The goal of a one-on-one is to get the manager and employee on the same page and to make sure of the employee’s satisfaction and well-being.
A one-on-one is not to be confused with a performance evaluation, which appraises the employee’s performance and development and goes over their career ambitions.
Even with the best of intentions, if your one-on-one drags on, starts to become more of an evaluation, or reveals a lack of empathy and genuine listening, the impacts can actually be negative.
So with that in mind, here are our 20 tips for successful one-on-one meetings with your employees.
20 tips for one-on-one meetings
1. Take notes between your one-on-ones
No one has a perfect memory, so be sure and jot down the employee’s accomplishments, irritants, positive points, and issues. These notes will leave a trace from one meeting to the next, and help you revisit specific facts and events.
2. Plan ahead
Schedule your one-on-one dates for the next six months so that your employees know what to expect. To the best of your ability, try to schedule them at regular intervals, for instance every four weeks, every two months, etc. A regular rhythm helps make sure you won’t forget the meeting, and anchors the one-on-one in your own and your employee’s routine.
3. Explore different formats
Your one-on-ones can be more formal and take place at work, but some people may prefer to take an informal walk or meet with you over a meal. Explore different options to find the right format for you.
4. Prioritize one-on-ones over all your other meetings!
Managers’ schedules tend to be hectic, and meetings don’t help.
That being said, meetings with your employees are the most important kind. Without them, you will lose touch with your team members, including their day-to-day realities, needs and problems.
Without space to discuss, your employees’ emotions may fester and lead to loss of motivation or even departures.
Never neglect one-on-ones.
5. Follow a prior agenda
Draw up an agenda and share it with your employee beforehand. Frankly, a meeting without an agenda can seem disorganized. The agenda will also make sure you cover everything you wanted to, rather than going off on tangents. An agenda helps you better manage your time and avoid running over. Sometimes all it takes is a more heated discussion to completely forget the subject of conversation.
6. Keep to a predetermined time frame
Forget about two-hour individual meetings.
You and your employee don’t have two hours free in your respective schedules. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes.
If at all possible, keep it short. Several brief regular meetings are better than one long meeting every two months. A shorter format also works especially well in fast-paced industries, such as restauration.
7. Give equal time to everyone
Do you have a team of 10 employees—some of whom tell you they don’t really feel the need for frequent one-on-ones? Meet with them anyway! No employee should feel left out or less important.
8. Keep one-on-ones confidential
Since one-on-ones are all about opening up and having frank conversations, knowing that everything will remain confidential is critical for your employees. Establish a procedure to help ensure confidentiality. For example, you can take notes in a document that only you have access to. Also, be sure to meet in a place where no one will overhear your conversation.
9. Find the right place to meet with your employee
Cafeterias and other chaotic venues are not the right place for a one-on-one. Want a good example of where NOT to meet? A friend of mine was once dismissed during a one-on-one in a crowded cafe. It’s hard to think of a worse venue for such a delicate conversation. Choose a quiet place where you know you’ll be alone.
10. Be empathetic
You can schedule regular meetings and follow the tips in our post 6 Keys to Successful One-on-one meetings to the letter, but if your employee doesn’t feel that you’re sensitive and really listening to them, the meeting is bound to fail.
If empathy isn’t your strong suit, all is not lost, but make sure to really work on yourself and find ways to develop your emotional intelligence. This is an indispensable quality for managers today.
11. Focus on achievements
You may sometimes have constructive feedback or outright negative feedback to give your employee. Even when this is the case, never forget to include positive feedback as well. A balance between recognition and constructive feedback really helps to promote receptiveness.
12. Share the team’s successes
Your one-on-one can be a great time to discuss the achievements of your team and your company. It’s motivating for your employees to hear about their colleagues’ good work and how the company is growing. In addition to nurturing a sense of belonging, it’s a great way to build on the positive and demonstrate the importance you place on recognition.
13. Share company goings-on
Similarly, don’t hesitate to give your employee some news about the company. An organization doesn’t have to be big to create a sense of being disconnected from other employees and what they’re doing. So take advantage of your one-on-one to update your employee on company news and milestones since your last meeting.
14. Be in a position to read nonverbal language
If you can’t see your employee in person, make sure you see them via videoconference, as non-verbal cues are critical to really understanding them.
15. Hold one-on-ones, whether or not they go well
Don’t reserve one-on-one meetings for when problems arise; meet with your employees even when everything seems to be going smoothly. They might have a different view of things and their opinion can help you come up with new ideas or solutions, for example.
16. Listen more than you talk
One-on-ones should always be about the employee first and foremost. And listening is a great way to show them recognition. Be open, give your staff some room to express themselves freely, and practice active listening.
17. Ask open-ended questions
Set aside yes/no questions in favour of open-ended ones. This will help you gather even more useful information.
18. Ask for feedback on your management
Feedback is a great way to measure employee satisfaction. And employees are in the best position to enable you to take an introspective look at the way you do things and therefore help you improve your management techniques.
19. Focus on SMART goals
Systematically set goals for the next meeting.
These goals will make the meeting both meaningful and actionable. Specific goals are an important source of motivation at work.
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 to reach the goal.
Realistic: Does the employee have the material, human or training resources necessary to meet the goal?
Time-bound: Set a date to achieve the goal.
20. Never cancel a one-on-one
If you’re unable to see your employee as planned, don’t cancel—postpone your meeting instead. Suggest another specific time so your employee knows it’s important to you.
Your one-on-one is an appointment with your most valuable asset
A one-on-one is an important meeting between an employee and their manager. It’s easy to neglect, omit, postpone, shorten or fumble a one-on-one, but that would be a big mistake. Your employees are your most valuable asset—and if they are loyal and efficient, then they are also a rare commodity. Make one-on-ones a priority and invest time and energy in them, no matter what.
For more on one-on-one meetings, read 6 Keys to Successful One-on-One Meetings