While 91% of companies conduct formal performance reviews, some prominent companies like Adobe, Deloitte, and Accenture have radically restructured or eliminated them altogether. They’ve opted for a more informal system of regular check-ins rather than an annual appraisal. Adobe has created a quarterly review system aptly called “Check-in,” while Deloitte has distilled time-consuming performance review forms into a few simple questions that managers answer and discuss with employees throughout the year. 

We’ll now examine the purpose, frequency, and format of both check-ins and performance reviews, as well as how they can be used to complement one another. 

Purpose

Check-ins and performance reviews share some similarities as well as differences in purpose. Let’s take a look at what each of them offers, how they overlap, and how they differ.

Performance reviews 

Performance reviews (also called performance appraisals) evaluate an employee’s progress over the longer-term. Receiving a review at the end of the year can help employees understand how far they have come in that time. Thus, they provide a bigger-picture look at an employee’s performance and progress. A performance review often involves setting new goals for the next review period as well.

Check-ins 

Regular check-ins give employees continuous feedback on their performance. They also allow for an ongoing dialogue between employees and managers, which helps employees do all of the following:

  • Quickly gain clarity in any areas of confusion.
  • Accurately gauge their progress in the shorter term as well as the longer term.
  • Receive feedback about specific milestones, recent challenges, and other events.

Check-ins don’t necessarily involve setting new goals, especially when they are held frequently. Rather, they can evaluate progress toward the goals set in a performance review. At the same time, a check-in can involve reassessing goals if the company prefers having that flexibility. Since Adobe relies solely on check-ins, managers use them as an opportunity to adjust employees’ priorities when need be. 

Frequency

Performance appraisals typically happen once a year or once every six months. Check-ins can take place once a week, once per quarter, or anywhere in between. Because check-ins happen more frequently, they often take less time than a performance review. A weekly check-in might last for fifteen minutes, for instance. Depending on the company, the organizational leadership or the manager might decide how often to hold check-ins and how long they should last.

Format

Performance reviews are formal in nature. They have a highly structured format and are typically lengthier and broader in scope than check-ins because they must cover an extensive period. Before the review, the manager usually creates a written report documenting the employee’s progress in specific areas of work.

Check-ins, on the other hand, are usually much more informal, framed more as a conversation than a structured review. At the same time, managers should still carefully set an agenda with topics they need to discuss, like a temperature check of employee engagement, progress toward both longer-term and shorter-term objectives, and current challenges. And even though they probably won’t be writing up a report for a check-in, managers might still want to jot down notes, like specific examples of where the employee needs to improve. Using a questionnaire to guide the discussion can streamline the process for both the manager and the employee.


Rather than choosing only one of these tools, you can use both as part of a smart performance management strategy. Keep your formal reviews, but add in more frequent check-ins to monitor, assess, and discuss progress on a weekly or monthly basis. Check-ins are essential for adapting to the fast pace of change in organizations today. They also strengthen relationships between managers and employees. When they engage in a supportive discussion on an ongoing basis, employees will feel more comfortable voicing questions and concerns. They’ll gain the personalized support they need, and organizations will boost productivity and morale in turn! At the same time, your formal reviews will help employees understand how they’ve developed and where they need to focus their efforts in the longer-term. These tools can be used as a two-pronged strategy for continuous performance assessment and improvement.