Table of Contents

Table of Contents

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One-on-one meetings have become an expected part of management. What is their value, and what makes them effective? Here’s how to use one-on-ones wisely and have a positive impact on an employees’ morale, productivity, and relationship with their manager.

What Are One-on-One Meetings?

One-on-one meetings typically take place between a manager and an employee. They can occur as often as weekly or as infrequently as monthly or even quarterly. These meetings are an opportunity for a manager to see how the employee is doing, follow up on projects, review progress, and set goals. It gives the employee an opportunity to talk openly with the manager and bring up any issues that exist.

Why It’s Important to Conduct Regular One-on-Ones

Regular one-on-ones are important for employees and managers. Employees who have regular meetings with their managers are three times more likely to feel engaged in their company and thrive at their jobs. Here are a few of their benefits.

  • Expectations. One key part of one-on-one meetings is to make sure that expectations are being met by the employee and the manager. Are the right expectations being set? Does the employee know what those expectations are? These meetings create a regular opportunity to bring up concerns if expectations aren’t being met or need to be adjusted.
  • Status update. One-on-ones provide follow-up and progress reports on assignments the employee has been working on since the last meeting. You can also check on other projects the employee has been working on, making sure the employee has everything they need to succeed.
  • Pulse check. Arguably the biggest benefit of one-on-one meetings is the opportunity for the manager to just see how the employee is doing. This is the most informal part of a one-on-one, but probably the most impactful. This shows the employee that the manager truly cares about them. The manager might ask what is going on in the employee’s life outside of work. The manager can also ask if there are any issues with other co-workers.  It is important for employees to feel comfortable about sharing what is on their mind or how they are feeling.  Employees who feel like they can talk openly with their manager feel more comfortable working there and ultimately are more likely to stay with the company.

What to Talk About in a One-on-One

When preparing for a one-on-one, managers should make a list of things that need to be discussed.  However, they should still leave plenty of time for employees to discuss what is on their mind.  The most important thing to talk about in one-on-ones is to see how employees are doing and what the manager can do to improve the employee’s engagement.

Keep track of your one-on-ones in an HR software like Eddy

Deadlines and Projects

In one-on-one meetings, managers should follow up with employees on any deadlines they might have given them. Check the status of those projects and see what else needs to be done to get those projects done on time. The manager should see what help and support they can provide the employee.

Goals

Setting goals is an important part of helping an employee be successful.  One-on-ones are a great opportunity for a manager to provide feedback to an employee and help them set goals for them to progress in their current job and in their career. Time should be set aside to also follow up on previous goals set by the employee. The manager should ask the employee what help and support the employee needs to achieve those goals.

Employee Engagement

The manager should see where the employee is feeling about work in general. How are they feeling about their work? What are they liking? What are they struggling with? Do they feel engaged at work?

Life

Managers should take time to see how their employees are doing outside of work. Ask employees about their family, hobbies, house projects, etc.  One-on-one meetings can be the best time for a manager to really get to know their employees. Taking time to discuss non-work things will help the employee see that a manager truly cares about them, and will lead to them being more open and honest in the workplace.  It will help build a relationship that will be more beneficial for the manager and the employee.

One-on-Ones Gone Wrong

We’ve talked about the great opportunities that one-on-one meetings provide; now let’s look at some common challenges and how they might be avoided.

  • Don’t interrogate. An employee should never feel like they are being interrogated or being brought in to be yelled at.  If there is criticism or feedback that needs to be brought up to the employee, make sure it is constructive and helps the employee understand what they need to do to be better.
  • Don’t be negative. While one-on-ones are an opportunity for the manager and the employee to share what is on their mind or how they are doing, it is important to try to keep it as positive as possible. This is a chance to strengthen the relationship and build each other up. One-on-ones focused on positivity will lead to more honest and sincere conversations. They will also be more effective, as both parties will want to be there. Feedback or criticism is sometimes necessary, but can be presented in a supportive rather than scolding manner.
  • Distractions. All attention during one-on-ones should be focused on the employee. Uninterrupted time should be set aside, and managers should be distracted by emails or phone calls.

How to Run a One-on-One Meeting

One-on-one meetings don’t have to have an agenda or a set structure, but managers should have an idea of what they want to accomplish and be ready to facilitate the one-on-one meeting.

Step 1: Schedule the Meeting

A manager first needs to decide how often they want to do one-on-ones with their employees. This can depend on the needs of the employee, but more often than not, it is standard across the company. Once frequency and length have been decided, calendaring it as a regular event into the future saves time and prioritizes the meeting for both participants.

The day before the meeting, share an agenda with the employee you’ll be meeting with. On that agenda, there should be some regularly covered topics and some possible discussion topics. There should also be time set aside for the employee to bring any topics, ideas, or suggestions to the table.

If you want to discuss anything that requires an employee to think about or prepare well in advance, then make sure they have ample time to do so. This might include a discussion on the employee’s career path, a resume review, etc.

Step 2: Review Previous Meeting and Set Agenda

Review what was discussed in the previous one-on-one. Plan to follow up on projects, review goals that were set, and discuss if issues brought up previously have been taken care of.

Step 3: Check on Employee

Open the meeting for the employee to share what is going on from their point of view. How is work going for them? What are they struggling with? How is life outside work? This is a time to listen carefully and prevent potential problems before they get started. Is there friction with colleagues? Are there wellness or stress issues? Are they confident with their work, or can you encourage them?

Step 4: Give Manager’s Input

The manager’s agenda can vary from assigning new projects, discussing issues that need to be addressed, sharing praise or gratitude for work well done, or simply sharing what is on their mind.

Step 5: Set Goals and Determine Actions

Once the employee and manager have had a chance to discuss what is on their mind and what they are working on, take some time to set goals for the next week or next month. Figure out what actions need to be taken to address any issues discussed during the meeting, and make a list of action items.

