Drive Engagement with Better Goals and Check-Ins

Most organisation understand the importance of engagement and genuinely want to address the engagement gap. They start strong; typically with an annual engagement survey but once the results are out, they feel lost. It seems addressing employee engagement is akin to understanding Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Despite your best effort to understand the plot you can’t help but feel confused.

The best way to tackle engagement is to revisit the basics.

To start with, plenty of research by thought leaders like behavioural economist Dan Ariely and best selling author Daniel Pink have proven that employees are driven at work when they get to:

  • Do work that matters; and
  • Constantly develop and grow

Yet, the typical employee experience isn’t designed to achieve this.

Most employees feel like a cog in a machine.

They don’t know how their day to day contributions make a difference to the organisation or its customers. The traditional goal setting approach is often top down and vague. Organisations may have clear revenue and expansion goals but most employees don’t understand how these top-level goals cascade down to their individual-level goals. Hence, they don’t see how their work matters.

Most employees don’t know how well they’re performing at work.

Today’s employees expect to receive feedback and support on an ongoing basis. They want to be recognised when they’re doing well, coached when they’re struggling and expect to receive feedback when they’re making mistakes. And they want this in real time. Yet, most managers wait for formal quarterly appraisals to provide employees with the support, feedback and recognition they desire.


“Employee engagement is largely driven by how effective organisations are at connecting individual goals to organisational goals and how committed they are to developing employees on an ongoing basis.”


Hello Continuous Performance Development (CPD)


CPD is an ongoing process that combines regular goal setting with frequent employee conversations. The model merges OKRs with Check-Ins.


OKRs (Objectives and Key Result Areas) were first introduced by Andy Grove at Intel and later popularised by Google.

Objectives outline what needs to be accomplished and KRAs outline how it will be accomplished. John Doerr who first introduced OKRs to Google often uses the ‘mission to the moon’ example.

Objective: Put a man on the moon by the end of the decade

KRA: Build a lunar module weighing under 40,000 pounds by December 1965

OKRs help break down large goals (objectives) into sub goals (KRAs). OKRs can start in the boardroom and cascade all the way down to the sales rep. It is this cascading effect that makes the OKR model so useful. It effectively helps each employee understand what they need to do and how their individual goals tie into the organisation’s larger goals.

OKRs also differ from traditional goals because OKRs are intentionally designed to be ambitious. A good OKR should only be 70% achievable. This creates an opportunity for the organisation and its employees to stretch themselves.

OKRs are also meant to be made public. Employees should have access to each to each other’s OKRs so that they can collaborate and be informed on what their peers and managers are working on.


Check-Ins are frequent ‘development focused’ conversations between manager and employee. While check-ins have always been around they became increasingly popular when Adobe decided to replace their formal performance appraisal process with regular check-ins.

There are three types of check-in conversations:

  • Coaching Conversation
  • Feedback Conversation
  • Recognition Conversation

While it may seem intuitive (i.e. managers shouldn’t have to be told to check-in with employees) most managers don’t check-in enough. A 2015 survey by Towers Watson found a staggering 67% of employees say their managers spend too little time having ongoing conversations with employees about individual performance.

Most managers feel like they’re having check-ins but what they’re really doing is getting a work update. They’re finding out about the status of a project, client or problem. While these conversations are essential, they’re not the kind of check-in we’re referring to here. Check-ins focus on the employee. They differ from the typical surface level work conversations because they turn from the work issue to the person handling the work issue.

Creating a culture of check-ins creates managers who are committed to having frequent conversations with their employees. When combined with OKRs, check-ins become a powerful tool to engage employees on a daily basis.

Growing Popularity

The concept of OKRs and Check-Ins are becoming increasingly popular due to the recent boom in powerful HR software. We’re seeing enterprise software companies offer powerful technology to help manage and facilitate OKRs and Check-Ins in real time. Companies like Better Works, 15Five and 7Geese are leading the charge.

However, it’s important to note that software can’t change behaviour. For a concept like CPD to be successful, organisations need to first change mindsets and culture. Managers need to understand its value, they need to buy into the concept and they need to champion it themselves.

For more information on the CPD model, here’s a link to our free introduction to CPD.