Using the Check-in to Cultivate a Culture of Growth and Trust

Apr 21, 2021

As leaders and HR departments move away from last year’s “keep the lights on” approach, they’re turning their attention toward determining how best to help their organizations grow and innovate. With the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, the only way for organizations to survive and grow is to change their employee experience model by shifting from treating employees as resources to treating them as valued and respected human beings. Only by creating a more human-centered organizational culture will companies thrive in this new decade. This human-centered culture is built around the manager—employee relationship, at the center of which is the check-in. As part of an ongoing conversation between managers and employees, the check-in has evolved from focusing on project status and deadlines to shaping ongoing, continuous employee growth and development. To fully drive a positive employee experience, managers and HR leaders must support three types of check-ins: goal-setting, ongoing, and career.


Goal-setting check-in (1 to 3 times per year)

This check-in focuses on aligning the employee’s goals, projects, and tasks to organizational goals. It helps keep the employee growing throughout the year and drives collaboration between the employee and their manager. It also helps the employee understand the impact of their work by giving them a look into the organization’s vision.

At the beginning of each year, employees and managers should define the employee’s overall goals, then collaborate on breaking them down into the tasks that the employee will focus on in the first quarter. (Similar check-ins should take place at the start of each subsequent quarter.) Managers should also allocate time during each quarter to enabling employees to focus on their learning and growth.

The goals identified through these check-ins should have the following characteristics:

  • Easy to recall. Keep goals simple, meaningful, and easy to remember. For example, “increase customer engagement year over year by 15 percent” is not particularly memorable, but few are likely to forget “ensure that customers are 15 percent more delighted.”
  • Coherent. Goals must fit together and not compete with each other. For example, employees may struggle to meet the goals “execute flawlessly” and “act with urgency,” which conflict with each other.
  • Challenging but possible. Make goals both measurable and attainable but also challenging enough to stretch the employee.

Ongoing check-in (weekly or biweekly)

This check-in focuses on continuous growth and course correction. It should not be an interrogation during which the manager grills the employee about the status of their projects. (Status updates should instead be shared via other channels, such as e-mail.) Rather, this check-in must be collaborative, build trust, and focus on growth.

This check-in should include the following actions:

  • Identification of obstacles to the completion of goals
  • Collaboration to manage challenges effectively
  • Recognition of what is going well
  • Discussion of feedback from across the organization

Because this check-in empowers the employee to influence the direction of their work throughout the year, they do not have to wait until the end-of-year performance review to adjust their path and overcome challenges. Feedback from this check-in can enable course correction and support employee growth and goal completion. This check-in also helps build trust between the employee and manager, thus improving engagement and retention.


Career check-in (1 or 2 times per year)

This check-in focuses entirely on the employee, with the goal of supporting them in both their short-term and their 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 themself down the line. The outcome should include setting goals that help drive employee development.


Features of Effective Check-ins

Managers who want to ensure that their check-ins with employees are as productive as possible should use the following best practices:

  • Let the employee drive. Empower employees to schedule check-ins and (within a broad framework) determine their content.
  • Keep check-ins separate. When different types of check-ins are clumped together into one meeting, issues from one discussion will spill over into another discussion and become more difficult to address.
  • Embrace a growth mindset. Always assume that 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 difficult topics need to be discussed, remaining open creates a safe environment in which an authentic conversation can occur.
  • Listen actively. Keep multitasking (such as checking texts or e-mail) to a minimum. When both parties are actively listening, the chance of miscommunication decreases—and trust increases.

Check-ins fulfill an essential role in the employee experience by providing employees with opportunities to receive continuous feedback. More collaborative check-ins yield engaged workers who will stay the course as the organization grows and evolves. As companies shift into the fast lane of growth, it is critical for them to remember that their workforces are their most vital assets. Keeping employees engaged is a key to organizational success.

Lynne Levy is a product evangelist at Workhuman, where she focuses on the psychology of how people interact work and how to improve engagement and productivity through gratitude, feedback, and the building of trust with leadership.

Written by: Lynne Levy

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