Tips for an Effective One-on-One Meeting

One-on-one meetings are a practice that most businesses implement, but it is important to understand how to make them as effective as possible so the time is not wasted.

Tip 1: Be Consistent

Having consistent one-on-one meetings ensures that the manager and the employee always have a set time for whatever needs to be discussed. Hold the meetings regularly and schedule them ahead of time. The cadence of these meetings (every week, bi-weekly, once-a-month) is up to you. For some managers, weekly one-on-ones will be the best approach because the people you manage need regular coaching, emotional support, and motivation. For others, once-a-month will be plenty. The important thing is that the meetings happen on a regular, predictable schedule.

Tip 2: Set a Time Limit

Like any other meeting on your calendar, your one-on-one meetings should have a start and end time. Be aware and respectful of these times. It’ll not only be good for your productivity, but your direct reports need to know that their day won’t be disrupted for longer than expected.

It’ll be easier to abide by time limits as you become more consistent with your meeting schedule. If you only meet with your team members once every three months, they’ll likely want more time than the standard 30-minute block. But if you’re meeting together every week, 10-15 minutes should be plenty of time to catch up and work through the agenda.

Tip 3: Be Flexible

Managers should have a plan for one-on-one meetings, but they should not be too rigid with that plan. If the employee needs to talk about something that takes the conversation in a different direction than originally planned, that is totally ok.

Tip 4: Focus on the Employee

The manager needs to make sure all their attention is on the employee.  Block out all other distractions, including incoming emails or chats. The employee needs to know they are being heard by the manager.

Tip 5: Facilitate Two-Way Communication

One-on-ones are a chance for two people to come together and connect. The connection should be built on a foundation of trust and respect. If you as the manager do all the talking, then your team member will not feel confident in that shared foundation. Don’t let your eagerness to lead the meeting get in the way of an opportunity for a productive conversation.

The best way to ensure that two-way communication is happening is to ask questions and actively listen. Active listeners make eye contact, give their full attention to their subject, and patiently wait for the speaker to finish before trying to respond.

By becoming a more active listener, you’ll notice that the quality of your conversations increase, that you talk less and learn more, and that your one-on-ones become productive two-way communications that add tremendous value to the business.

Tip 6: Ask Specific Questions, Get Specific Answers

One-on-one meetings are an excellent way to learn more about the inner workings of a business. So to get a grip on your team or department, you should come prepared with specific questions. Broad questions like, “What do you think the company could improve on?” are fine, but they often are responded to with broad answers that aren’t pertinent to your team. You can do better than this by asking questions that relate very specifically to the team or project the employee is working on. Here are some examples:

  • What are one or two things you’d change in the [X] department if you were in my shoes?
  • Which of your co-workers does [X] the best and why do you think they do it so well?
  • How would you make [X] experience better for customers?
  • What is your least favorite part of your job and why?
  • Why did [X] project take so long to complete?
  • Who are the people you go to for answers when you have questions?
  • How can I improve as a manager?
  • What is something that you’re seeing in our department that others, including myself, might be missing?

Tip 7: Make the Employee Comfortable

The manager should do all that they can to make the employee comfortable. If the employee is comfortable, they are going to be more open and honest about things. The best way a manager can make an employee comfortable is for the manager to be themselves. When an employee sees a manager being authentic and true to themselves, they will feel permission to be the same way.

Tip 8: Share Honest Feedback

One thing that many employees agree on is that they don’t get enough feedback. Employees want to be aware of their performance level compared to their manager’s expectations. If there’s a problem with how they’re completing their work, they want to know about it. The opposite is also true. Employees crave recognition for a job well done. If they outperformed expectations and went above and beyond to finish a project, they’d like to be celebrated and recognized.

One-on-ones are a great place to provide feedback of both kinds. They can also be a great time for a manager to ask for feedback on their performance. Direct reports might be shy to give suggestions, but if you can create a safe and positive environment for them to speak freely without fear of retribution then they’ll begin to open up on ways you might be able to improve. 

Tip 9: Take Notes

When the meeting finishes, give yourself five minutes to record some notes from the interaction. You can use software to store these notes or you can jot them down in a private notebook.

Start by writing down your overall impressions of the meeting. Write down how your direct report responded to your questions, what questions they asked you, and what suggestions they had for the business. You should also write down anything you learned about the employee personally so that you can remember and review it. Over time these notes will become an extremely valuable resource. As you compare notes from previous meetings, you’ll be able to see how both you, your direct report, and the business have grown or changed over time.

Taking notes after one-on-one meetings is also important if ever there are disciplinary or performance issues that were addressed during the meeting. Let’s say for example that after three months of unsatisfactory performance, you decide to fire an employee. That employee may be so upset by their firing that they bring a lawsuit against the company for unlawful termination. If, however, you’ve consistently conducted one-on-one meetings and you’ve taken notes from each event, you’ll be able to show a clear, documented pattern of underperformance that will build your company’s case for termination.

Who Should Participate in One-on-Ones?

All employees and their direct supervisors should hold regular one-on-ones.

Take care of your people and protect your business

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About One-on-Ones

Are you feeling engaged at work? What is going well for you? What are you struggling with? What can I do to help you? What do you need from me?

Yes. If done well, they can be very effective. If they are focused on the employee, and the tips provided are followed, then they can be quite effective.

Tanner has over 4 years of HR professional experience in various fields of HR. He has experience in hiring, recruiting, employment law, unemployment, onboarding, outboarding, and training to name a few. Most of his experience comes from working in the Professional Employer and Staffing Industries. He has a passion for putting people in the best position to succeed and really tries to understand the different backgrounds people come from.

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