The dos and don’ts for line managers
Line management can be demanding and stressful. It takes skill and practice to juggle a heavy workload with guiding and supporting employees too. The better a line manager knows their employees, the easier this task becomes. Regular check-ins are important building blocks for creating this understanding. They also provide an opportunity to discuss progress against objectives, give relevant and timely feedback and raise any issues.
An effective check-in is one where both parties are equally involved. It is not about the line manager dictating the agenda. The employee must see this time as valuable, aiding their development. These tips will help you combine coaching and performance management.
We work with hundreds of companies to help them create a check-in framework that works for their organisation, which supports their line managers and ensures their employees focus on improving their performance. We know this is not simple and is likely to be different for each company, but we’ve put together this list of dos and don’ts to help you find an approach that works for you.
- Take time to prepare. Even if you’re having regular updates with your employees, it pays to spend a few minutes thinking about the things that are most important to address in this particular check-in.
- Ask your employee want they want to talk about. Check-ins are for you both. As a manager it is your job to discover what strengths your employee has, what they want to achieve in their career and enable them to reach their full potential. While it is important that they are working towards their agreed objectives, check-ins are not a one-way street. Ask your employees what they would like to discuss and if there are any areas that you can help them with.
- Tailor them to the individual. As you will be all too aware, every employee is different. What motivates one, could have the opposite effect on another. Think about your employee’s preferences – how they like to be managed, how they interact with others, their personality traits - and adjust your check-ins as appropriate.
- Listen. Check-ins are about building up a strong relationship and dialogue between line managers and employees. To do this both parties must feel confident and comfortable to share any concerns or raise any issues which might be affecting performance. A check-in is an opportunity to get early warning signals of any potential problems and ensure no one suffers in silence. Check-ins are are change to bring coaching and performance management together.
- Follow up on action points. Check-ins are most useful if they lead to actions. At the end of every check-in agree action points for both yourself and your employee, so you know what you need to accomplish before the next meeting. This creates clarity and momentum, highlighting how important check-ins are.
- Change them up. If anything is always the same, it has the danger of feeling boring and repetitious. Avoid the temptation to follow a set formula for each check-in, like simply looking at objectives. Use them to discuss wider issues that are going on in the company, such as how to increase diversity and inclusion or what can be done to support mental health.
- Give them the time that they deserve. If you’re busy with your own workload, it can feel like you don’t have the time to devote to a check-in but missing them sends completely the wrong message. Employees can easily get the impression that their issues or development don’t matter. Treat check-ins with the importance they deserve and if you are really pushed for time, think about how you can shorten the next one and make the following check-in longer to pick up on any issues you might have missed.
- Chose the time and location carefully. If you can meet face-to-face, find somewhere that you both feel comfortable to talk freely and that you won’t be disturbed. Choose a time that works for you both; for example, not straight after another regular meeting that is likely to overrun or at the end of the day when one or both of you may have urgent deadlines to meet. If you are meeting virtually, make sure it is a time that fits around both of your working routines.
- Review. Don’t assume the check-in format is working just because there seem to be no problems from your point of view. Ask your employee on a regular basis if there is anything that they would like to add or change. If something isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to try something different.
- Do all the talking. Just because you are a manager, doesn’t mean you have all the answers. If your employee has a problem, encourage them to think about what is causing the issue and prompt them to think about possible solutions. This technique will bring coaching and performance management together. If they come to the conclusions themselves, it will help them to find a resolution the next time an issue arises and boost their self-confidence and resilience.
- Feel like you need to have all the answers. It is not a sign of weakness to admit that you don’t know something. Rather than bluff or give an answer that is wrong, be honest with your employee. Say that you will find out for them and make sure you get back to them when you’ve found out the information that they’re looking for.
- Be a one-person band. Being a manager can be difficult, especially if you are dealing with an issue that you’ve never come across before. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others in the business and ask for their help and advice. If you feel you would benefit from some training on areas like feedback or objective setting, ask for it. Management skills need to be learned just like any other skills, so put in the time and effort to work on these. It will benefit your development and your employees’ too.
- Be afraid to say the wrong thing. Check-ins offer an excellent opportunity to support employees’ wellbeing. Just asking them about how they are getting on, shows that you care about them as people, and you want to know if they are struggling. Don’t shy away from this topic, it is much worse to not say anything. If problems are kept hidden, they have a habit of escalating and causing far more difficulties than if broached early.
- Have a closed mind. If an employee’s progress against their goals isn’t matching what you would expect, resist the temptation of jumping to conclusions. Explore the facts, listen to your employee and work out together what action should be taken to rectify the situation.
- Shy away from the difficult subjects. If there is a problem you need to address with your employee, it can be hard to discuss it head on. Some people find confrontation difficult but avoiding a problem is not the answer. If you are not sure what the best way to talk about the situation is, ask for advice from a trusted colleague. Take the time before the check-in to think about how you can talk about the issue without inflaming the situation. Let the employee give their side of the story and make it clear that your aim is to find a solution, not to point blame.
- Leave anything unresolved. If you don’t have time to resolve any issues in your check-in, don’t wait until the next one to pick these up. Arranging a quick follow-up when you both have the time will prevent any problems escalating and show that you are there whenever is needed, not just at appointed times.
- Forget to say thank you. Everyone likes to be appreciated for their efforts. It shows them that what they’re doing is being noticed and valued. If your employee has done something note-worthy, don’t forget to mention it. A few well-chosen, genuine words of thanks can be extremely motivating.
RedEye, marketing automation specialists based in Crewe, have recently launched Appraisd to their employees. Nick Snelling, Head of Business Improvement shares his top five tips for improving check-ins based on their recent experience:
- Make sure check-ins are frequent, at least once every two weeks to maintain momentum.
- Keep the form targeted and short to make it simple for employees to complete.
- Provide adequate training up front and set manager and employee expectations on what is expected of them.
- If possible, capture and measure employee sentiment and revisit this together to generate ideas to support morale and personal development.
- Encourage line managers and employees to submit notes up front in preparation to keep meetings focused. But don’t force it, they should settle on what works best for their dynamic.
One of our Customer Success Managers Rosalind Bygott has the following tips on how Appraisd can help line managers conduct effective check-ins:
- Use the personal notes feature to capture ideas and action points for your next check-ins.
- If you can’t meet face-to-face, try using the integrated video calling function.
- Add updates to objectives after each check-in to capture progress and make sure nothing gets lost.
- Sync Appraisd with your calendar so the check-ins are fixed in your diary.
- Customise your check-in forms so they suit what you and your employees need to discuss.
- Use the Slack app to remind you of when you next check-in is due.