One-to-one meetings are one of the most powerful things a manager has at their disposal. But too often, they're a missed opportunity. Instead of being a fruitful dialogue, one-to-one meetings can end up being an unproductive drain on everyone's time.
In the right hands, however, your next face-to-face can be a meaningful conversation that both you and your employee can use to their benefit. It has the power to significantly boost team productivity, morale, and engagement in the long term.
If you have a habit of not using each others' time properly, or worse, cancelling your one-to-ones outright, then you're certainly missing out on some worthwhile benefits. To help you make your future discussions a success, we've come up with this extensive guide, touching on the things you can do before, during, and after your meetings to ensure your get the best out of them.
If you've found previous one-to-one meetings to be unproductive, then you may be doubtful of their potential. However, one-to-ones can result in all manner of positives that affect both manager, employee and organisation alike, including the below:
Increased engagement and reduced turnover
Employees who connect with their work and feel valued find it easier to engage with their duties. Those who disengage from their work are more likely to look for jobs elsewhere.
One-to-ones allow you to discuss with team members how they would like their roles to develop going forward. And by putting these changes into action, they'll be reaping the benefit of this increased job satisfaction, stopping turnover from increasing in the process.
Greater rapport with employees
It's often said that people leave managers, not companies. Even during times where the company is struggling (and we've all experienced that this year), a great boss makes work feel less like work.
Conversely, poor managers have the opposite effect. Ensure you're using one-on-one meetings to ease the pressure points of your employees' work, as well as getting to know them on a personal level too.
Use your one-to-ones as opportunities to remedy any low morale on your team. Praise them for successes and wins, talk about things that are bothering them and what can be done to alleviate these instances. When people aren't happy, that's when they start to leave, so be sure to address the good and the bad in your one-to-ones.
Allows for promotions from within
Promoting from within is one of the best ways to create a culture that rewards the loyalty and hard work of a company's people. For this to take place, managers must invest in leaders, the groundwork for which can be laid in properly conducted one-to-one meetings.
Real-time feedback is a great idea in theory, but in reality, it's often a case that tools supposed to achieve this rarely gets used. Therefore, no one on the team is receiving any feedback or coaching.
One-to-one meetings are a much better means of delivering feedback, and with greater frequency and effectiveness than an annual review too. If you're in the habit of only sitting down with your team members once during the entire year, then it may be worth scrapping annual reviews in favour of something more regular.
Improved communication in remote environments
With the events of this year requiring many of us to work from home, the need for strong communication became more important than ever. One-to-ones are an important means of replacing the in-office communication that would otherwise have taken place and help to provide your team with the things they need to thrive remotely.
Understand the purpose of one-to-one meetings
Before you begin any preparation or let your team know of any sort of scheduling, it's a good idea to make sure you understand what the purpose of a strong one-to-one meeting is.
If you haven't previously thought about it, then the time during your one-to-ones should be used as an opportunity to connect with your team, give both of you the chance to share feedback, and listen to any challenges they may be facing. The latter point is especially important, as it gives you a time to catch these issues early before they spiral into something worse, i.e. employee turnover.
In addition, your team should understand that it's a chance for them to talk about where they want their career to go. Therefore, you should be taking note of these ambitions and doing what you can afterwards to put them on this path to development.
Set the context
Whether things are good or bad, one-to-ones should still so ahead. They're a means of allowing an employee to grow and foregoing them is still worse than having a difficult conversation with an employee.
If you need to talk to them about how their performance is suffering, then do so. Conversely, if things are going well, then let them know you appreciate the hard work they've put in and give them guidance as to where they want their career to head next.
Create an agenda
One-to-ones are very much a collaborative effort, and understanding what's going on with your team can help inform the topic of talk so you use each other's time more effectively. Take the time to ask them some questions a few days before the meeting so you can base things on their concerns. Even something as simple as "what would you like to discuss in our next one-to-one meeting?" can help steer things in a certain direction.
Additionally, send them an e-mail with the expected duration of the meeting, its location, and what they can expect from the meeting. Additionally, send them a recurring date for your one-to-ones so they can expect to meet soon again.
This sends them a (figurative) message that you're accountable for what was discussed last time, and it will help you both plan in good time for the next meet up.
Create a plan
How are you going to help team members get from where they are and where they want their career to go? Consider their behaviours and what could be stopping them from reaching future success.
Start by checking in
Begin your one-to-one meeting by seeing how they're feeling. If there's a lack of trust in this regard, your employee will only say what they think you want to hear.
Build up trust by sharing how you feel first; a little authenticity goes a long way. To this end, recognise that people are more valuable than their work, so be sure to ask the how they're doing outside of work on a personal level.
If you value performance over everything else, there’s a risk morale and healthy collaboration could take a turn for the worse. Be sure to ask questions to see how your employees are sticking to the company's core values and offer suggestions as to how they can reinforce these through their behaviour.
Ask employees what roadblocks and issues are in their way. Listen carefully to what they're saying and help formulate it into something they can learn from. Rather than simply telling them what to do – which won't help them grow or develop – try solving the problem together.
Hold them accountable
You should have an expectation of what strong performance looks like heading into each one-to-one meeting. When you sit down and it's time to offer constructive criticism, make sure you do it immediately rather than saving it for their performance review.
The reactive approach, where feedback is given right after an event, can have a huge impact on performance, whether it's positive or negative.
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Recognise their wins
An organisation that routinely praises and compliments its employees performs much better than those who don't. During your one-to-one, be sure to have several examples of recent achievements, times when they showed growth, or instances where they properly utilised their strengths.
Create actionable items
Towards the end of the meeting, the two of you should have worked out some expectations and timelines that will help them focus on what should be prioritised, and things that will allow them to increase their rate of development.
Reschedule, don't cancel
If a manager gets too busy, then one-to-ones are often the first meetings to get the chop. Routinely cancelling one-to-ones can be hugely damaging to an employee's self esteem, sending the message that the meeting wasn't important enough to remain in the manager's schedule.
If you absolutely have to cancel, and we're recommending that you don't, then make sure you reschedule ASAP.
Stick to the schedule
It can be easy to let meetings run over schedule, but it's important to respect the timeframe you've set out for these meetings. If you find yourself always going over, then try setting a timer to go off 5 or 10 minutes before the end, so you can begin to wrap things up.
Let them talk
If you find yourself dominating the conversation, then it's time to pump the brakes. This is your employee's time, and they need to be the one doing the talking – taking the conversation in new directions that could lead to positive growth in the long term.
Avoid status updates
One-to-ones shouldn't be used as a way to catch up on how certain projects are coming along. Whether it's you or your employee who constantly falls back on progress as a topic of talk, it's important to move onto other topics.
You can get your status updates another way; right now, we're focusing on their careers, their aims and any issues that they're pre-occupied with.
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