Maximizing One-on-One Meetings: Strategies for Success

Mai 30, 2024 | 360 Degree Feedback, Performance Management

One-on-one meetings are the heart of performance management and employee engagement. Complementing the performance review, they provide an ideal format for meaningful conversations that help employees reach their full potential. By implementing a routine schedule of one-on-one check-ins, you’ll promote continuous improvement.

Let’s discuss why you should be meeting one-on-one more often—and how to make the most of these coaching conversations. We’ll examine key strategies for enhancing the effectiveness of one-on-one meetings and increasing accountability among managers for prioritizing one-on-ones.

Table of Contents

1. The Importance of Regular One-on-Ones

2. Finding the Right Cadence

3. Creating the Agenda

4. Empower Employees

5. Provide Guidance for Managers

The Importance of Regular One-on-Ones

Almost half of all meetings are one-on-ones, and many organizations would benefit from holding more of these check-ins. So, getting them right is instrumental to employee development. 

According to Gallup, “80% of employees who say they have received meaningful feedback in the past week are fully engaged—regardless of how many days they worked in the office.” Yet only 16% of all employees surveyed considered their last conversation with their manager extremely meaningful. Further, just 23% felt they received enough recognition for their work—even though receiving appreciation can quadruple employee engagement.

The Society for Human Resource Management concurs. A full 86% of companies with highly engaged employees hold regular one-on-ones, says SHRM. Astoundingly, Adobe saw turnover drop by 30% after adopting frequent one-on-one meetings.

These one-on-one conversations also greatly reduce work anxiety and enhance employee well-being. “In fact, individual contributors with weekly meetings reported feeling 20% less anxious, dreading them 17% less, and feeling 12% more successful at their jobs, on average,” writes Jessica Wisdom in MIT Sloan Management Review

One-on-one check-ins also foster strong relationships and trust between managers and direct reports, while supporting continuous improvement. Employees gain clarity about their role and responsibilities, getting timely answers to their questions. When they encounter challenges, managers can share vital guidance. And through these focused conversations, managers will learn to trust employees’ abilities, avoiding micromanagement.

Finding the Right Cadence

A manager and an employee having a one-on-one meeting
Credit: fauxels / Pexels

Creating a consistent cadence of one-on-ones reduces work anxiety. We advise meeting on a weekly basis, allowing you to provide highly relevant feedback and support. Employees will feel a sense of psychological safety at work when they regularly discuss challenges, barriers, and concerns with a supportive manager. When a manager shows empathy for their experiences and helps find solutions, employees will feel they can move beyond these challenges. 

Regular short check-ins are more beneficial than less-frequent longer check-ins. So, set aside 30 minutes for each employee’s weekly one-on-one. Protect this time, not allowing it to be interrupted. Each employee deserves your undivided attention, which will ensure they gain maximum benefits from the meeting. Avoid cancelling your one-on-ones except in an emergency, showing that this time truly matters to you.

Creating the Agenda

Adopt a simple, streamlined approach to agenda setting that helps you zero in on essential topics. Work collaboratively with employees to set objectives for the meeting and plan the agenda. Let’s walk through how to do this, step by step.

Set clear intentions for each one-on-one meeting as it approaches. What do you hope to accomplish? Customize these objectives based on individual needs and circumstances. 

As you set objectives, focus on the employee’s experience, goals, and growth. A manager who uses one-on-ones mainly to introduce the next big project is missing the real reason for holding these meetings: employee development.

Asking for Employees’ Input

Engage in collaborative agenda-setting to ensure alignment and effectiveness. The agenda should center employees’ questions and concerns, as Russ Laraway says on Radical Candor.

In advance of the one-on-one meeting, ask employees about topics they would like to discuss. A simple questionnaire that employees can complete in advance can illuminate discussion points. It can include questions like these:

  • What have you accomplished this week? What are you proud of?
  • Where have you fallen short of your objectives? What barriers did you face, and how can you overcome them? What support do you need in doing so?
  • What tasks have you found draining? Which ones have you found energizing?
  • Have you experienced work anxiety in the past week? If so, what has caused it?
  • What have you learned? What do you want or need to learn more about?
  • How can I better support your growth?

