One-on-One Meetings: An Employee’s Guide

This article is the second in a two-part series about 1:1 meetings, and the value they bring to working relationships and performance. Today’s post focuses on the employee’s role. Before proceeding below, read the first article in the series, on the manager’s role in 1:1 meetings.

One-on-one meetings are only as good as the conversation. Meetings where managers just tell employees what to do doesn’t bring the same level of value.

That’s why two-way communication is essential. Employees need to come to the conversation prepared to talk about their performance. In last month’s article about 1:1 meetings, I talked about the manager’s role in preparation and participation. Today, I’ll focus on the employee’s role during 1:1 meetings.

A big reason that employees should want to be an active part of a 1:1 meeting is because they want regular performance feedback — both positive and not-so-positive. This is not a generational thing. Everyone wants to know how they’re doing. Performance plays a huge role in career goals and compensation. Regardless of how often the organization does performance reviews, no one wants their performance review to be a surprise. So, a regular 1:1 meeting brings value.

Employees not only share responsibility for participating in the conversation, but they should share the responsibility for making sure the meetings happen. When it comes to scheduling, employees are sometimes at a disadvantage because typically a manager will initiate scheduling the meeting. But there are a couple of things that employees can do to make sure the meeting remains a priority:

  • At the end of a 1:1 meeting, suggest scheduling the next meeting. Having a regular meeting cadence could be helpful to all. If that doesn’t work…
  • Wait a couple of weeks and ask for the meeting. An employee could say something like, “Hey, isn’t it time for our 1:1? I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget to put it on my calendar.”

Employees don’t have to wait for a meeting to show up on their calendars to start getting prepared. Here are five things an employee can do in the meantime.

1) Spend some time thinking about performance. First ask: what have you done well? Don’t undervalue your performance. There are plenty of things you’ve done well, and they should be noted. Then ask: what could you have done differently? Please note: I didn’t say wrong. Ask yourself, “Are there things that could have been completed a better way?” Be prepared to have specific responses to both questions. It demonstrates that you’ve spent time thinking about it.

2) Provide an update on goals. Be prepared to discuss which goals are on track and which might need revising. The goal in this conversation isn’t to assign blame. It’s to discuss what actions need to take place to get a goal back on track. Keep in mind, it’s possible that goals could need to be reprioritized and some might need to be canceled. If by chance your recommendation is to eliminate a goal, come to the meeting prepared to present another goal. It’s possible you won’t need it, but come prepared anyway.

3) Give the manager feedback too. This is so important. Tell your manager what support you need from them. Honestly, they might not know and that’s not a reflection on their abilities. You’re in the trenches and the manager might not be. They rely on you to share that perspective. In addition to sharing what you need in terms of support, also consider telling the manager what they do really well. We’re not suggesting false flattery. I’m sure you can think of something that helps the manager understand their strengths.

4) Ask questions during the meeting. This is the time to follow up on any questions that have not yet been answered. Maybe it’s personal, such as a time-off request or authorization to attend a conference. It could also be a good time to ask about company projects or policies. If the manager doesn’t bring it up, ask “Are there any new projects I should know about?” Again, this isn’t necessarily a reflection that the manager is trying to keep information a secret. Sometimes, we simply forget.

5) Recap what you plan to do. Before concluding the meeting, quickly review your to-do list and deadlines. If you need to ask some clarifying question, do it. Also, ask about a follow-up meeting and agenda items that will be brought up. It’s possible that a goal set during the meeting will need to be completed by the next meeting. Discuss transferring any meeting notes in a technology solution so they can be tracked over time.

Employees need to know that they are half of the 1:1 meeting and take responsibility for their portion of the conversation. Managers and HR should discuss the importance of 1:1 meetings during orientation and onboarding. Give employees the tools to be a good meeting participant.

Organizations could consider using these two articles to develop a manager and employee meeting checklist. The checklist can reside online or in hard copy. The important part is that people use it to make their 1:1 meetings valuable.