Blog Post

A Manager's Guide to Successful 1:1 Meetings with Employees

Sharlyn Lauby

One-on-one meetings between managers and employees have always existed. But there's a real trend toward increasing the number of meetings as organizations shift to ongoing performance management. That means managers (and employees) need to get better at these meetings. It makes no sense to increase the number of meetings without increasing the quality.

However, very few organizations give managers and employees the tools to improve how they discuss challenges and give feedback. In this post, we're going to offer a guide for managers and employees to create better one-on-one meetings, focusing on the manager's role.

The manager's purpose for conducting one-on-one meetings

Managers are responsible for coaching employees to achieve the best performance possible. The key to performance is feedback. When done well, feedback reinforces positive behaviors and corrects not-so-positive ones.

Regular one-on-one meetings give managers the opportunity to provide real-time feedback to employees so there's a better chance of changing or supporting behavior.

Another benefit of one-on-one meetings is the ability to make the conversation more casual than the annual performance review. The annual review process can be unintentionally formal and stressful because it only happens once a year. One-on-one meetings happen on a regular basis, allowing the conversation to become more conversational. This helps to build stronger working relationships and trust between managers and employees.

While one-on-one meetings can benefit from a casual vibe, this doesn't mean that one-on-one meetings should be inconsistent. This is one of those activities where surprises should be kept to a minimum. Keeping a certain level of consistency helps employees prepare for the meeting and that translates into better conversations. It also helps the manager develop excellent one-on-one meeting skills.

Manager's view: 4 things to include in a one-on-one meeting

One-on-one meetings don't have to be boring or repetitive. Here are four general topics that should be covered in some way during a one-on-one meeting.

Brief review since the last meeting.

This shouldn't be a huge portion of the meeting. For the most part, both the manager and the employee probably know what has happened since the last meeting. But for managers with a virtual team, this could be a valuable conversation starter. And for managers trying to develop self-awareness skills in their employees, it could be a great exercise for them. Have an employee respond to two simple questions:

What have you done exceptionally well since our last meeting? Make the employee answer this question first. Don't let them skip over it. Employees do great stuff all the time.

What, if anything, would you have done differently? Notice this question doesn't say wrong. It's possible that an employee will talk about a better way of doing something.

By allowing the employee to respond first, they get to take a step toward self-management. The manager can confirm the employee's responses and play the role of coach in the discussion.

Discuss new items.

The manager should share with the employee any new projects that impact the employee's work, as well as some projects in which the employee doesn't have direct involvement but could at some future date. One of the drivers of employee engagement is making a connection between work and the company goals. This is the opportunity.

Speaking of goals, this is also the perfect moment to conduct a quick review of an employee's goals. Make sure the employee is on track to accomplish those goals. Find out if anything could impact the employee's action plan, such as a vacation or leave of absence, or if professional training or development is needed to complete a goal. If goals need to be modified or outright cancelled, the manager can discuss that with the employee. They can also use the time to set new goals.

Build a relationship with the employee.

There's an old saying that employees don't leave companies, they leave managers. On some level, it's true. Managers do play a huge role in employee retention. The one-on-one meeting is an opportunity to engage employees and develop a positive working relationship.

During the one-on-one meeting, managers can ask a stay interview question. Stay interviews are designed to find out from employees what they like about their job and why they choose to stay with the company. A couple of sample questions are:

Is the job turning out to be what you expected?

What's one thing your last organization did that we don't do?

No matter how long employees have been with the company, it's good to find out why they stay. Organizational leaders gain valuable information for their retention strategy, and managers learn how they can support the employee. Because managers and employees have already talked about past performance and future goals, managers should specifically conduct their own "mini-evaluation" and ask how they can help the employee.

A word of caution about asking this question: Don't put the employee on the spot. Let them know that this will be a regular part of the conversation so they can come prepared to give feedback.

Establish items for the next meeting.

Before wrapping up the meeting, discuss any items that will carry over to the next meeting. It would be best to find a way to document this. Many performance management technology solutions give the manager and employee a way to document their meeting so it can be referred to between meetings. Conclude the meeting by thanking the employee for their work and support.

This meeting format can be accomplished in less than one hour when properly planned. Again, the goal isn't to focus on performance that cannot be changed. It's to talk about future projects, take a pulse on goals, engage the employee and find out how the manager can help make the employee's work experience meaningful.

One-on-one meetings change organizational performance

Regardless of your organization's philosophy about the annual performance review, one-on-one meetings are a valuable way for managers to coach employees. And there's a connection between coaching and high-performing organizations.

The perfect one-on-one meeting is casual and conversational. It's also consistent, and that consistency brings trust and preparedness. To help managers prepare for their next one-on-one meeting, bookmark this page and share it around your office.

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