One-on-One meeting

Conducting a One-on-One Meeting

One-on-one meetings between leaders and their direct reports are imperative to ongoing performance management. Companies that participate in regular, reoccurring one-on-ones have seen increased performance, productivity, internal promotions, and improved quality of work.

The one-on-one allows for leaders and their direct reports to participate in strategic brainstorming, ensuring milestones are being met, and providing the opportunity to adjust direction promptly when necessary. Additionally, the one-on-one creates opportunities for leaders to build rapport, trust, and loyalty with their direct reports.

One-on-One Guidelines and Best Practices

Despite the numerous benefits of regular one-on-ones, many leaders do not prioritize the time or don’t understand how to conduct the one-on-one meeting efficiently. It’s important to commit to the time and recognize that time invested now will provide benefits going forward.

Schedule a regular time and place for these one-on-ones and put them on the calendar to help with time management. Over time, attending the one-on-one meetings at the same time each week will become habitual – like any other reoccurring meetings, thereby increasing effectiveness, efficiency, and value.

Leaders can increase the efficiency and value of these meetings by following a few simple guidelines.

Set an Agenda

To help keep the one-on-one process moving smoothly, leaders can begin by developing a flexible meeting agenda that highlights essential discussion points. The agenda ideally will include:

  • Recognition for at least one win.
  • Items for strategic planning.
  • Goal setting and tracking.
  • At least two questions for the direct report.

This is also a good opportunity to discuss performance concerns and brainstorm solutions for any problems that have come up since the last meeting. Keep in mind, the conversation should be two-way, not dominated by the leader. Two-way discussion allows for open collaboration.

Developing an adaptable agenda will provide leeway for any deviations that arise. This is a best practice as it allows for organic conversation and relationship building but be mindful not to stray too far from the outline.

Put Aside Distractions

Leaders and participants should make every attempt to be fully present in the one-on-one meeting. To build rapport and utilize the time appropriately, avoid distractions such as cell phones, emails, texts, instant messaging, and interruptions from others.  

Allowing interruptions or shifting your focus to other things sends a message of diminished value. When possible, leaders and participants should close distracting programs, and inform others to wait until the meeting is over to ask for feedback.

It is also a good idea for leaders to take notes during the meeting. This conveys that the information being discussed is important and will serve as a reminder for following up as appropriate.

Establish Commitment to Goals

When reviewing expectations and setting goals, leaders should seek to use the one-on-one meeting to obtain buy-in from the direct report. Establishing buy-in is an effective method of gaining the direct report’s commitment and support of the expectation or goal.

Additionally, having buy-in enhances the likelihood of employees feeling connected to the expectation or goal. When they feel connected to the goals established, they are more likely to be motivated to meet or surpass what’s expected.

Encourage Problem-Solving Skills

The next guideline can be the most challenging. Leaders should avoid giving advice and answers during one-on-ones, especially when unsolicited. Leaders who have an outside perspective of the situation often can easily find a solution to their direct report’s issue; however, immediately resolving all issues can impair the employee’s ability to think critically and problem-solve.

This is not to say leaders should withhold knowledge and guidance, but rather they should first seek to ask guiding questions to help lead their direct report to the answer. When presented with an issue, ask probing questions such as:

  • What have you tried?
  • What obstacles have you faced?
  • Can you walk me through the steps you followed?

It may be necessary for leaders to ask their direct report, “What support can I offer you,” to ensure the support provided fits the need.  If the direct report does not naturally navigate to an acceptable conclusion, ask for permission to share advice or insight.

Encourage Ownership of the Meeting

Leaders are more likely to guide their direct reports and obtain their buy-in when they share ownership of the one-on-one meeting. While the leader can initiate the meeting, they should send out a preliminary agenda.

The direct report should be asked to add to the agenda and return it before the meeting. The agenda may also include at the end “open discussion.” In doing this, the leader is encouraging the direct report to be a key contributor to the conversation.

Utilize Open-Ended Questions

Direct reports can be more easily engaged in participating in the one-on-one meeting by utilizing open-ended questions. Leaders may find direct reports are inclined to engage more when asked questions such as:

  • What accomplishment are you most proud of since we last met?
  • What has challenged/energized you about your role since we last met?
  • How is what you’re currently working on contributing to your long-term career goals?

Asking questions is also a useful tool to gauge engagement and identify intent to remain with the company. Questions such as:

  • How is your relationship with your peers/coworkers?
  • What are you most hopeful/worried about in the organization’s future?
  • What motivates you to continue working every day?

provide insight into employee engagement and commitment.

Additionally, leaders can ask questions to enhance the professional relationship with the direct report. Examples of questions might include:

  • What part of my job would you like to know more about?
  • What can I do to better support you?
  • What should I add to my growth plan?

These types of questions will help to learn the best way to support employees moving forward and create more trust.

Meeting Documentation

Keeping notes and following up on points covered during the one-on-one is essential to get the most value out of these meetings. The level of detail, content, and follow-up process may vary based on the position the employee holds within the organization.

After completing the one-on-one meeting, leaders are strongly encouraged to forward an overview of the conversation to the direct report. This is most commonly done via email, as the email will serve as a record for both parties.

This practice shows the direct report the leader paid attention to and took notes in the conversation.  This record will also be helpful for both the leader and direct report to reference before the next one-on-one conversation. If performance management becomes an issue later on, the email record of the one-on-one conversation will serve as a reference notification of the performance expectation and attempt at intervention.  

Strong Leadership for a Strong Company

One-on-one meetings have consistently proven to be beneficial both to employers and employees, increasing productivity, performance, trust, engagement, and retention. Ensuring that your leadership has the resources to conduct these meetings efficiently is one of the most important tools for the success of your organization.

Leaders, both new and experienced, can benefit from resources such as coaching and guidance from an HR professional.  Discover how HR Service, Inc. can help guide leaders to build and implement effective one-on-ones or other HR processes that will help you grow and thrive.

Written by: Liz Warren, PhD, Sr. HR Business Partner

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