1-on-1 meetings

How To Have Transformational 1-on-1 Meetings With Your Employees

By Jennie Yang

Did you know employees are three times more likely to be engaged at work if they have managers who hold regular meetings with them? While many managers do hold 1-on-1 meetings with their direct reports, it’s far too common that they are rushed, tactical, and transactional. When organizations are able to conduct transformational 1-on-1s, performance, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement are significantly boosted.

The purpose of transformational 1-on-1 meetings is to help someone be and become their best self through positive and meaningful conversations. This type of meeting is designed to be more strategic in nature so each person is making the best use of their time and maximizing impact. 

Here are six steps to conducting effective 1-on-1 meetings so that you can help to deepen the bond between you and your employees and to boost your overall organizational culture.

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare

It’s important for the foundations of trust between an employee and manager to be established from the get-go. Doing so opens the door for more transparent communication in subsequent 1-on-1s. Here are three helpful preparation tips for both managers and employees going into a 1-on-1 meeting:

• 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. 

2. Be 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. Taking the time to be present will show your awareness and respect for their time, and it will show that you genuinely care. This is important for establishing a sense of psychological safety, which is defined as being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career.

3. 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.

4. Ask the right questions

Any effective conversation is a two-way collaborative discussion. Asking questions is key to generating dialogue and is a lightweight way to keep up with your employee’s current state and well-being. You can also work to create further psychological safety by asking the right questions on a regular basis. The answers become conversations about what is most essential and meaningful for the team and the organization, and those conversations transform into action.  

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. 

5. 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. 

6. 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. 

Jennie Yang is a strategic and operational consulting leader with over 11 years of experience designing business strategies and driving organizational transformations for Fortune 500 companies and startups. Currently, she is Director of Customer Success at 15Five, a continuous performance management company on a mission to create highly engaged, high-performing organizations by helping people become their best selves. Certified as a Master Practitioner in Transformational Neuro-Linguistic Programming (tNLP), Jennie is also a leadership coach and facilitator who helps unlock the potential of individuals, teams, and organizations. 

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash


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