7 Ways to Make the Most Of Your One-on-One Meetings with Employees

One on One Meetings Ensure the Accomplishment of Your Business Goals

One on one meetings with employees enhance your ability to accomplish your organization's goals.
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If you're a manager, you probably already know that you are supposed to hold one-on-one meetings with each of your employees. That much is obvious. But what on earth are you supposed to do in these meetings? How do you make sure that they are productive and worthwhile, rather than counting for just one more checkmark on your management list?

Here are seven ways to make the most of your one-on-one meetings with employees.

1. Goal Progress

In addition to regular one-on-one meetings, you should have annual performance goals in place. Performance development planning isn't just to go over last year's successes and failures; it's to set goals and objectives for this year. You will refer to these goals throughout the year.

Every time you meet with your employees, you'll take a look at these goals and see how they are progressing toward achieving them. Your employees will always know what is expected of them and you'll always know where they stand relative to needed progress.

2. Change Goals

This may seem like the opposite of the above point, but the goals that were set in December don't always make sense in July. Companies reorganize, clients leave your organization, and new clients join. Employees quit, and replacements are hired. Projects are killed, and new projects are added. In other words, don't hesitate to make changes to the original plans.

When you sit down with the employees and look at the goals and one goal makes no sense, throw it out. No guilt. Get rid of it and add a new one, if appropriate. Now, if a goal no longer makes sense because your employee achieved the objective, then congratulate her and take it off the list.

3. Ask about Needed Support

A one on one meeting is the ideal time to ask the employee where she needs help. A complicated project may need more manpower. She may be working with a coworker who is a bully and a jerk. She's just found out that she's pregnant and will need time off for doctor's appointments. But, tread carefully—don't ask about needs if you're going to ignore them once they're identified.

Don't take a request for help as a sign that your employee is incapable of performing her job. Everyone needs help, and it's better that you create an open, supportive environment rather than wait until there is a disaster that you have to spend your weekend fixing.

4. Career Planning

While your focus is on getting the job done today, your employees are concerned about their future. While this isn't a focus of every one on one meeting, career planning is a valuable part of regular meetings. This is for your benefit as well as your employee's benefit.

You want to know where she wants to go, and you'll want to help her along that path. Why? Because the best thing you can do for your company is help retain the best employees. That includes career growth—very few people want to stay in the same job forever.

So, talk about what your employee needs to do and learn to earn a promotion or prepare for a transfer to a different type of job.

5. Praising

Everyone wants to hear when they're successful. While the best time to praise an employee is in the moment, (“Hey, great presentation!” or “I just saw you handle that obnoxious customer perfectly. Awesome job!”) managers aren't everywhere all at once.

Make sure that you praise your employees for their accomplishments. Keep your eyes and ears open for reports of good work. If another person says, "Hey, Jane did an awesome job yesterday," write it down and bring it up with her at your one on one. (This is also great documentation to have for your performance based salary adjustments.)

6. Correcting

Along with praising, corrections need to happen. Like praise, most of this feedback is more effective when given in the moment—if appropriate. Unless a situation is urgent and dangerous, you need to offer corrections privately. (It's okay to yell at an employee to get the fire extinguisher to put out a cash register fire, but it's not okay to yell at the employee in front of customers and other employees because her cash drawer was short.) 

One-on-one meetings are the time to sit down and offer corrections and advice.

The corrections you offer can range from picky requirements (“we have a company standard of using Times New Roman for reports, please change your reports”), to personality traits that are causing problems (“I've noticed that you criticize your coworkers. If you have concerns about a coworker, please bring them to me, and I will handle them. Your job is to do X, Y, and Z. Do not concern yourself with Jane's work.)

Criticisms should always help rather than providing punishment—at least at the beginning. No manager should expect perfection. However, there are some actions that may need “punishment.” If an employee is chronically late, you may need to create a performance improvement plan. If an employee is bullying other employees, you may need to place a write up in her personnel file and accompany this disciplinary action with intensive counseling.

Regular one-on-ones allow you to keep up with these situations so nothing gets out of hand. For example, you'll never have a workplace bully take over because you'll have corrected the problems at their first sign, and if corrections don't work, you're documenting a strong case for employment termination.

7. New Assignments

While you don't have wait for a one-on-one meeting to assign an employee new task or goal, it's often the best place to discuss a new project. It gives you the time to present the entire project and for your employee to ask questions so that when she leaves your office, she's ready to go.

She can also bring up concerns and ideas that may make the project run more smoothly. She also needs to understand the amount of authority and autonomy she can exercise in her decision making. Finally, the employee needs to create with you a critical path that specifies the times when you will need feedback about her progress during your one on one meetings.

How Often Should You Hold a One-on-One Meeting?

No single answer covers all contingencies. It depends on how many employees you have, what type of work you do, how much support your employees need, and your schedule. Sometimes, 15 minutes of one-on-one time, once a month, is sufficient to keep on top of everything.

Sometimes you may need an hour per week to accomplish the seven goals outlined above. If you're new to the one-on-one meetings, start out with every other week for a half hour and adjust up or down as needed. You don't need to schedule the same amount of time for every employee, although you'll want to make sure that you're not favoring one employee over another.

When you get in the habit of regular appointments with your direct reports, you'll find that your department runs more smoothly. Your employees will know what they need to do and you'll know what you need to do to help them.

And, if you're not already holding them—schedule a one-on-one appointment with your boss periodically. You'll benefit from this face time with your boss, just like your employees benefit from the time they spend one-on-one with you.