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One on one meeting with employee
8 Min Read

7 Tips For Making Every One-On-One Meeting Count in 2023

Baili Bigham
Baili Bigham

The most powerful coaching tool a manager has is a one-on-one meeting. These meetings are dedicated time for managers to learn important information about their employees and offer useful feedback in real-time. When one-on-ones happen frequently, managers have the opportunity to increase their overall effectiveness and boost employee performance.

Here are seven tips to help you have more meaningful one-on-ones with your employees each and every week.

1. Don’t skip them

Managers aren’t just responsible for their own workload, they must also tend to their employee’s professional and emotional wellbeing. With one-on-ones, managers can carve out the time it takes to offer this level of support, but often, these meetings are the first to go during busy weeks.

In 15Five’s 2020 Workplace Report, we learned just how indispensable one-on-ones are. Compared to employees with less frequent conversations with their managers, those with at least weekly one-on-ones feel:

• More trusting in senior leaders,
• More comfortable bringing up tough issues,
• More frequently motivated,
• More inspired by the work they do, and
• More purpose at work.

When these meetings are canceled, it creates a negative ripple effect: opportunities for growth and recognition are missed, performance issues can arise due to postponed or ineffective feedback, and ultimately, the manager-employee relationship takes a hit. Over time, this disconnection can deepen and become harder to repair.

2. Come prepared

Because 70% of managers are trying to support five or more direct reports, it’s important to make the most of every face-to-face interaction. Rather than spending the majority of the meeting getting caught up on the highs and lows of your employee’s week, request this information beforehand so you can jump into the heart of the conversation without wasting time. 

Review data and past 1-on-1s

The number one goal of 1-on-1 meetings is continuous improvement, according to Kim Cameron, Ph.D. and Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Managers must take continuous action for there to be continuous improvement. To help with this progression, be sure to take notes, record action items, and prioritize talking points to cover the most important topics first. 

Pay attention to what makes this person great

Take a step back and reflect on this person’s individual strengths. Since your last 1-on-1 meeting, how did they leverage their strengths? How have they overcome roadblocks and obstacles getting in the way of performance?  What wins did they have? Prime yourself with examples so you can acknowledge and discuss them in the next 1-on-1.

Understand their goals and priorities 

Take this opportunity to practice true empathy—embody their experience and attempt to understand what they’re thinking, feeling, and saying to themselves that they may not already be saying to you. What’s top of mind for them? What are their goals, objectives, and priorities? This will help level-set your own agenda with theirs. 

The following example questions usually lead to a very enriching and positive experience in one-on-ones, especially regarding opportunities.

Some questions you can ask to gain insight and/or solicit employee feedback include:

  • How do you feel about your current work-life balance?
  • Do you feel you have everything you need to do the work assigned to you?
  • How challenged do you feel by your work right now?
  • What opportunities do you see for yourself or the company?
  • What can I do better to help you?

When employees share relevant information and answer important feedback questions prior to the meeting, managers and employees can show up ready with solutions and leave the meeting feeling prepared with action items.

3. Stay present

Before you begin your 1-on-1 meeting, first check-in with yourself and ask, “Am I fully present?” Having a positive and strong presence is a conscious choice, and if you’re multitasking, the other person will be able to tell.

Our energy is what most affects the people around us, more so than the words we use. That’s why people tend to be more present when you offer them your full, undivided attention. When you actively listen to employees during one-on-ones, it communicates that you respect their time and value their input. If you’re checking email or your instant message, that becomes the priority over your employees’ needs. 

Even if you’re not physically present, people can feel your commitment and your energy across a computer screen just as they can face-to-face. Taking the time to be present will show your awareness and respect for their time, and it will show that you genuinely care.

4. Ask the right questions

An effective coach is one who tends to the needs of their employee and understands their unique strengths. But not every employee will feel comfortable sharing about themselves or asking for help. One of the best ways managers can build and deepen trust is by asking the right questions.

Here are three questions you can ask your employees in every one-on-one so that you can find out the best ways to support them. 

• How are you feeling at work this week?
• What’s going particularly well in your role?
• Are you facing any challenges?

Questions increase learning and the exchange of ideas, according to research from Harvard professors Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie John. They also fuel innovation, performance improvements, and help to build a better rapport. 

You can also use this space to gather feedback about your own performance as a manager. It demonstrates that you’re willing to face the truth, invite radical transparency, and can help you understand the needs of your employees and the condition of your organization. 

Once you get into a regular cadence of asking your people the right questions, it allows you to proactively resolve issues, helps your employees to grow and develop at a quicker rate, and make the most of every conversation. 

5. Don’t underestimate the power of positivity

Showing appreciation, celebrating wins, helping your team make progress and being encouraging are all ways to deliver positivity. Each experience of receiving thanks or appreciation brings with it a brief moment of emotion that will contribute to a sustained sense of positivity. 

Harvard professor, Teresa Amabile, found that the key to motivating high performance is ensuring employees make progress on meaningful work. In her interview by Daniel Pink, Amabile says that “of all the events that have the power to excite people and engage them in their work, the single most important is making progress – even if that progress is a small win. That’s the progress principle. And, because people are more creatively productive when they are excited and engaged, small wins are a very big deal for organizations.”

Lastly, encourage the person. Acknowledge the moments you noticed when the person felt most excited, inspired and engaged. Reflecting on how our emotions relate to our work reveals what academics call inner-work life. When inner-work life is positive, employees are more productive and find deeper meaning in their work.

6. Offer to help

“How can I help you” is a deeply underrated question. By offering a helping hand or seizing an opportunity to coach, you are helping your employees develop and grow. These important moments of collaboration help your organization to flourish. But offering help can manifest in different forms, including partnering together to hold each other accountable, maintaining open feedback loops, and taking ownership of any next steps. 

7. Follow up

Close loops by following up at the beginning of your 1-on-1 meetings and before the next 1-on-1 meeting. Treat the outputs of 1-on-1s as a responsibility; these meetings are crucial, but they only work when they are held regularly and consistently. Honor this commitment and you will create a cadence of feedback and a culture of trust and accountability.

Regular 1-on-1s are more than just meetings, they are one of your most important productivity tools. Through these six keys to more effective 1-on-1s, you can create a safe space for self-reflection and perceptive questioning. The net result is a deliberate shift from transactional to transformational 1-on-1 meetings by ushering in healthier overarching habits at work. 

By mastering the art of one-on-ones, managers can guide their employees’ growth beyond what’s expected of them at work and help them navigate the added stressors people are facing today.

Content Manager at 15Five, Baili Bigham

Baili Bigham is the Content Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, OKR tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. When Baili isn’t writing, you can find her binge-reading a new book or strategizing ways to pet every dog in San Francisco. 

Image credit: Shutterstock