Performance Management

How to Transition from an Annual Review to Performance Check-ins

Stacie Grasberger

Stacie Grasberger is a Manager at Educe leading Performance Management and Succession Management implementations in Cornerstone OnDemand across multiple…

Performance check-ins are quickly becoming the foundational element to a continuous feedback performance management process.

Requiring less HR management and more frequent and regular employee and manager driven discussions, this emerging performance philosophy allows for HR to focus on organization and strategy, while managers and employees focus on collaborating to accomplish business objectives successfully and inspire employee growth and development more than once a year.

Performance check-ins are a great way for employees and managers to keep up to date on goals, share and discuss feedback, and adjust to the feedback in real-time, addressing issues as they arise.  They can take many forms (one-on-one meetings, check point meetings, stand ups, pulse meetings, etc.) as long as there is documentation of the discussion (at a high level), the outcome, and any follow up action items from the check-ins.

This documentation can be as simple as a shared Google or Word document, or more sophisticated  check-in tool or software that allows both parties to review and track previous check-ins, inform employee goal progress and updates, guide employee career development, assist with end of quarter/year discussions, and support succession planning.

As your organization evaluates a transition from an annual review cycle to a process of regular performance check-ins, it can be a challenge to determine where to start, when to start, and just how large of an effort will it be. Below are nine considerations to help guide your transition:

1. Gain the support of leaders, managers, and employees to help with the transition.

Create focus groups, pilot groups, and change champion or advocate groups of leaders, managers, and employees to help support and role model the changes.  By offering these groups the opportunity to be a part of the process, you build internal goodwill and change agents to support and help you manage the transition.

2. Think performance engagement instead of performance management.

Employees and managers alike have provided feedback that the annual review process is not effective leaving both parties feeling discouraged rather than encouraged.

In providing a flexible structure and encouraging employees to reach out to connect with managers regularly, the conversation becomes the “norm” and less of an event.  Employees and managers begin to build trust that allows the discussions to naturally occur instead of being forced by an annual review process.  Employees and managers can adjust real time and realize the difference without having to wait for end-of-year discussions.

3. Assess your organization’s culture and ability to adapt to change.

Can your organization’s culture get on board with encouraging ongoing dialog, having effective and timely conversations throughout the year when needed vs. once or twice a year? What will it take to shift the culture to performance check-ins?  Look to your focus groups and early adopters to help brainstorm ideas on how to manage the change and inspire others. Consider starting with a pilot audience and gather ideas from employees and managers themselves – what will work?  How can they help?

4. Identify what tools are available for check-ins.

Identify what tools are available to help prepare for and guide conversations, document, and track performance check-ins so conversations are not lost and can be followed up on.  Depending on timing, there could be an opportunity to make your next annual review simplified as a first step, in likeness to the format of a check-in, to assist in the transition for upcoming cycles.

5. Define the format of the check-ins.

Remember to start simple with one or two templates that will be used first and most often.  Keep it simple and select questions that can help to guide the conversation.

As the conversations begin to take place, identify scenarios where other check-in types or templates may be needed, such as a goal check-in, development/career planning check-in, coaching/mentoring check-in, or a blank template that can be customized as needed by the user.

Lastly, recommend check-in conversations occur regularly and define how many are recommended to be documented in your check-in tool.  For example, if your plan is to replace your Annual Performance Review, make a check-in towards your “year-end” required.

6. Support the transition with training.

Offer training opportunities to upskill your managers on the new process. Be sure to emphasize why check-ins are important to employees, managers, and the overall organization, tools to be used, expectations, and guidelines.

Include guidance to your managers on how to lead, facilitate, and coach during these conversations. And don’t forget to cover how to provide and receive feedback, empower employees to receive feedback, and adjust as needed.

7. Encourage, campaign, and start.

It can be scary and overwhelming to adopt a new process. Participants will need encouragement to get started. Use a campaign to brand, identify, and provide recognition for the change.  Share your campaign widely and encourage managers to discuss during team meetings, lunch and learns, or other opportunities where the team can discuss and become more familiar with the concept. Organization-wide town hall meetings can also help to reinforce that we’re all moving forward and there is no wrong way to get started.

8. Establish success measures.

Be realistic and conservative in expectations for the new process, change, and adoption.

Set success measures for Year 1 and Year 2 and track statistics in the system (i.e., How many check-ins were created? Did you notice trends in certain groups, departments, or divisions?) Leverage any of these moments of success or lessons learned to share with others.

9. Ask for feedback from employees, managers, and HR about the new process.

In the spirit of the check-in, transparency, and responding to feedback, provide opportunities for ongoing discussions about the process and enhancements to keep and/or increase engagement. Get a pulse from managers and employees on whether performance check-ins are happening and if they are being documented. Remember it may not be natural or easy for all on day 1 or even the first cycle. Stay the course, remain consistent in the process, messaging, and provide support. Some ways to solicit this feedback include:

  • Adding a question to your existing employee engagement survey to determine if check-ins are a welcome change
  • Implementing an employee engagement survey
  • Implementing a one-off survey
  • Using the focus group to help get the pulse of the organization

As your performance review philosophy and process changes, employees will become more engaged and empowered to develop, leading to less turnover. As you introduce performance check-ins, remember to plan, keep it simple, and stay the course. Change will take time. Have you checked in lately?

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