, it’s easy to fall into the trap of giving continuous praise without constructive feedback. The best check-ins aren’t just ego-stroking – they power improvement.

We recommend you give at least as much positive feedback as you do improvement feedback – but balance is key.

As with praise, there’s a structure that helps you deliver improvement feedback in an impactful way:

  • You give context for the feedback
  • You explain specifically and objectively what went wrong
  • You describe the impact the behaviour had
  • You emphasise the skills and identity you want to reinforce
  • You seek solutions for the future

You should also aim to

  • Be direct – don’t uhm and aah
  • Focus on what needs to change
  • Be empathetic
  • Establish partnership for next steps – “we”, not “you” and “I”

So not

‘Jamie, that report you wrote wasn’t quite up to scratch’


‘Jamie, I wanted to talk about the report you wrote yesterday. I know this is hard to hear but it was unstructured and lacked clarity. The client was disappointed and is unlikely to ask for our help again. I know your research skills are very strong, and I’d like future reports to reflect this. What can we do to stop this happening again?’

That way, Jamie understands exactly where she went wrong, the impact that had, and what she needs to do differently. And you reinforce your faith in her to get it right next time, so the feedback experience is ultimately positive. 


5. Come to the check-in with a genuine intention to help employees improve

Traditional performance management often becomes a chore that few people believe drives value. And because improvement feedback can be seen as scary and difficult, managers shy away from those conversations.

So everyone goes through the motions, not doing the things that make check-ins worthwhile – like taking time to prepare, and delivering constructive feedback.

Which becomes a vicious circle, because everyone resents wasting time on something that isn’t valuable.

When managers understand that they’re helping employees improve – and when they realise there’ve got tools like TalTrack that make these conversations much easier – continuous performance management becomes simple and effective.   


6. Remember, this is a conversation.

The best check-ins aren’t one way. They’re conversations, where manager and employee come together to reinforce positives, troubleshoot challenges and move forwards.

Managers should take care to listen as much as they talk, and ask open questions to better understand employees. Employees should be encouraged to share their own feedback upwards, and take equal ownership over the conversation.

That way, regular check-ins become opportunities to share knowledge, build rapport, grow understanding and solve challenges. That benefits the employee, but also the manager and organisation.


7. Be flexible

Some employees will need more or less frequent check-ins than others. Quarterly is realistically the minimum to unlock the benefits of CPM, but some employees might need monthly, or even weekly check-ins.

So be flexible when building your CPM structure, and leave space to treat individuals as individuals. For example, Ben might need an hour every quarter, but Milly might thrive with 30-minutes fortnightly.

That’s why gathering continuous data is so important – because 30-minutes is easily achievable and valuable when you’ve got insights in the palm of your hand.


A new way of improving performance

Organisations can be reluctant to adopt CPM because they think it’ll be a time-suck, creating another headache for reluctant managers. That’s certainly true of the traditional annual appraisal, but CPM isn’t just a gussied-up annual appraisal done quarterly.

Tools like TalTrack represent a fundamental shift in how we approach, and the value we get from, these conversations – by providing a mechanism for continuous data-collection and dialogue. So you have the insights immediately available to make these conversations easier, faster and much more valuable.

New performance management demands new tools. Watch this short video to find out how TalTrack’s smart platform helps transform your talent management, to transform your business.

What do you think? Whether you’re barking up the same tree or not, let’s chat. Drop us a comment below. 


[1] Deloitte, Global Human Capital Trends 2017, p65.

[2] Deloitte, ‘Performance Management is Broken’.

About the author Charles Watson

Watson leads the TalTrack team and is a proven marketing and sales executive with over 25 years’ experience developing and managing results oriented, customer-focused and revenue driven teams. He is an operational and innovative partner to HR on critical and complex organizational and leadership issues such as employee engagement, talent development, corporate values, acquisition integration and cultural change.