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10 people to listen to when it comes to employee check-ins

Okay, full disclosure: Employee check-ins are literally the core of our existence. So you should be able to guess where we stand on them. But, today, we're not asking you to listen to us. For the next instalment of our "People to Listen to" series, we're turning our attention to employee check-ins and what others say about them.

In a world where annual performance management has been the norm for a long time, check-ins are a different way of doing things. They're pretty popular but underused. The benefits of employee check-ins are often not fully understood. But they are numerous and significant.

Don't just take our word for that though. Let's see what some industry experts think:

1: Business consultant and motivational speaker, Marcus Buckingham

If that name sounds familiar, it might be because he was also one of our ten people to listen to about performance reviews. Like a lot of business leaders, he's dismayed by the ineffectiveness of annual reviews. So it shouldn't shock you to learn he also endorses regular check-ins with employees and knows the benefits of employee check-ins.

'Every week, I'm just going, "Hey, what are your priorities and how can I help?" And there are some leaders who go, "Look, I'd love to do that, but [...] I'm too busy leading." Yeah, okay. Stop everything else you're doing. Just do that. This isn't an addition to leading, this is leading.'

And when we say Marcus endorses regular check-ins, we do mean regular. He swears by the weekly format as essential to its purpose.

'Adobe's doing check-ins, and Microsoft's doing check-ins right now, Motorola's doing check-ins. Except they're doing them once every six weeks. Okay, whatever that is, it isn't a check-in. You change the cadence, you change what it's about.'

2: Gallup's Chief Scientist of Workplace Management and Wellbeing, Jim Harter

As a senior leader in one of the leading workplace research organisations, Jim has a wealth of practical insight. Back in March, he drew attention to a pattern of wellbeing-related issues in the US. A study of over 15,000 full and part-time employees found that less than 25% strongly felt their employer cared about their wellbeing.

'Then at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, employers responded quickly with a plan, communication, and what many employees believed was genuine concern for them, their work, and their lives. The percentage who felt cared about nearly doubled, reaching a high of 49% in May of that year. Since 2020, the perception has plummeted to the previous low levels.'

During lockdown, managers essentially went the extra mile to check in with their people. And when things went back to normal, that effort receded. So, what can managers do about the return of low morale? And how do regular check-ins with employees fit into it?

Along with Gallup's CEO, Jim Clifton, Jim Harter wrote a book, Wellbeing at Work. It lays out the current state of wellbeing in the workplace and offers practical solutions. In particular, the Jims stress that employees need feedback on a weekly basis. It's often not about being corrective. It's to increase it through inspiration and effective goal-setting.

3: Founder of BWG Business Solutions, Janice Gassam Asare

We spend a lot of time talking about how check-ins can be a great tool for managing performance and productivity. But that's far from the only benefit they bring to the workplace. Regular check-ins with employees also play a key role in improving inclusivity, as Janice Gassam Asare detailed. In particular, she analysed the results of EY's Belonging Barometer study.

'When researchers asked respondents about what makes them feel the greatest sense of belonging at work, the number one answer across all respondents was regular check-ins. 35% of millennials, 40% of Generation X, and 45% of Baby Boomers who were surveyed felt that regular check-ins from colleagues allowed them to feel the greatest sense of belonging at work.'

She also highlights other findings from the Barometer. For example, 61% of women surveyed agreed that exclusion was a form of bullying. But on the other hand, 53% of surveyed men disagreed. But the fact remains, exclusion at work can seriously damage morale, and even career prospects. Check-ins can be a valuable tool for keeping an eye on social wellbeing, and helping employees to connect.

'In order to create an environment where employees feel a sense of belonging, employers should be checking in with employees regularly [...] and employers should be creating opportunities for employees to develop bonds with other employees.'

4: Founder of HR Bartender, Sharlyn Lauby

Sharlyn Lauby is a former HR pro, turned business consultant. So she's had a lot of first-hand experience implementing systems for performance management. And, fortunately for you, she has a few tips for anyone thinking about implementing a check-in for their employees:

  • Focus on responding to employees and automate the rest.
  • Clear goal-setting is a must.
  • Timely check-ins are best.
  • Convenient, lightweight check-ins are more accessible.
  • Check-ins should be simple for even your least tech-savvy staff.
  • Provide check-in opportunities while employees experiences are fresh.

