Skip annual reviews and do check ins with employees instead

Attraction and retention of top talent is one of the biggest issues facing employers today. Between the Great Resignation and the reshuffling connected with hybrid work, finding and keeping great employees has become a top priority for every company. This is particularly true for startups and high-growth tech companies, where annual turnover and recruitment costs are notoriously high.

In today’s work environment, employers need a head’s up as to why employees may be on the job hunt. If a breakup is coming annual, it’s best to know in advance–nd a single performance review or satisfaction survey will not help stem the tides.

Regular employee feedback is crucial, and annual reviews are passé

Research shows that quality feedback is a key indicator of employee satisfaction, and ultimately, of engagement and retention. But in recent years, human resources staples like 360-degree feedback and annual reviews have been falling out of favor.

There’s good reason for this: these practices are dated, cumbersome, and often ineffective, because they address employee successes and challenges out of context, and they do so far too late to take timely action. In today’s instant-gratification environment, these old processes are simply insufficient for leaders to keep a finger on the pulse of their team and for employees to feel like they are being heard. As a result, leaders could end up with a disengaged workforce that’s constantly looking for their next gig.

The solution? Weekly pulse surveys, powered by technology. I’m looking at you, managers.

Employee surveys are not so managers can find out how well their employees think they are performing—it’s to see how well they are doing. New York City’s late Mayor Ed Koch used to stand on street corners asking constituents, “How’m I doing?” and became famous for that tagline. Today’s managers can do that a little faster and more easily through technology, but the sentiment is the same.

Not only do regular surveys provide valuable insight into employees’ mindsets, but it also shows that managers care to listen. That’s a flip from the regular performance review in which employees get to hear how they may be falling short.

Of course, making time for formal feedback has always been a challenge that can fall to the wayside. Relying on technology for regular, automated feedback is invaluable, and there are plenty of companies that can power these for you, including OfficeVibe, Lattice, CultureAmp, and Leapsome, to name a few.

Companies are turning to tech to help automate the survey process to build a culture of independently driven, data-based company improvements. Weekly stats can show managers where they stand in comparison to previous weeks. Perhaps seasonal patterns can be discerned. Spring fever anyone? Companies can make allowances for that with surprise vacation days or fun outdoor team outings. The possibilities are endless to make a big impact with a few easy fixes.

Measuring culture and other intangibles

Questions about pay and vacation time are obvious ones, but culture can be a tricky concept to measure. But with the right questions, an employee survey can address things like autonomy, flexibility, quality of life, and teamwork, among other values. At Shiftsmart, we used the following measures, which are aligned with our core values:

  • Relationship with manager
  • Alignment
  • Feedback
  • Personal growth
  • Happiness
  • Relationship with peers
  • Ambassadorship
  • Satisfaction
  • Recognition
  • Wellness

Translating feedback into action

When the survey is complete, employees immediately receive a snapshot that indicates where they are thriving and where they are less than satisfied. The beauty is that they may not even know what specifically was bothering them if not asked. For example, a typical score in “relationship with peers” could be eight points of a possible ten, and besides that figure, a second data point might indicate just how much that number shifted up or down from the previous week.

If there is a significant decrease week over week, or there’s a slow, steady fall over time, the employee can give thought to bridging those divides but, more important, the manager can, too, with team-building exercises or outings.

Empowered with data, the manager can take ownership of their situation. They can use the survey outputs to drive formal and informal conversations with their team members (surveys are anonymous) and fellow managers, and pinpoint specific areas for growth and change. Leaders can also be proactive in reaching out to their teams to celebrate successes, dig deeper where needed, and make necessary adjustments along the way.

Over time, this ongoing, two-way communication initiating from the bottom up can deepen employees’ connection to the organization, build empathy across teams, and contribute to a strong, meaningful culture.

Invent and wander

A final but important concept we strive to foster at my company is “Invent and Wander.” I believe this philosophy is reflected in the positive responses we mostly receive in our weekly surveys. If an employee has a new idea—even if it doesn’t match their job description—they should be able to pursue it. One of my favorite questions, which we ask across the organization, is, “What else can we do?” If this causes an employee to go off the beaten track of a regularly scheduled workday to pursue a new idea, we celebrate and encourage that.

This approach can be particularly effective in younger companies, which often attract more entrepreneurial-minded employees who expect ongoing learning and are keen to disrupt traditional structures of all kinds.

Weekly pulse surveys could be the next big shift in employee engagement and retention tactics. The process frees up manager time, empowers employees, and identifies successes and growth opportunities in real time. By giving employees the ability to constantly assess themselves and own their personal development, weekly self-evaluations could be the key to building and sustaining a meaningful and modern culture, from the bottom up.

Aakash Kumar is the CEO and Founder of Shiftsmart.

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