People Management
6 min.

6 Keys to Successful One-on-One Meetings

Andrée-Anne Blais-Auclair
Last updated on 22 Dec. 2023
Published on 16 Aug. 2022
Deux personnes qui discutent ensemble
deux femmes qui discutent

Good one-on-one meetings can change everything at a company, from the work atmosphere to organizational financial health.

Table of contents

One-on-ones are crucial to building trust with your employee, being in the know about what’s going on in their life, and understanding their performance.

Yet the fact is that, because their positive impact is little known, one-on-ones often take a back seat. In other cases, one-on-one meetings are poorly executed and therefore much less effective than they could be. And unfortunately, one-off interactions are no substitute for an official recurring meeting, which is why it’s important to plan and structure your one-on-ones effectively.

In this post I explain why one-on-one meetings hold incredible potential as a management tool, and how to make the most of them.

Why have one-on-one meetings?

Before jumping in, it’s important to understand the purpose of a one-on-one meeting between a manager and an employee. The benefits include:

    • Developing a relationship of trust with the employee
    • Getting to know each other personally as well as professionally
  • Creating an environment where the employee knows they can speak up
  • Understanding the employee’s current context (what they’re going through
    at home, their morale, etc.) and consequently their performance and ups and downs
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Making sure that an employee’s actions are aligned with their goals and the company’s goals
  • Giving recognition
  • Discussing the future of the employee’s career
  • Discussing employee training or skill development
  • Getting feedback from the employee on their tasks, on the manager’s role, and on the company as a whole

But how do you maximize the impact of these one-on-ones? By preparing them carefully, of course, and by following the recommended structure below.

The best structure to optimize a one-on-one meeting

1. Have a more personal chat

Work is just one aspect of the person. Each employee is juggling a variety of things at work and in their personal life. When something important or difficult happens at home, it’s very important that you be informed of it.

This requires certain ingredients:

  • The space and the right time to talk
  • A sense of being able to confide and be vulnerable without fear of repercussions

A one-on-one unites both ingredients, which is why it is so powerful. Asking your employee how they’re doing and taking an interest in their personal life allows you to truly get to know them, as well as understand their unique situation.

👉 Start by simply asking your employee how they’re feeling and how things are going at home. If they have a partner or a family, take an interest in those relationships, their everyday life, etc. This kind of information is central to your employee’s life and directly affects their performance at work.

2. Let them weigh in

While the onus of a performance evaluation is on the manager, a one-on-one is more focused on the employee. The one-on-one is a great time to let your employee talk, and listen to them. It’s a powerful moment that brings out information that you may never have access to otherwise.

Ask the employee questions and open the discussion, but then let them speak.

👉 Make it clear to your employee that you’re giving them the floor. You can start by asking an open-ended question, a question that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. Are there any areas your employee would like to address: irritants, challenges, wishes, expectations, etc.?

3. Tackle challenges

It would be a shame to wait for the formal performance evaluation to address the challenges an employee is facing on a daily basis.

It is imperative to discuss obstacles and challenges regularly.

For one thing, it prevents your employee from being caught unaware when something isn’t going well at work. What’s more, a one-on-one is an excellent opportunity to offer the help and support your employee needs, and even more importantly, to give them the opportunity to improve.

👉 Keep a table or file of the challenges your employee is facing. These may be things that they feel like they’re struggling with, or tasks or behaviours that the rest of the team has complained about, for example. After naming a challenge, let your employee open up about it, and observe how they respond to the criticism.

4. Follow up on goals

Reviewing the goals you set during your last one-on-one is a very important part of your current one-on-one meeting. This step allows you to take stock of your employee’s progress—has there been an improvement since the challenges or irritants were raised?

To make it easier to track goals, make sure they’re SMART:

Specific: Make sure the action(s) required to meet the goal are as clear as possible.

Measurable: Ask yourself how the goal will be measured.

Attainable: Together with your employee, establish the steps to be taken in order to reach the goal.

Realistic: Does the employee have the material, human or training resources to meet the goal?

Time-bound: Set a date to achieve the goal.

👉 Make sure your employee understands these 5 aspects of the goals you set, and clarify with them when you plan to assess the achievement of these goals.

5. Request feedback

As I mentioned above, the one-on-one is more focused on your employee. After talking to them about the challenges or irritants you’ve pinpointed, offer them the opportunity to reciprocate. Are there any irritants for them, associated with the company, their colleagues or their manager?

Receiving constructive feedback or criticism from an employee is never easy. However, it’s essential that each employee feels they can communicate their dissatisfaction to their immediate manager.

👉 If taking feedback is difficult for you, view it as a learning experience. After all, emotional intelligence is, without a doubt, the most formidable tool in the manager’s toolkit. Being a manager requires a great deal of introspection and self-reflection, and feedback is necessary to become a better manager.

6. Schedule your next one-on-ones

What would be the point of all these important discussions if there was no follow-up?

After every one-on-one meeting, without exception, make sure to set a time to review your employee’s progress together with them.

Making one-on-ones a regular occurrence will multiply their benefits exponentially.
By the way, the frequency of one-on-ones with employees can vary according to different factors: a new employee will require more frequent meetings, while most other team members will only require a meeting once a month. Also, you may need to schedule more one-on-ones if your employee is going through a rough patch in their personal life or at work.

👉 Plan several meetings in advance, for example over the next six months, so your employee knows what to expect. In addition, to spur their motivation, dare to ask your employee if they would like to set their own personal goals at your next meeting.

For a successful one-on-one, let your employee have the floor

It’s best to let your employee do the talking in a one-on-one meeting. As a manager, your role is merely to guide the meeting and make sure you cover the points to be discussed. For an employee to progress and reach their full potential, the ideas must come from them.

Trust your employee, the results will amaze you!

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