How to Conduct Regular One-on-One Employee Meetings

Credit: Blend Images - Terry Vine

Published 5/2/2015

I continue to be surprised by the number of managers that don’t conduct regular one-one-one meetings with their employees.

This is unfortunate. These are managers that really shouldn’t be managers. At the end of the day, being a manager is all about dealing with people. One-on-one meetings are a regular opportunity for managers to lead. It’s a chance to inspire, influence, motivate, coach, listen, solve problems, make decisions, and create an environment where employees feel energized.

You can’t do this with email – it has to be face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. Or, if managing remotely, do them over the phone.

The most important tip for having effective one-one-ones is:

Believe they are important, that they are the manifestation of leadership, and treat them as the most important part of your day.

Once a manager does this, the rest is all just technique.

Here are 12 suggestions for conducting regular employee one-on-one meetings:

1. Schedule them out for six to 12 months, either weekly or bi-weekly, for about an hour each. Don’t wait for them to happen, because they won’t. Make it your employee’s responsibility to schedule them, but set the expectation and hold them accountable. It’s not an option.

2. Don’t cancel them. Yes, things come up – so reschedule if needed. If you’re always canceling them, you’re sending the message that they aren’t important. Go back and re-read the most important tip.

3. Give your full attention. Shut your door, don’t answer your phone, turn your cell phone off, and listen. If you don’t have an office, then use a conference room or other distraction free area.

4. Always let your employees go first. Clear their agenda first – it’s their time. Then cover any items on your list.

5. Make sure you don’t just discuss performance goals, metrics, quotas, or project updates. Save time to also talk about their development, job satisfaction, and yes, even a little time to get to know your employees as people.

6. Have a career and development discussion. At least once a year, set aside an entire meeting to discuss career goals and individual development plans.

7. Tailor meetings to the needs and style of each employee. You don’t need to follow the same rigid structure for every one of your employees. Some may prefer informal with no agenda - others may prefer agendas and formality. It doesn’t matter what you prefer – one-on-ones are all about them, not you.

8. Don’t accumulate a to-do list for each employee, and then use one-on-ones to unload your list. There’s nothing like leaving a meeting with a two pages of action items and wondering how you’re going to fit all the extra work into your week. When you do this, your employees will dread your one-on-ones.

9. Be a barrier remover, not a gatekeeper. When an employee comes brings an idea to you, don’t shoot it full of holes, add so many of your own ideas to the idea that it’s no longer your employee’s, or add extra steps so that it takes longer to implement.

Instead of adding steps to your employee’s ideas, challenge yourself as a leader to remove steps, or barriers, so that the employee can implement the idea even faster.

10Ask for feedback, opinions, input to important decisions, and advice. Examples include, “How can I be a better leader for you?” or “I’m thinking about a new strategy and I’d like your thoughts”. Or, use four of the most motivating words a manager can say” “What do you think?”

11. Save some time to just talk. It’s okay to spend a few moments just asking what’s new, how’s life, how’s the family, etc.

12. Make sure they leaved more energized than when they came in. This is the single most important measurement of an effective one-on-one.

A former manager gave me this piece of wise advice I’ll never forget: “How do you measure the effectiveness of your one-on-ones? Take a look at your employees when the meeting is over. Are they leaving energized, enthusiastic, and motivated? Are they smiling? Or are their shoulders sagging, eyes glazed, and dragging themselves out of your office? That’s your scorecard as a leader.”