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Continuous Performance Management at Southwest Airlines: A Video Brief with Kerry Frost

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

Ah, performance management season. That sparkly time of year of harmonious performance calibration discussions and serene performance appraisals. #AmIRight? I like to paint the season in a calm and soothing manner, to put positivity out there for a talent development task that is typically anything but sparkly and positive.

There's a better way to approach performance management season, and I have two recommendations for you. One will help you today. The other is a future-focused endeavor.

The first recommendation: host performance calibration discussions that hone in specifically on how individuals delivered their year. You can read more about that here.

The second recommendation: think fresh about performance management. While you may not be able to make a shift today for this year, you can let the hectic, oftentimes negative feelings during this time of the year fuel motivation to create a business case for continuous performance management.

A Shift Towards Continuous Performance Management

I like how M. Tamra Chandler shapes up the "brutal truth" in her book How Performance Management is Killing Performance - and What to Do About It:

"We've built standardized processes and policies in the pursuit of fairness, but what we've wound up with are mind-numbing tick-the-box exercises that minimize the human side of a process that is essentially all about people. Seeking to drive manager-employee communication, we've trained people to time-box conversations that should be sought openly by both parties and that should happen in the moment. Dialogue that should be ongoing is instead relegated to a prescribed place and time with a defined agenda that too often creates an adversarial or banal tone" (p 13).

Yep. Hectic and negative.

It's time to rethink the overall process and move to a continuous one. Continuous performance management creates a structured process for performance management conversations to happen throughout the year versus the traditional approach of once annually. It typically features check-in discussions between an employee and manager periodically on how the employee is performing. These discussions become mini appraisals, providing trend feedback throughout the year. It's designed around real-time conversation and feedback discussion.

I'm a big fan. I've seen first hand how the shift to ongoing performance discussions addresses performance trends before they become issues, creates space for productive employee - leader conversations and creates greater transparency in the overall process.

Moving to a continuous performance management process need not be complicated, but it should be approached with intentional planning, customer input and change management. When we decided to introduce a new performance process at Southwest Airlines, we began with plenty of research and built a solid case on the approach we wanted to try. Senior leadership agreed to a pilot, and then we were off and running. I talk a bit about our approach in this article on frequent performance conversations.

If you're seeking to design and implement continuous performance management for your organization, review this series that breaks it down into manageable steps.

Continuous Performance Management at Southwest Airlines

There's nothing like a first hand account of how another Talent Development Pro handled an initiative. In this Talent Folks' Video Brief, I'm thrilled to talk with Kerry Frost about how she tackled the project at Southwest Airlines. Kerry and I began tossing around the idea of updating performance management in 2014ish. Once we had researched, benchmarked and gotten our bearings on what we wanted to recommend, she led the effort of pitching, designing and implementing the Check-in process. It was no small feat, and the results have been excellent, with all corporate and leadership roles using the new process. Kerry, thank you for a job well done, and thank you for making time for a Video Brief!

continuous performance management; cup of coffee with biscotti on a teal plate

Video Briefs are 10 to 12-minute segments that you can view while taking a quick break. However, this time I've got 15 minutes of interview time for you, so you've time for biscotti to go with that cuppa.

Alright, let's dive in, and allow me to introduce you to Kerry Frost, a talented Talent Development professional who spent more than six years focusing on talent solutions at Southwest Airlines and served as an HR Business Partner prior to that. Kerry is a champion of the employee-perspective and has a methodical approach that allowed the Talent Team at Southwest to upgrade processes while also delivering on the talent plan. Thank you, Kerry!

In this interview, Kerry provides insights to these questions:

  1. What research did you do to learn about continuous performance management?

  2. You were adamant about representing the employee perspective in performance development. Tell us more about that.

  3. What was your biggest learning point in changing from a traditional performance appraisal process to continuous performance management?

  4. Tell us about the pilot approach that you employed to rollout performance development, now called the Check-in process. How did you structure and manage those pilots?

  5. What advice would you offer to other talent professionals as they are considering shifting to continuous performance management?

PS - there are several places my internet pauses for a few seconds during the video. It's not broken, just taking a breath. Keeping it real for these discussions with Talent Folks operating on the front-line of great talent development work.

And you can access the video here, too.

Kerry, thank you again for sharing your insight with us. It's been a privilege to dream big about talent development with you!

And for funsies... when we wore mums at work to celebrate the Wright Amendment repeal. Kerry, it's been a blast!

Talent Folk, don't wait to begin planning a refresh of your performance management approach! Now is the best time to begin.


Chandler, M. Tamra. How Performance Management is Killing Performance - and What to Do About It. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2016.

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