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Having effective one-on-one meetings with employees is one of the most important things you can do as a manager and leader. One-on-ones can be one of the most valuable and meaningful meetings of the week when done right — for both you and for the person reporting to you. They enable both individuals and their teams to achieve higher levels of performance and job satisfaction.
However, it’s just not a one-way street and your teams may also be craving the opportunity to share feedback. In fact, our 2021 survey found that when bosses ran one-on-ones with bi-directional feedback included; employees were significantly more satisfied and happier with their jobs.
The challenge becomes that meetings with direct reports can often feel hurried or disorganized, with attendees missing out on the potential value. It’s important to check in regularly with your employees, but how do you make the best use of your time together?
Here are some tips on how to improve your current one-on-one structure.
Create a safe environment
Creating psychological safety on teams is among one of the highest priorities, particularly the ability to freely and respectfully share opinions. If employees feel comfortable and safe to share opinions and have honest conversations, it not only builds trust, but also creates a sense of belonging, which ultimately helps with job satisfaction, productivity and retention.
What does this look like in practice?
Broaden conversation topics outside of work. At the start or close of the meeting, incorporate some conversation beyond work and responsibilities. Some ideas include weekend plans, current events or even what they had for lunch!
Set ground rules. Ask your team members how they like to receive feedback. Explain your preferences for communication as well. Openly acknowledge the style, format, duration, and frequency of the meeting to arrive at an approach that takes both parties’ preferences into account.
Show up on time. Simply put: Being late or rescheduling can send the wrong message.
Have an agenda
In a perfect world, you and your employee would collaborate on an agenda ahead of time. Yet, workday pressures and jam-packed schedules can often get the better of us. When you don’t have an agenda, the default conversation is to typically focus on tactical status updates.
What’s this look like in practice?
Save a working shared doc in the invite: This could be a shared Google Doc or Notion page, but creating a collaborative place to set the agenda creates a two-way conversation. Teammates can pop in any time during the week to add items they want to discuss at the meeting.
Collaborate on the topics. Whether the doc is owned by the manager or the employee, the actual agenda topics should be shared and collaborative. Suggested topics include current projects, follow-ups from the previous weeks, any areas of concern, major business goals and career goals for the quarter and space to highlight recognition or give constructive feedback.
Create accountability. When we make commitments to one another in one-on-ones, we hold one another accountable to them week-to-week. Circle back when issues have been resolved or addressed, and lead by example by holding yourself accountable.
Think long-term, act short-term
When you keep one-on-ones focused on recent issues, employees can lose sight of the overall company goals and purpose along with their own professional goals.
Regularly showing an interest in an employee’s long-term growth and development will demonstrate that you genuinely care about the employees’ wellbeing and support their aspirations. Tying these same aspirations into the company’s goals reinforces the employee’s understanding of why their day-to-day is building towards something bigger.
What’s this look like in practice?
Ask questions. Show that you’re interested in hearing their perspectives. Involve them in decisions or invite their take on issues you’ve been thinking about. If possible, involve them directly in the problem-solving, particularly if they’re working near or directly with the problem.
Keep goals front and center. Find an alternative channel for status updates, and regularly check in on larger initiatives, and ask how you can remove barriers or help make progress.
Track career growth. Whether it’s in your agenda or separate from the weekly one-on-one, you should track employee career goals, ask about resources they need and support opportunities for growth. At Koan, we check in on professional development about once a month, as it’s a good idea to mutually check in on the bigger picture.
One-on-ones can have a deep impact on the way your team works together and collaborates. Personalizing these meetings and focusing on employee professional and career growth can help both you and your team be successful within the organization.