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One-on-one meetings are to organizations what hydration is to humans: overlooked but critical to survival. Think of your typical work week. There is taking stock of what has happened and acting on the day’s tasks—preparing for what’s next. Managers can easily forget the importance of one-on-one meetings when trying to do so much in so little time.
Although, it is safe to say that one-on-ones form the bedrock of great management. It is the greatest opportunity an employee has to speak their mind honestly. One-on-ones are for employees to communicate their goals and ideas. It is a great time to take in constructive feedback and to build trust. The meeting belongs to the employee, and you must take in all they have to say (how the tables turn).
But regular one-on-ones do much more than just give an employee the boss’s ear. One-on-ones are integral to employee wellness and talent retention. Essentially, these meetings are about taking care of the small things. It is about narrowing the interpersonal gaps that arise over time.
Prepare for your next meeting with this extensive guide on the craft of one-on-one communication.
Before your one-on-one meeting
Creating the right conditions
You must take care to create a sense of integrity around one-on-ones. The ideal meeting characteristics must be communicated during performance reviews or team meetings. Further, you must tell your employees to communicate openly and consider one-on-ones a safe space. Creating the right conditions becomes all the more important for remote teams. When the distance between you and your employees is more than usual, communicating issues should be that much easier. Your relationship with your employees is a key factor in their job satisfaction.
Pick the right frequency
Depending on the team size and proximity of functions, the meetings can be set at a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly time frames. The meetings must not be infrequent. They should be conducted at a time suitable to both parties. Take care to not miss the meeting unless something very, very important comes up. A one-on-one must not be treated as a secondary activity that is superseded by ‘more important stuff’. If you do cancel the meeting, reschedule at the employee’s first convenience.
Set the agenda
Ask your employees beforehand what they want to talk about. Urge them to make a list of possible discussion points. You must make sure that they keep it as detailed as possible. Then you have to use your inputs to create a structure for the one-on-one. Having a predefined list of topics helps you keep the meeting efficient. You can always use the agenda list to bring a wavering conversation back to the issue. For remote workers, try to have a more exhaustive set of talking points.
A 2016 study reported that more than two-thirds of manager-respondents were uncomfortable with employee communication. That is a staggering yet unsurprising number. Managers have to play the balancing act between organizational goals and employee satisfaction. It is a tricky job, especially during one-on-ones. But, as always, effective preparation comes to the rescue. Go over the notes from your previous one-on-one. Prepare a set of questions and phrase them correctly. Mull over the agenda points and find relevant information. Lastly, do not forget to wear that smile!
During the one-on-one meeting
Create a safe space
You can begin by asking questions that set a friendly tone for the conversation. Disarming the employees is essential to helping them truly open up. Overwhelmed employees will speak with reserve. Be kind and engaging. Ask them if they are keeping well. Put forth open-ended questions that require your employees to speak up. Take stock of their work relationships. Enlisting their recent individual or team accomplishments could also be a good start.
Play a supporting role
Keep in mind that the one-on-one is your employee’s platform to express and yours to absorb. Check in with them about their work, but also encourage personal observations. Ask them about their feelings and anything else that’s on their mind. If you have a remote team, you will have to take that extra step to be a supporting figure. Keep your video switched on. Inquire if the employee feels productive enough. Have a chat about their surroundings and their mental health.
Understand their goals and ambitions
Employees want to work in a place where they feel understood, a place where they have space for personal goals and also the means to achieve them. A one-on-one is an effective tool to understand your employee’s objectives and align them with company goals. When you achieve this rapport, your employee feels safe and understood. This is good for personal morale as well as organizational success. Making your employees feel understood is an important part of their experience. An employee’s experience has a direct correlation with their work performance.
Ask for suggestions
To seek suggestions is to empower your employee. To empower is to engage. Organizations with better employee engagement rates have better productivity and higher profitability. One-on-ones are a great space for taking ideas that might improve the organization. For you to get suggestions from introverts, a one-on-one is the ideal (and maybe the only) tool. Think of suggestion taking as a virtual stock option. You are giving employees a stake, and they are accepting ownership of their position.
During the one-on-one, you must also ask for feedback on your performance as a manager.
Give constructive feedback
The feedback you give need not be limited to the talking points covered in the meeting. It can include a review of recent work performance, challenges, accomplishments and future goals. Be it negative or positive, emphatic or otherwise, always be kind when giving feedback. Compassionately delivered feedback is integral to maintaining motivation while also inducing course correction.
Planning for the next one-on-one meeting
Give a round-up of all that you have talked about before winding up the one-on-one. Mention the highlights. Remind them of the action points. Give a review of how you think the meeting went. Your observations will instill confidence in the employee and they will feel as if they have actually been heard. A quick summary helps you make sure you haven’t missed out on anything. You should also ask the employee to give their views on how the meeting went.
Setting and prioritizing goals
An employee’s career development is integral to their long term commitment to your organization. Help them create an action plan that deals with the issues discussed in the one-on-one. Enlist the workplace training programs that could benefit their professional ambitions. Prioritize the goals to ensure that the process is efficient and well-structured. Remember to keep the goals achievable yet challenging.
Aligning the goals
Individual goals are good as long as they are aligned with the organization’s purpose. Understand the company’s goals and see how the individual fits in. Aligned employees are more likely to feel engaged in the workplace. You want a team that clearly knows the company's goals and works cohesively to achieve them. Keep in mind that your employee’s performance is a reflection of your managerial style. Helping your employees grow and perform better is good for them, better for you and the best your company could ask for.
Follow up on the action plan
It is essential that the one-on-one is not a singular event that happens once in a blue moon. A one-on-one’s purpose is to lay the groundwork for future interactions and exchanges. You have to see how the meeting has affected their performance. Following up on the action plan is a key part of that. Without following up, your one-on-ones will be like a car without an engine: heedless. Make a note of the things you missed in the last meeting. Give answers to requests or questions put forth during the one-on-one.
Make every one-on-one meeting a success
By now, you must have understood that one-on-ones are not as easy as they seem. They require dedicated thought, careful deliberations and purposeful planning. It also goes to show how critical one-on-one exchanges are to your team’s performance. While you can use this checklist to make sure everything is in place, a more detailed guide on one-on-one meetings will help you make the most of your time.
This is why Mesh has published a comprehensive ebook on one-on-one interactions. There is also a vast bank of questions that you can rely on to get the conversation going. Treat the ebook as resource material to grasp the smallest nuance of a one-on-one meeting. Better one-on-ones are the key to your team’s good performance.