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15Five’s Check-in & 1-on-1: Feedback That Improves Employee Engagement and Performance

Courtney Bigony
Courtney Bigony

15Five Check-in Benefits to Managers
– Reduce recency bias during performance reviews
– Gauge team member morale, catch low engagement early on, and remove roadblocks earlier on
– Provide managers a conversation framework to use during 1-on-1s that focuses on priorities, not status updates

15Five Check-in Benefits to Team Members
– Prioritize your focus for the week
– Surface pressing roadblocks that hinder work progress
– Have meaningful 1-on-1 time with managers that focus on priorities, not status updates

Companies can effectively drive employee engagement and performance through one simple step: recurring and impactful 1-on-1 conversations. 

The 15Five Check-in is our two step process for high impact 1-on-1s that move beyond status updates to maximize the quality of conversations between managers and their team members. Below we’ll take a bird’s eye view to see why regular Check-ins pave the way for highly effective performance reviews and discuss the social science research that guided us to make the most effective continuous feedback product on the market. 

The Quality Of Your Check-ins Will Determine The Quality Of Your Reviews

Many companies are shifting away from outdated once-a-year performance reviews to forward thinking continuous feedback models– a large growth and development strategy that includes real time feedback, check-ins and 1-on-1s, performance reviews (that can include self, manager and 360* feedback), and engagement surveys. 

15Five provides continuous feedback through our weekly Check-in and 1-on-1 features, recognition through High Fives, as well as more comprehensive development conversations through our quarterly or semi-annual Best-Self Review. Our software is commonly paired with comprehensive engagement survey platforms to gauge baseline engagement scores and track trends as employees grow and develop. 

Companies that have a strong performance review process but don’t have a strong Check-in practice will struggle to see meaningful increases in engagement and productivity. Why? Team members don’t want to wait for development conversations once a year. And managers don’t want to wait until their next engagement survey to know where their team members are struggling. Companies that continually focus on growth and development and regularly gauge employee morale through recurring and effective 1-on-1 conversations will be able to respond to employee challenges and triumphs in real time instead of only once each year. Team members should also know where they stand at all times through continuous feedback given in their Weekly Check-in and 1-on-1s so come review time, there should be no surprises!

The Scary Truth: Research Shows Most Of the Time Feedback Fails

Avi Kluger and Angelo DeNisi conducted a meta-analysis, one of the best academic reviews on feedback, that shows a third of the time feedback doesn’t improve performance and can actually make things worse. According to Gallup, only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work, and even fewer people, a mere 23%, strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful performance feedback to them. When we read this research we became determined to design an employee feedback platform that works to improve performance. 

Research on positive leadership from Kim Cameron, professor at the University of Michigan, shows that regular Check-ins are a form of feedback intervention that can significantly improve morale, trust, and engagement as well as productivity and goal accomplishment. Gallup research shows that employees are three times more likely to be engaged at work if they have managers who hold regular meetings with them. When a manager regularly checks in with their employees to review progress, team members are more likely to believe they get paid fairly, more likely to stay with the company, and more than twice as likely to recommend the company to others as a great place to work. The graph below illustrates how recurring 1-on-1 meetings directly impact productivity:

Source: Positive Leadership, Strategies for Extraordinary Performance by Kim Cameron, Wayne Boss, 1983

One group of employees, represented by the solid line, had regular 1-on-1s with their managers. Notice the steady increase in performance. The other group, represented by the dotted line, had regular 1-on-1s with their managers, which they stopped, and then picked back up. Notice how performance automatically dipped when managers cancelled their 1-on-1s, and how performance increased when they resumed this vital management practice. 

At 15Five, we practice what we preach. All employees take 15 minutes every week to complete their weekly Check-in, and those responses are added to 1-on-1 meeting agendas to ensure highly effective Check-in conversations with their managers. We did the math and found that the average revenue per 15Five employee is double that of employees at other organizations. In a recent survey, 3 in 4 reporters say they’re more engaged in their work since using 15Five. 

