One-on-one meetings are critical to keeping your team engaged and productive. "One-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager," said Elizabeth Grace Saunders, the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money. "And from a rapport point of view, they are how you show employees that you value them and care about them."
Poorly executed or inconsistent one-on-one meetings can also be productivity drains, derailing objectives and demotivating employees. Having the proper structure and approach makes the meetings more productive and effective. Follow the steps below to make them work.
Show up on time.
Nothing says "you're not important" like being late to your weekly synch with reports. Canceling at the last minute is even worse. Lateness and cancellations "send the exact opposite of the message that you're trying to communicate," Saunders said. Even worse, you indirectly communicate that your employees' work is not essential, a double whammy of personal and professional neglect. Plus, missing meetings and lateness show that you do not have control over your calendar.
1. Have a rough agenda.
This step helps both of you to prepare for the meeting. The plan does not have to be super rigid, but employees need to know what you expect from them. A typical template might look like this:
- Check-in—how are you doing?
- Recap of action items from your last meeting.
- Action times for the coming week.
- Obstacles to success.
- Feedback and guidance for the employee on their performance.
- Feedback from the employee on how you can help them succeed.
2. Do your homework.
If the status of projects is online, check it before the one-on-one. Ditto any other relevant metrics that your employee or team owns.
3. Recognize success.
Recognition is one of the most powerful productivity generators. Gallup calls employee recognition the low-cost, high return motivator. The employee success company Achievers found that 90 percent of employees work harder when they get positive feedback. Employee engagement researcher Shawn Achor found that people that get one piece of praise per day are 30 percent more productive. Finally, Great Places to Work found that recognition is the most significant contributor to employee engagement—30 percent greater than a raise. Build recognition into your one-on-ones.
Asking for feedback is another low-cost, high return productivity booster. Research by workplace consultancy Aon Hewitt found that teams with managers that ask for and act on employee feedback are 35 percent more engaged. Plus, asking for feedback will make you a better manager. Gallup found that managers that ask for feedback are 13 percent more productive and nine percent more profitable. Mutual feedback builds trust and transparency.
5. Turn criticism into problem-solving.
Negative feedback has the reverse effect of recognition on productivity. A study in the Harvard Business Review found that employees respond to negative feedback by avoiding the person who delivered it. The conclusion: "Negative feedback rarely leads to improvement." Assuming your critical feedback is not a job-ender, your goal is to improve employee performance and fix broken business processes. When someone makes a mistake, you can ask, "what did you learn from that?" and "how can we avoid repeating that in the future?"
6. Nip severe problems in the bud.
It is critical to bring up serious performance issues as soon as you notice them. Fast correction leads to quick results. And a slow response can have cascading impacts on performance and team morale. Do not wait for an annual review. And keep an open mind. If the employee is otherwise successful, they may have misunderstood instructions or expectations.
7. Look beyond task completion.
The multiple crises of 2020 taught us that employees could be under tremendous stress that managers do notice—hence mass resignations in 2021 and beyond. Your reports may be getting all their work done on time but are overwhelmed and afraid to admit it. You can ask questions like, "what do you like most and least about your job?" You do not necessarily need to ask this kind of question every week. But as your team grows, you can better make room for people to move towards their strengths and the work that gives them the most satisfaction.
8. Discuss process improvement.
Just because tasks get done on time does not mean you cannot improve the process or workflow. Can tasks be completed faster or of higher quality? The people who are doing the work might know best. Improving work products can be a great morale booster and encourage your employees to bring innovative ideas to the table.
9. Talk about career growth.
Growth is another topic that you do not need to tackle every week. But you want your employees to maintain a vision for themselves at your company. Career development has a strong correlation with productivity and retention. A LinkedIn survey found that 94 percent of employees will stay at a company that invests in growth and development. Employees promoted within three years of being hired have a 70 percent chance of staying on board long term.
10. Review tech needs.
Another important, if not weekly, topic to cover is your employees' tech needs. Investments in hardware and people together make up 66 percent of productivity growth in the U.S., according to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Investing in technology for employees also sends a strong message about their value. A survey by Harvard Business Review found that 82 of employees' engagement and satisfaction stems from the quality of their workplace technology. And 77 percent of employees will look for a new job if they do not believe they have the right tools and technology.
Spending Time to Save Time
A survey of CEOs by the Predictive Index asked how much of the value their business generates is due to their employees' work—the answer was 72 percent. Keep that in mind if all of this seems like a lot. One-on-one meetings do not have to be a time sink. Regular feedback sessions prevent more time-consuming issues down the road and empower employees to be independent the rest of the week. These meetings also improve employee morale and productivity for your team and business.
About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.