One-on-One Meetings: A Manager's Guide

This article is the first in a two-part series about 1:1 meetings, and the value they bring to working relationships and performance. The first part focuses on the manager’s role.

Regular communication between managers and employees is essential for building trust and good working relationships. One of the activities that facilitates regular discussion is called the 1:1 meeting. Basically, it’s a meeting for managers and employees to talk about what’s happened, and what’s coming up.

The 1:1 meeting isn’t a performance review, but it does discuss performance. The meeting can provide employees with specific, timely feedback that reinforces positive performance behaviors and works toward correcting not-so-positive ones.

A great thing about a 1:1 meeting is that it can be casual and reduce the nervousness sometimes associated with the formal performance review process. One-on-one meetings can provide consistent feedback to employees about their performance, so the formal performance review isn’t a surprise. But make no mistake, casual conversation doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

For 1:1 meetings to achieve their goal, managers need to work on getting good at them. One way to do that is by having an agenda for the meeting. So, let’s outline five topics that should be covered during a 1:1 meeting.

1) Briefly review items since last meeting. Think of this as a debrief and ask the employee to come prepared to provide an update since the last conversation. They can share the things that have gone well. If necessary, talk about things that could have been done differently. It can be very helpful to have the employee share this information vs. having the manager tell the employee what they’ve done and haven’t done.

2) Discuss new items. Let the employee know the projects that the organization is working on and how a project might impact the employee. As a continuation of topic #1 (above), review outstanding goals and discuss whether they need to be modified or outright cancelled. If a goal is cancelled, talk about whether a new goal should be set in its place. Also use this time to ask the employee if they have anything going on that the manager needs to know. This could be personal (in terms of scheduling, etc.) or professional (a workshop, training, etc.).

3) Ask one stay interview question. Regardless of what’s happening with turnover in the organization, it’s always good to find out what employees like about working for the company. Managers can ask, “Is the job turning out to be what you expected?” or “What’s one thing your last organization did that you liked but we don’t do?”. This information gained from the stay interview can be passed along to HR and possibly used in recruitment marketing.

4) Find out how you (as the manager) can support the employee. So far, we’ve been talking about employee performance. This is your manager mini evaluation. You want your employees to be successful, so ask them for feedback about how you can help them achieve their goals. And don’t put the employee on the spot. Let them know in advance that this will be a regular part of the conversation.

5) Establish items for the next meeting. Before wrapping up the 1:1 meeting, do a quick recap and set some expectations for the next conversation. It would also be helpful to find a way to document this — preferably online. This is a great use of technology. The manager and employee have something they can refer to in between meetings to stay focused. Finally, thank the employee for their work and support.

One-on-one meetings are effective when they combine casual and conversational with consistency. Because that consistency holds both the manager and the employee accountable.

Speaking of employee accountability, the manager isn’t the only one who needs to work on coming to the 1:1 meeting prepared. In part two of this series on 1:1 meetings, we’ll discuss the employee’s guide to being prepared for the 1:1 conversation. Check back here next month at The Workforce Institute for part two!