'Check-ins should meet the needs of the company as well as the employee. I know it might seem like a check-in is all about the employee…and it is. But if the process is cumbersome or expensive, then organizations run the risk of having no one do it. And that defeats the purpose of getting employee feedback.'

5: Founder of COO Alliance, Cameron Herold

Cameron Herold founded the COO Alliance in 2016. He also runs the Second In Command podcast, which is full of fascinating insights. But today, we're looking at this LinkedIn article of his. Cameron is a big believer in having regular check-ins with employees, and he lays out three of the biggest benefits:

Helping to avoid miscommunication

'One miscommunication can make a mess of even the most smoothly running team. By checking in with your team you can avoid those miscommunications, or fix them before they truly mess something up.'

Providing a safe space

'Without those regular check-ins, there are some employees that you might never hear from. If you can do something that will actively encourage your employees to be open and honest, then you should do it!'

Keeping projects moving

'Check-ins tell your employees that they’ve got your attention, which means they can’t be slacking off. It increases their self-awareness. Not only that, but you get the insight into the way your employees work which will help you know which kind of projects are best for them.'

6: The University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Raghu Krishnamoorthy

Regular check-ins with employees seem to be getting more popular. As that happens, we're bound to see a lot of lackluster attempts at check-in systems. And as Dr. Krishnamoorthy sees it, a bad check-in is worse than no check-in.

'Nothing can be more superficial or thoughtless than a perfunctory 'check-in' - a hasty conversation that ends up being a tick in the box. Worse still, what is supposed to be a 'check-in' ends up the employee feeling it was actually a "check-up!"'

And while he doesn't quite advocate for a weekly check-in, his preference isn't far off:

'Finally, how frequent should be the check-ins? Once in fifteen days will be most appropriate, but it should certainly not be less than once a month. A one-time check-in call is no check-in at all.'

7: Gartner's content marketing director, Jackie Wiles

With over 20 years of experience, Jackie is no stranger to the ins and outs of employee management. The result? She's now a major proponent of consistent, ongoing feedback methods like employee check-ins. She can often be found writing and speaking about the clear benefits of an employee check-in and open and honest feedback.

'Annual performance reviews are the classic form of episodic feedback. It is far more productive to encourage frequent, informal performance conversations that enable managers to provide more timely feedback to employees and adjust expectations based on organizational changes or past performance.'

However, she stresses that, even though feedback should be ongoing, it shouldn't be constant. People need time to think and reflect.

'Although delivering constant feedback may seem to be ongoing and thus more helpful, it actually degrades employee performance to provide always-on coaching and feedback.'

8: Executive Director of Talent Development, Rohit Singh

Rohit Singh gave an interview back when he worked Director of Talent Management at MassMutual. In particular, he stressed how important it is to regularly check in with younger staff members. At the time, this largely meant millennial employees. But these days, it applies equally as well to Gen Z.

'One thing that we have realized in our experiences with the younger workforce is that they are constantly networked, or connected. Because of this, they are used to receiving constant feedback on things. The traditional organizational process of periodic evaluations and feedback doesn’t work for them. Instead of mid-year or annual evaluations, they would much rather have more frequent, short bursts of interaction and feedback.'

9: Cornell University's Vice President for HR and Safety Services, Mary George Opperman

You may or may not agree that wanting regular feedback is a generational thing. But in her Q&A, Mary Opperman disagrees with that notion. And it's true enough that running a regular check-in with employees can benefit staff across generations.

'It is just too easy to point to age and lump people together. I don’t buy into the notion that the newest generation of workers is particularly needy. They want and need feedback. When I was starting out, so did I. Is it that they may be more inclined to seek it, or that we have forgotten how important feedback is to everyone?'

10: LondonEnergy's Head of People, Jacques Samama

We're fascinated by LondonEnergy's in-house performance management framework. Why? Because it shares several of the same design philosophies as our Weekly10 platform. But only to an extent.

Like a lot of organisations, LondonEnergy lacked a system for ongoing performance management. They needed a process that was short and flexible, but also one that covered key points effectively. Their solution?

The 12-minute feedback system. It's broken into sections, each only a few minutes long at most. But that's roughly where the similarities to our check-ins end. Instead of a weekly basis, the 12-minute system gets used every three months. And, whereas virtual check-ins remove the need for time-consuming prep, the 12-minute system depends on it.

'The key is to be well prepared. You cannot imagine the amount of valuable information you can share in five minutes when you are well prepared and know what you have to say. Five minutes well done is far much better than one hour not prepared.'