The power of check-ins

W. Edwards Deming, once wrote:

If you wait for people to come to you, you'll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don't realize they have one in the first place.

There is no denying that the workplace has been greatly transformed during the past decades: technology has transformed the way we communicate, open spaces and remote work are more and more adopted and the younger generations' expectations are different. Traditional management techniques such as open doors or MBWA (Management By Walking About) can still work but we believe they are not sufficient anymore.

Checking-in versus checking-up

Managers who check in are enabling collaboration rather than generating suffocation

The Harvard Business Review has published an interesting article about the importance of checking-in versus checking-up. When managers check up on their team members, they ask questions about if tasks are done or not and how they are being done to make sure they are done in the manner they deem best. In a word, these managers are micromanaging and their questions are suffocating team members. It kills both motivation and innovation.

On the contrary, when managers are checking in, they are asking powerful and open questions such as “What are you proud of?” or “Is anything getting in your way?”. As such, managers are looking to find out how projects are going without making team members feel as if they are under constant surveillance. More importantly, it puts managers in a much better position to provide individuals with the resources and help that they really need. These managers are enabling collaboration rather than generating suffocation.

The importance of management rituals

Making  check-ins a regular rendez-vous creates a clear and stable framework, preventing surprises and unnecessary stress

According to Serena Capital, rituals are valuable both in the short and long-term for companies. They create a framework, a cadence and a sense of belonging which are key to successful organizations. We believe that regular digital check-ins and 1:1s should be amongst these rituals.

First, implementing a regular check-in gives a cadence, a tempo to the manager - team member relationship. Making these frequent rather than exceptional enables to progress at higher speeds on key topics. Making these check-ins a regular rendez-vous also creates a clear and stable framework. Making sure that this exists prevents surprises and unnecessary stress.

Moreover, the core questions and updates should always be the same and shared by all team members. This is what ensures the manager will be able to efficiently scan the information, highlight key talking points and take action with team members.

Finally, once this ritual is in place, it’s a good way to ask other types of feedback efficiently. Technically, a digital check-in can be sent through email or a dedicated tool such as Popwork.

Why digital by the way? Giving employees time and space on their own to reflect is more suited than asking directly in-person for this type of exercise; it’s also a good way to enable introverted team members to express themselves more freely.

How check-ins can become a powerful tool for managers and team members

We discovered that there are 5 fundamental areas to checking in: mood, objectives, priorities, achievements and challenges.

On its own, for the team member, a check-in is already useful as it enables them to take a step back, reflect on the past period and project in the next, making sure to keep objectives in mind, prioritize actions and think about successes and challenges.

However, it can be much more powerful than this if the manager makes the following commitment:

  • Review and acknowledge the check-in content
  • Use this content and have conversations focusing on what matters
  • Define next steps and follow up on actions

At Popwork, we strongly believe in the power of check-ins and this is why we have built our solution around a weekly or bi-weekly check-in that can be:

  • Filled out quickly and dynamically by team members
  • Scanned efficiently and leveraged instantly by managers
  • Followed up week after week

During our research, interviewing hundreds of managers, CEOs and team members, we discovered that there are 5 fundamental areas to checking in, no matter who they are and where they work :

  • Mood: how is morale, energy, workload…? Does my team feel they can perform?
  • Objectives: does my team have the right objectives and how are they making progress?
  • Priorities: are we aligned on what our top priorities are?
  • Achievements: what are the tangible successes my team members have delivered?
  • Challenges: where can I help my team? Which hurdles can I remove for them?

Wrap up : There are clear mutual benefits for teams who implement check-ins. “No news, good news” is an illusion upon which managers cannot rely. Not checking in, you risk misalignment, discovering issues too late and not showing your team their true value. This is why successful leaders do not check up on their teams, they check in with them.

To find out more about how Popwork can help you set an efficient check-in routine for your team, click here.