This tool can help employees organize their thoughts and steer the conversation toward timely meeting goals. For example, one employee might be struggling with remote collaboration. Another might be feeling ill-equipped to lead a particular project. And another might be ready for a fresh challenge that leverages a new skill set. 

Ask employees which topics feel most important to discuss, based on their answers to the above questionnaire or other pressing concerns.

Reflecting on Performance

Prepare for the one-on-one meeting by thoughtfully reflecting on progress toward goals. Taking these steps will help you build your agenda.

  • Use tools that help you construct a clear and relevant agenda. The best performance review tools also support light check-ins. Drawing from current goal-tracking data and recent manager notes, they highlight points to discuss and calibrate progress toward objectives.
  • Reflect on feedback you’ve given based on your observations throughout the week, too. If you use feedback software, you can look back through these messages. Which points deserve deeper exploration? Make sure to share appreciation for employees’ efforts, highlighting specific contributions and milestones.
  • Plan to check in about priorities for the coming week, making sure you’re both on the same page. Review employees’ KPIs and look at progress toward them, which will aid in setting priorities and expectations.
  • Leave space at the end to ask how you can improve as a manager.

Share the agenda with employees in advance, asking if anything is missing. By working together to create a thoughtful agenda, you’ll make the most of your check-in. You’ll both show up prepared to dive right in, equipped with questions and input on the topics at hand.

Empower Employees

A manager talking to her employee and giving positive feedback
Credit: fauxels /Pexels

Managers often spend far too much time talking during meetings—or worse, lecturing employees on what changes to make. Instead, empower employees by helping them think critically about challenges. Ask good questions related to each agenda topic, then listen actively, allowing them to lead the discussion. 

As you help them work through issues, avoid micromanaging employees. Don’t focus heavily on the process they’re using to complete tasks, says Wisdom—unless they clearly need to improve it. Instead, concentrate on setting goals, surmounting barriers, and offering learning opportunities.

Make the conversation a genuine dialogue that seeks employees’ ideas. They might come up with new ways of handling tasks, bringing fresh ideas to the table. Encourage them to share and discuss their own ideas rather than just giving them instructions. By showing you believe in employees’ ideas and abilities, you’ll promote psychological safety at work and foster trust. 

Discuss morale, too. For instance, ask how they’ve felt after a recent change, what would make them enjoy their work more, or how they feel about team culture.

Once in a while—perhaps every two months—focus the entire one-on-one on career development. This could occur at times when you don’t have other pressing issues to discuss. Review the employee’s career plan, discussing whether the goals and action items on it are still relevant. Update the plan as needed, based on these conversations.

Provide Guidance for Managers

Urge managers to take clear notes during these meetings, compiling a short list of action items. Then, they should follow up on them during the next week, asking if employees have questions or need support. Managers should follow up on any causes of work anxiety as well, helping employees to mitigate these issues. 

Ensure accountability among managers for holding these check-ins and following up on action items. In check-ins with their own supervisors, managers should be asked about their efforts to support employees’ continuous improvement. And in regular 360 reviews, you can survey their direct reports to make sure they’re receiving the necessary guidance through regular one-on-ones.

Provide training for managers on how to coach employees, too. As Gallup says, this can actually improve managers’ engagement by up to 22%, as well as employee engagement. Meanwhile, turnover can decrease by up to 28% as managers gain this skill set, while performance improves by 28%. Coach them on topics like how to avoid micromanagement, allowing employees to carry out tasks without constantly looking over their shoulder. 

By promoting accountability for prioritizing and enhancing one-on-ones, you’ll strengthen employee development and engagement. By tailoring the agenda to employees’ current needs and letting them guide the conversation, you’ll give them a sense of empowerment. Well-designed one-on-one meetings will also build a stronger workplace culture by enhancing psychological safety at work. Strive to continuously improve these check-ins in order to optimize the process.

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