Checking In With Employees Can Keep Them From Checking Out

Routine conversations build trust and employee engagement


A Gallup report on what characterizes great managers found that employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged than employees whose managers do not.


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“One of the most fundamental management practices is checking in with employees,” explains Joe Rak, Senior Director of Talent Management at Cleveland Clinic. “It sounds easy, but there is a lot of nuance to doing it right.”

Encouraging ownership of work

“When you allow an employee to have ownership of their own work, checking in becomes about aligning goals and removing any roadblocks,” says Rak.

Building trust in this way shifts the dynamic from micromanaging an employee – which is disengaging and involves delegating responsibility – to having them on your side, he adds.

“People want clarity in their jobs,” says Rak. “When caregivers have clarity and feel empowered, they accomplish much more than if they are left to guess at priorities and hope they get them right.”


Implementing a three-tiered approach

In the past, Cleveland Clinic conducted midyear and end-of-year reviews to discuss employees’ annual goals; however, managers found they had more engaging dialogue with employees when they checked in informally. As a result, the health system introduced a process that includes three opportunities for engagement: the existing, standard check-in; “stay” interview; and team engagement interview.

  • The standard check-in includes three main questions: What’s going well and helping you achieve your goals? What could be going better? How can I help you? “People get a lot out of following that most basic formula,” says Rak. “By asking employees what help they need, you show support and trust.”
  • The “stay” interview is about retention. “Rather than asking questions that are aligned with a caregiver’s immediate day-to-day goals, we focus on their careers,” says Rak. “This set of questions makes sure that we’re maximizing employees in their roles.” Managers ask the following: What energizes you about your job? How can we, together, make better use of your talents?
  • The team engagement interview is designed to ensure teams are on track.

“The idea behind the methodology is to provide managers with better guidance and more tools for checking in with their employees,” says Rak.

The frequency of check-ins depends on the nature of the work and how often it changes.

“On a nursing unit, where the census changes frequently and we need to react quickly, the check-ins may be hourly or daily,” says Rak. “If a building and property team is working on a long-term project with a well-developed plan, check-ins may happen less frequently.”


Five tips for productive check-ins

Rak offers advice for those who want to implement a check-in process:

  • Make it easy for managers. Find ways to simplify the process by making check-ins part of the team culture and providing reminders and tools that help facilitate communication.
  • Remove potential barriers. Cleveland Clinic originally asked managers to document all conversations in its workforce management software system. However, the process proved onerous when frequent check-ins were involved, so the healthcare system developed more options for tracking and documenting these conversations. “In many cases, simplicity and accessibility enable managers and their teams to better appreciate the value of frequent check-ins. This understanding can lead to positive changes in behavior,” explains Rak.
  • Make sure the conversations are live. “These meetings don’t have to be in person. A virtual check-in works, but it should be live so there is a dialogue between the manager and employee,” he says. “The ‘secret sauce’ is sincerity – connecting by listening, guiding and facilitating meaningful conversations.”
  • Always ask what the employee needs. You may tailor other questions to the person, job or project, but it is critical to ask employees what they need to perform at their best. “Caregivers need to know you are there to support them,” says Rak.
  • Get feedback from your caregivers. Cleveland Clinic plans to anonymously survey caregivers to determine if the check-ins are effective. In particular, the questionnaire will gauge whether check-ins are happening frequently enough and are meaningful to the caregiver.

“There are lots of components to being a good manager. But if you have mastered the check-in, you’re probably in good shape,” concludes Rak. “It’s crucial to have effective conversations that let your employees know how important they are.”

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