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How To Make Your One On One Meetings More Effective

David Hassell
David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

One on One Meetings are one of the most important tools available to managers, and they are instrumental to running a successful company. Yet many managers treat them as a nice-to-have or cancel them in lieu of other matters.

By cancelling or neglecting one on ones, we miss out on the opportunity to improve employee performance and positively impact the company culture. This is also a systemic issue, where CEOs need to model those behaviors they want to make a part of the company culture and reward managers for mentoring employees to do their best work. 

JR Green Background

I recently hosted a webinar with Jonathan Raymond, CEO at Refound, and author of Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For. During his own tenure as CEO, and when consulting other business leaders, Jonathan discovered that many managers miss the opportunity of having one on ones. As a result, employees experience too much challenge (or not enough), managers get caught in the cycle of overwhelm, and company leadership and HR get frustrated and have to pick up the pieces. 

In the webinar, Jonathan addressed these common issues and offered tactical advice for structuring and guiding one on one meetings, thereby creating a thriving company culture where employees feel seen, heard, and challenged. 

Better Employee Feedback

According to Jonathan, when employees say that they crave more feedback, they mean that they want better feedback in the form of one on one conversations with their direct manager. When managers avoid this opportunity, they put way too much pressure on big picture and top down tools like the company vision, goals, OKRs, and KPIs. Those are important aspirational tools, but they are insufficient to create meaningful conversations with employees.

[Tweet “Without an effective 1-on-1 culture, there’s too much pressure on tools like goals and OKRs.”]

Those conversations have to happen at the level of the one on one meeting. The week goes by way too fast with too much task-switching and projects to complete, so managers must dedicate 25-30 minutes with each employee. During those meeting they should discuss how the employee’s work is relevant to where they want to go with their life and the things they want to improve upon.

Leadership often becomes frustrated that people become disconnected from the values and vision of the company. But this is happening because managers are not capitalizing on the opportunity to refocus employees.

Spontaneous Management Combustion

When managers don’t engage their employees in one on one meetings each week, management combustion is inevitable. This is something we have all done, looking the other way on self-limiting/team-limiting/organizational-limiting behavior and waiting for improvement. We hope that issues will magically correct themselves, but things inevitably reach a breaking point.

Many managers eventually lash out directly or indirectly, sometimes shouting at employees or acting out in an aggressive way. More often we see managing around people or managing them out without having conversations. The manager ends up in their supervisor’s office explaining why they want to terminate the employee or put them on probation. The supervisor asks for the status of where they are in the conversation with the employee and they are met with a blank stare, because those conversations have not been taking place.

One on one meetings help avoid spontaneous management combustion. Click To Tweet

It’s not just the direct employee who is affected when a manager acts out. Everyone is watching and is impacted by the behavior. They see how that person is being treated and they know that he or she was not given feedback, support, or an opportunity to improve, which deteriorates morale and the culture.

The Healthy One on One Culture

We’ve now established the clear need for these meetings, but the question of how to make them better remains. Jonathan shared the following:

1) Think of an effective one on one like an effective (and ethical) sales conversation.

Just like you do your research and consider a potential customer’s pain points, so too you create structure for the meeting with the employee. The ethical part comes in with care for the other person’s experience. Ironically, this means depersonalizing the conversation by focusing on the role and not the person. Determine a general expectation of what excellence looks like in the role, then give the employee feedback about what excellence looks like and where the gaps lie. Managers must offer themselves as mentors to help employees on that journey towards excellence.

2) Create a weekly 30 minute structure. 

You can’t give constructive, direct, candid feedback without a context of human care. If the person that you want to help grow doesn’t feel that you are personally invested and care for them, this process will eventually backfire.

Managers can't give constructive, direct, candid feedback without a context of human care. Click To Tweet

3) Meet whether things are good or bad. 

Many managers think, things are going well, we can skip the one on one this week. Absolutely not. Take this breathing room as an opportunity to talk more about the future or about the employee’s ideas that have been back-burnered because it was crunch time. Cancelled meetings are a red flag for leadership, alerting them that manager doesn’t understand what a one on one is for. They are a space for the growth of that individual once a week to meet with a manager who is personally invested in them.

Webinar_Culture_One On Ones

So much of performance management happens after the fact, but only real-time communication between managers and employees can have an impact. When managers get the training they need to lead effective one on ones, they can create and uphold employee accountability before important projects are due.

– Using Jonathan’s Accountability Dial for managers to locate where they are in the conversation

– How to give feedback in a way that employees will readily hear and absorb, without getting defensive

– How to depersonalize tension between a manager and an employee

– Concrete examples of how to communicate transparently and with appropriate vulnerability

– Mentorship tailored to the 3 main leadership styles

Now that we have discussed the proven one on one meeting process, as well as some strategy and tactics, let’s talk about the technology that makes these meetings more fluid and productive…

1-on-1s for your One on Ones

I am excited to announce our latest feature to assist managers in their employee performance management initiatives, 15Five 1-on-1s:


One on one meetings should not be a time for status updates, they are the perfect opportunity for managers to delve deeper into what they already know about their employees and their work.

By adding employee feedback to an upcoming 1-on-1 agenda, managers can make face-time more effective and focus on solutions to employee challenges and frustrations.

Add to Agenda

Managers can now coach employees through their most pressing challenges and improve performance in real-time, by easily creating action items based on what is discussed during each one on one meeting.

Everything that is discussed can be saved in one place. Managers can provide coaching notes for employees to look back on when they encounter similar situations in the future. They can also record their own thoughts in the private notes section to refer back to when evaluating employee performance throughout the year.

One on one meetings are a vital management practice to help managers build relationships with employees, provide coaching and mentorship, and re-align everyone with the company vision and big-picture goals. With advice from Jonathan and the 1-on-1s feature, you now have the tools that you need to create a culture of communication and high performance.

Image CreditWojtek Kogut Photography