The Art of the Check-in: Strategies to Cultivate a Culture of Growth and Trust
As we start to emerge from the challenging 2020, leadership and HR departments are quickly shifting from ‘keeping the lights on’ to determining how best to help their organizations grow and innovate.
We have entered the human decade. With the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, organizations’ only way to survive and grow is to change their employee experience model. This change involves a shift from treating employees as resources to treating them as valued, respected human beings. As outlined in the book, “Making Work Human,” creating a more human-centered organizational culture is the only way to thrive in this new decade.
A critical element of building this human-centered culture is focusing on the manager-employee relationship, the center of which is the check-in. Each check-in is part of an ongoing conversation between managers and employees, focusing on employee growth and development. The check-in has evolved from being focused on project status and deadlines to driving ongoing, continuous employee growth.
To fully drive a positive employee experience, managers and HR leaders must support three types of check-ins.
1. Goal-setting check-in (1-3x per year)
The goal-setting check-in is focused on aligning the employee’s goals, projects, and tasks to organizational goals. This helps keep the employee growing throughout the year and drives collaboration between the employee and their manager. It gives the employee a look into the bigger picture of the vision and helps them understand the impact of their work.
At the beginning of the year, employees and managers should sit down and define the overall goals. Then, they collaboratively break out these goals into what the employee is going to focus on in Q1. Managers should also allocate time each quarter to enable employees to focus on learning and growth.
Goals should be:
- Easy to recall. Keep goals simple, meaningful, and easy to remember. For example, a goal such as “increase customer engagement year-over-year by 15%” may be challenging to remember. A simpler goal to recall could be, “ensure customers are 15% more delighted.”
- Coherent. Goals must fit together and not compete. For example, the goals “executing flawlessly” and “acting with urgency” conflict with each other and may be challenging to meet at the same time.
- Challenging but possible. Make goals measurable and attainable, but also stretch the employee.
2. Ongoing check–in (weekly or biweekly)
The ongoing check-in is focused on continuous growth and course correction. It should not be an interrogation during which the manager grills the employee about projects’ statuses. Status updates can be shared through other channels, such as email – this check-in, rather, must be collaborative, trust-building, and growth-focused.
The content of the check-in should include:
- Checking in on goals to identify obstacles.
- Collaborating to effectively manage any challenges.
- Recognizing what is going well.
- Discussing feedback from across the organization.
This ongoing check-in has many benefits, such as:
- Empowering the employee to influence the direction of their work throughout the year. This way, employees do not have to wait until the end-of-year performance review to adjust their path and overcome challenges.
- Using feedback to course correct and support employee growth and goal completion.
- Building trust and belonging between the employee and manager, which drives engagement and retention.
3. Career check-in (1-2x per year)
The career check-in focuses entirely on the employee. The goal is to support the employee in their short–term and long–term career progression. The manager should brainstorm with the employee about potential future opportunities, any new skills they might need, and where the employee sees themselves down the line. The outcome should include setting goals that help drive employee development.
How to have effective check-ins
Some best practices around checks–in include:
- Let the employee drive. The employee should be empowered to schedule check-ins and drive the content within a broad framework.
- Keep them separate. Do not clump the different types of check-ins together in the same meeting. Otherwise, issues from one discussion will spill over into another discussion.
- Embrace a growth mindset. Always assume the employee can learn, grow, and expand.
- Open up. Each person should come to the check-in with a mindset of trust, honesty, and positive intent. Even if there are difficult topics that need to be discussed, remaining open creates a safe environment where an authentic conversation can occur.
- Actively listen. Try to keep multitasking – such as checking texts or emails – to a minimum. When both parties are actively listening, the chance of miscommunication decreases and trust increases.
Check-ins are an essential part of the employee experience, providing employees the opportunity to receive continuous feedback. The result of a more collaborative check-in is an engaged employee who will stay the course as your organization grows and evolves. In 2021, as organizations shift into the fast lane of growth, it is critical to remember that employees are the most vital asset. Keeping them engaged is a key to organizational success.
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