The Second Scary Truth: People Would Rather Receive Electric Shocks From a 9-Volt Battery Than Sit Down For 15 Minutes and Reflect 

“Most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their system undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns and synthesized” – Saul Alinsky (1971)

In eleven studies, researchers found that participants would rather receive electric shocks than spend between 6 to 15 minutes with nothing to do but think and reflect. Yet research by the University of Michigan professors, Sue Ashford and Scott DeRue shows that structured reflection is essential to learning and development, especially for managers. Internationally renowned management professor, Henry Mintzberg argues that self-reflection is a critical skill. Mintzberg quotes Rules for Radicals author, Saul Alinsky who says that an activity becomes an “experience” only after it has been reflected on thoughtfully. 

Neither managers nor team members sit down to reflect because of the short term demands of their jobs. The unrelenting pace of business has conditioned us to value action over reflection. However, calling a halt to pure execution and setting aside 15 minutes each week to reflect can have a profound impact on both company profits and employee satisfaction. That’s why we’ve made reflecting on the workweek as easy and engaging as possible. 

The 15Five Check-in and 1-on-1 Agenda: The Magical Combination That Improves 1-on-1 Conversations

The 15Five Check-in combined with our 1-on-1 agenda is our two-step method designed to enable highly effective conversations between managers and their team members, whether in-person or remotely. Every week, team members complete their 15Five, which includes a prebuilt framework to clearly identify and track progress on work goals and Objectives, as well as a series of questions to surface challenges, celebrate wins, and recognize other employees. 

Once team members submit their 15Five, they, along with their manager, can push the most important topics from the Check-in into their 1-on-1 agenda, pre-populating and organizing the most pressing talking points to review when they sit down and chat. While these agendas are often handled in Google Docs, only the 15Five 1-on-1 interface allows for talking points to be surfaced, discussed, and converted into action items. Outcomes and learnings are also conveniently available as reminders of progress and employee growth come Best-Self Review time. We’d like to see a Google Doc do that! 

In 15Five, because team members submit their Check-in before the in-person conversation, managers will already know their team members’ progress on their main work goals. The 1-on-1 feature is then used to focus on what matters most like prioritizing specific roadblocks and challenges, without wasting valuable facetime to obtain status updates. This two part method differentiates 15Five from all other feedback platforms on the market. 1-on-1 meetings will also save managers time (almost a day per month!) by reducing interruptions and through the type of problem-solving that can only occur through face-to-face conversations. 

Making Feedback More Effective: Behavioral Nudges in the 15Five Check-in

Research shows the impact of feedback on performance is highly variable, so we built in nudges to help make feedback more effective for both managers and their team members. In a recent survey, 81% of respondents say that 15Five increases manager and employee feedback.

1. Feelings As The First Data Point. The pulse question in the Check-in nudges employees to reflect on how they feel at work, the first and most important data point that signals to managers when things are going well and also when issues may arise. It’s important to acknowledge feelings like disappointment, frustration, and stress early on to prevent issues from becoming major problems and so that employees don’t let those feeling fester into an irreparable mindset about the workplace. 

It’s also important to acknowledge when we feel the most excited, inspired, and engaged, and dig deep to understand what led to all that positivity. This is why we start by asking how people feel and then drill down into specific wins and challenges. Taking a moment to reflect about how our emotions relate to our work reveals what academics call inner-work life. When inner-work life is positive, employees are more productive and find deeper meaning in their work. 

2. Tie Feedback To the Work. Researchers, Avi Kluger and Angelo DeNisi show that feedback about work is more effective than feedback that centers on the person’s identity, especially when it comes to constructive feedback. So for feedback to work, it’s important to tie feedback to specific goals, tasks, and the work people do every day. Yet, only 34% of employees strongly agree that their manager knows what projects or tasks they’re working on! How can managers give work-centric feedback when most don’t know what their team members’ goals are? No wonder feedback usually fails. 

