How One Non Profit Runs Their Employee Check ins

The Colorado Health Foundation is bringing health within reach for all Coloradans by engaging closely with communities across the state through investing, policy advocacy, learning and capacity building. The Foundation’s mission is to improve the health of Coloradans and is grounded in the belief that health is a human right.

Today over 60 employees work together in the Uptown neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. Their roles vary from technology to communications and finance to philanthropy/grantmaking.

The Human Resources (HR) team has implemented a truly thoughtful performance management program they call Staff Excellence. The program provides the structure for regular conversations between employees and their managers while also giving every department, team and person the flexibility to make it work for them. Most importantly, it is a perfect fit for the Foundation.

We sat down with Alison Jeske, Human Resources Manager, to learn more about the program.

PerformYard: How did the team decide on the current performance management program?

Alison Jeske: When I started with the Foundation, the HR Director was leading the revamp of our performance management process. It started with a group of representatives from across departments, including employees and managers. We wanted to make sure we were hearing from voices across the organization.

Our goal wasn’t to create something from the top down; it was to create something that would be effective for our organization, which meant starting with input from our staff. The HR team said to employees, “This is your process; we are here to support and facilitate.” And we asked the Foundation’s managers, “what do you need to be able to evaluate the performance of your employees?” We asked employees, “what do you need from your managers and how can the process support your development?”

HR’s role was to educate, facilitate and balance everyone’s needs. For example, it was not clear what the right frequency would be. In the beginning the design team wanted monthly check-ins, and managers were saying, “Monthly seems like a lot, but I am willing to try it.” For the first year we operated with topic specific conversations every month, and now we do them quarterly.

So the program has continued to evolve?

Exactly. Especially in the beginning we were asking ourselves, “What is this going to look like?” and we realized that it needed to evolve as the needs of the organization evolved. Everything was driven by our experience going through the process. So we would do the initial monthly conversations and get feedback from the Staff Excellence and Leadership team. That is what drove the edits and changes along the way.

I’m glad we started with monthly because after the first year staff felt heard, but everyone also agreed that we should try a more condensed version of the process. We continued much of what we did in the first year but we just did it in fewer conversations.

That’s one thing I think anyone about to go through this journey should expect. Year one, two and three may look very different, and that is okay.

What does your performance management process look like today?

We do four “conversations” a year between each employee and their manager. The first conversation sets goals for the year. Those goals flow naturally from the last conversation of the previous year. The middle two conversations focus on varying topics based on business needs, in addition to reviewing goal progress.

At the beginning of the year the HR Director will present the annual conversation topics to the leadership team and get feedback. For example, we’ve prompted employees to talk about any barriers they’re facing and discuss possible solutions, and we’re planning to dedicate a conversation this year to reviewing job descriptions.

The topics are planned in advance, but they’re also dynamic. A manager might say, “Actually this idea came up, can we add it to the next conversation?” – and we do that.

What happens in these conversations?

We created a form with a single long-answer box. Above the box we prompt a conversation by using a variety of guiding questions to encourage discussion around a specific topic. Some use the questions verbatim and others simply use them as a guide. Both are completely acceptable. The goal is to have a rich and productive conversation and the questions are just there to help, if needed. 

2018 Conversation One

It is really about stepping away from the computer. Rather than focusing on a large and complicated form, today we focus on a topic and have a dynamic face-to-face conversation between the employee and manager. We like that discussions can flow off-topic based on each individual’s performance needs. As long as the employee and managers are having a conversation and documenting it, that’s what’s important.

Then the next step is to put the notes from your conversation into PerformYard. We encourage folks to record what is important and relevant. They don’t need to write a novel or answer each question, just key takeaways. Each conversation form is initiated by the employee and they put their notes into the form. The manager reviews the notes, adds additional comments and signs off on the form.

Was the flexibility of your program an important part of the design?

Yes, we were previously using software that was driven by structured annual goal setting and it did not work for us. It was a product that drove a process. We needed to design a process that fit our organization and find a product to support that.

How do you use the data you collect from these conversations?

Employees are referring back to the signed-off conversations to carry over goals, questions or follow-ups to their next conversation. They also have the ability to easily access previous year’s notes and discussions.

Managers are using the conversations as supporting documentation and references for the year-end performance review and merit increases for their employees.

We see the program continuing to grow and evolve to include new measures. 

A huge thank you to Alison Jeske for taking the time to share the Colorado Health Foundation’s performance management program with us. We are so impressed with how their team has iterated on a process, and arrived at something that is a perfect fit for their organization.