9 Ways to Make Your One-On-One Meetings More Productive

What are some tips for efficient one-on-one meetings with employees? What is the best way to give both positive and negative feedback? It takes the skills of a great coach and a great listener.

Here are 9 ways way’s to make your one-on-one meetings productive:

  • Don’t cancel them. Cancelling a one-on-one is worse than never scheduling one at all. The easiest way to communicate to an employee that they’re not important is to cancel their one-on-one, no matter the reason. If a conflict comes up, try to reschedule the one-on-one at another time on the same day, and apologize for doing so.
  • Let your employees drive (to start). Don’t start a one-on-one by piling more work on employees. Encourage them to drive the agenda and bring a list of things they’d like your advice on or to discuss. You can try to bring these out by simply asking, “What can I help you with?”
  • Go fishing. Ask open-ended questions to try to ferret out concerns. They can be questions about a specific project (“How’s project X going?”) or even broader (“What’s the biggest stressor in your workload right now?”).
  • Be transparent and honest. By encouraging your employees to raise real concerns, you’re going to get some tough questions. If you can’t answer them, tell your employees as much. If you do choose to answer, answer honestly and err on the side of transparency. If they point out a problem on the team, acknowledge it and respond by telling them what you’re doing to fix it. If they think they’re due for a promotion and you don’t, reset their expectations by performing a gap analysis.
  • Discuss career development. Every several one-on-ones, make sure to step away from project discussions and have a higher-level discussion about the employee’s career and satisfaction on the team. (These are sometimes called “stay interviews.”) Check in on your employees’ specific goals and ask what they think will make them satisfied with their job in the coming months. If their goal is to be promoted, review the different things they need to achieve or demonstrate to move them further down that path.
  • Ask for course correction. You won’t always get answers, but every couple one-on-ones with an employee, ask them, “What could I be doing better as a manager?” You can get some really great guidance this way, and it’s much better to get this feedback throughout the year and act on it than be surprised at review time, when you hear about it from your own boss.
  • Give course correction. Performance issues grow over time. Try to spot patterns early and give gentle feedback to reverse performance issues. Strengthen the tone of your feedback the longer the performance issue persists.
  • Coach them on communication. The one skill that can benefit any employee throughout his or her career is clear communication. Use your one-on-ones as opportunities to coach your employees on communication. Ask them to write brief documents on relevant topics. If they are unclear explaining something, probe until you understand, and then replay the point back to them as an example.
  • Dangle opportunities. Try to come up with a couple personalized ideas for how your employees can really distinguish themselves. Don’t assign these as goals or projects, but mention them as opportunities. See which employees take the bait, and go above and beyond to capitalize on the opportunity, or come up with others on their own. These are the employees that are striving [for constant improvement], which is a key quality for top performers.

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