We include Objectives and goals in the 15Five Check-in to ensure managers clearly understand what their team members are actually working on. In a recent survey, 90% of managers say they have more visibility into their team’s progress on Objectives since using 15Five. This step alone directly improves feedback. When managers keep a journal of key performance episodes, the quality of their feedback tends to improve, and their team members often react more positively to their performance reviews in the future. Reflection questions also sit directly underneath Goals and Objectives helping managers tie their feedback to employee work progress, which makes it far more likely that their feedback will impact performance. 90% of reporters say that they’re receiving more feedback that is useful for their work after using 15Five. 

3. Priorities. We encourage employees to start every week with three tasks they want to accomplish. Research shows that due to planning fallacy, a concept presented by famed psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we are astonishingly inept at estimating how long it will take to complete tasks in a given day or week. In other words, nobody ever achieves as much as they plan to. Morten Hansen, management professor at University of California, Berkeley has an answer to this predicament: do less and obsess

To maximize time and performance, employees should prioritize and select a few activities to focus on. In the Check-in, team members are encouraged to set three priorities at the beginning of every week. The fresh start effect also shows that the best time to prioritize is Monday, so a general rule of thumb is to open your 15Five at the start of every week and identify the priorities you want to focus on over the next five days.

4. Make Feedback About Progress. Harvard professor, Teresa Amabile, found that the key to motivating high performance is ensuring employees make progress on meaningful work. The two standard feedback questions we ask in every Check-in are inspired by Amabile’s research. To enable progress on meaningful work, we invite people to surface problems that prohibit them from making progress early and often to increase the speed of problem identification and resolution.

Academic research shows that encouraging employees to seek help leads to stronger job performance. Managers are able to quickly identify issues and @mention (loop in) the right people to provide the support their team members need when they need it. We also always ask what’s going well to encourage employees to celebrate and acknowledge positive progress towards their work goals. In addition to these standard questions, managers can pull from dozens of categorized feedback questions from our Question Bank. We empower managers to solicit quality employee feedback, avoid fire-drills, and help employees show-up as their best selves.

5. Develop Your Appreciation Muscle. At the end of every Check-in, we encourage team members to send a High Five and recognize their co-workers (or even someone outside the organization!) who either helped them out or did amazing work that week. Our High Five feature is inspired by research that shows high performing organizations are far more supportive and complementary than low performing organizations. Positive communication is characterized by supportive, encouraging words and appreciation like High Fives! However, expressing gratitude and appreciation is a habit, and new habits can take time to form. Including a nudge to recognize team members every week helps team members develop their recognition and gratitude muscles. 

Recognition is not only beneficial for the recipient of the High Five but also for the giver! For the recipient, recognition boosts individual employee engagement and increases productivity and loyalty to the company, which leads to higher retention. For the giver, expressing gratitude at least weekly increases positive emotions, health, and well being. 

The 15Five Check-in doesn’t only support team members, it also supports new managers who are learning how to navigate growth and development conversations for the first time. According to Gallup, managers account for up to 70% of variance in engagement so it’s important that managers are set up for success. In a recent survey, 78% of managers say that 15Five has helped them become a better manager. The Check-in acts as a feedback safety net, helping even the most inexperienced managers to continue the all-important practice of giving and receiving feedback. New managers may not know the importance of tying feedback to work goals or celebrating wins or how to ask meaningful questions. 15Five supports managers and provides them with the framework for effective feedback. 

Research also shows that leaders with high performing teams ask just as many questions as they provide answers. According to research from Harvard professors Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie John, questions increase learning and the exchange of ideas, they fuel innovation and performance improvements, and help to build rapport and trust. Questions are the heartbeat of the Check-in and they are automatically built in to set up the most seasoned or inexperienced managers for success.  

The 15Five Check-in helps both managers and their team members do their best work through highly effective feedback conversations. Feedback done well leads to self-awareness, mutual understanding, clear expectations, strong relationships, and continuous employee growth and development. 15Five’s promise to our customers is to help employees grow and develop in just 15 minutes a week, and the Check-in is the heart of our software that enables us to keep that promise. 

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