The main purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to develop people. Team meetings, scrum sessions, project meetings exist to track progress on projects. One-on-one meeting discussions should center around an individual’s goals, progress on these goals, their career, their aspirations, challenges, and overall health as an employee and team member. In other words, it has a human focus, versus a project focus. Managers tell me all of the time that they don’t need to do one-on-one’s because they sit in close proximity to their employee’s and talk multiple times per day. When I dig a bit deeper, I find that they define one-on-one’s as project check-in’s, and not people check-in’s. There is no way they are discussing an individual’s goals and challenges in an open environment.
When setting up a one-on-one, managers should really encourage their employee’s to pick a frequency that works for both parties, and to be responsible for the scheduling. This empowers the employee to take ownership of their mentoring and manager feedback. It also helps the manager because instead of a manager having to schedule multiple meetings for each direct report, the direct reports take on this work, and it is a big time saver. It is also important to note that a manager may meet with some employee’s more frequently than others, and this is good, because it is based on what every employee needs, not a standardization or one-size-fits-all approach.
Next, managers should really consider where they conduct one-on-ones. The environment does matter. Select a private location with limited distractions. This might mean going offsite for a coffee, or scheduling a conference room away from the team area. I find that when managers conduct one-on-one’s in their offices, they are easily distracted by other work, their computer monitor, and people interruptions. A successful one-on-one requires total focus on the employee, their needs, what they communicating, so select a space that allows this level of communication.
Manager’s must really focus on practicing their active listening skills during the one-on-one’s, versus doing all of the talking. This is a common mistake I see manager’s make, and this causes the employee to just listen to a lecture versus open up and share what they are really thinking and feeling. How do we show we are actively listening? As mentioned earlier, the environment we choose really sets the tone to show we are listening. Next, our body language plays a big part in communicating that we are listening intently. We should maintain eye contact, and sit at a table with the employee, versus behind a big desk where there is a physical barrier. Head nodding and interaction as they talk will encourage them to continue to share their thoughts and ideas.
Manager’s ask me all of the time what they should be discussing during one-on-one’s. Here is a quick checklist of ideas to choose from.
- Recognition: Recognize any and all achievements or wins the employee has had since the previous one-on-one. When managers train themselves to look for wins, they become more tuned-in to provide ongoing recognition.
- Current position: Discuss their current role, what is going well, where they are struggling, what they need to experience or learn to be even more effective, what resources they need.
- Future Career goals: Discuss the employee’s career aspirations, where they want to go next in the organization, and help them focus their learning goals to prepare them for the next role. One simple way to do this is by using the job description for the future role as a communication tool, by discussing their strengths and areas of opportunity based on this future role.
- Challenges / Opportunities: Discuss any performance challenges, and provide clear feedback while discussing improvement areas. Talk about where the employee is stuck or challenged, and brainstorm ways to help them progress.
- Team Dynamics: Discuss how they are doing within the greater team, what they are experiencing, where they feel challenged.
- Goals Check-in: Talk about progress made on goals, prioritization of goals, any new goals, recognize them for completing any goals, and how you can support them overall.
- Topic of the Day: Anything pressing on their mind, what they want to talk about based on current day situations. It may or may not fall into an above category.
Conducting effective one-on-one’s consistently, over time, using honest feedback and recognition, will be the best way to grow people in a sustainable way. The goal is to look back in one year and see the positive progress that each direct report has made, and use the annual review to recognize this progress.