Have you already tried a routine of holding one-on-one meetings in your department and found them nothing but a way to pour glue into the gears of everyone’s day? It’s worth learning how to do them right, because they are considered HR best practices for a reason: Harvard Business Review reports that one-on-one meetings “are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager.” They build relationships, nurture employee motivation, encourage collaborative problem-solving and increase overall productivity. Fifty-five percent of millennials state that, as much as they rely on technology, they prefer face-to-face communication styles at work. Here’s a handful of brief actionable tips for breathing life back into your one-on-one meetings, making them well worth the time you carve out of your schedule for them.
1. Don’t skip one-on-one meetings in the interests of time
Time Coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders presents an intriguing observation in Harvard Review about what happens when managers try to save time by cancelling one-on-one meetings. While you may assume it would be more time-effective to simply have an open-door policy, or encourage your employees to email you anytime they have specific questions, in fact that strategy will result in you feeling that you’ve lost control over your time. You may be intercepted at any moment by an employee needing to speak with you, and your email inbox may turn into a black hole that you fall into ten times a day. The only thing that takes up more time than having one-on-one meetings is not having them!
2. Explain your reasons for one-on-one meetings
If you haven’t been in the habit of holding regular personal meetings, you don’t want to alarm your employee by calling him or her into your office. It’s a good idea to craft a team email that explains what you hope to accomplish and how these one-on-one meetings can benefit everyone. Make it clear that everyone will be receiving the exact same invitations, and will be given the same type of time slot (usually 30 minutes) so that your workers will be reassured that you’re not singling them out for some kind of remedial attention. Your team email should also let everyone know that you’ll mostly be listening rather than talking, and that you’re interested in building your individual relationship with each of them.
3. Ask your employee to steer the agenda
Every meeting is more productive if there’s some kind of agenda ahead of time, and one-on-ones with direct reports are no different. If you simply face your employee and ask how it’s going, you can easily end up down a rabbit hole of free-association chatter that doesn’t produce actionable conclusions for either one of you. If you do too much agenda-setting, however, you’ll defeat the purpose of these meetings and fail to discern what’s actually on your workers’ minds. A good approach is to ask each employee ahead of time to let you know what they’d like to talk about. According to Saunders, a relevant question to start the ball rolling is “What challenges are you facing?” This type of question up front gives both of you something to focus on, and serves as a springboard to jump into areas of real concern to your employee.
4. Take action on feedback
It’s easy to collect feedback. It’s not so easy to take action on feedback. Make sure you listen to your employees and encourage employee feedback. One-on-one meetings are meant to be two-way conversations, and you want to make sure your employees feel comfortable to share their honest feedback. When you receive employee feedback, whether on an employee feedback platform or in-person, make sure to take action on it. This shows your employees that you truly care and are here to help them succeed.
5. Avoid getting bogged down in project details
While some nitty-gritty conversation is unavoidable, these meetings should generally aim at a higher-than-granular level. If you think of yourself more as a coach, you can stay on the strategic alignment level, leaving specific task details for a different time and setting. Tina Merry advises that you “allow this meeting to focus more on the individual versus their project or work.”
6. Create a distraction-free zone
Set a good example by muting your phone and putting it in a drawer, and closing your computer unless there’s something you both need to look at together. You and your staff may benefit from the concepts of deep work, which is teaching people in the business world the tricky skill of learning to focus deeply on a single task at hand without getting sidetracked by endless trivial interruptions.
7. Avoid minimal feedback
Your employees are hungry for feedback; studies show that 65 percent of employees want more feedback, and 72 percent of millennials would ideally like that feedback to be delivered at least once a week. By giving direct, honest feedback and recognition through many different channels, you’ll leverage those few minutes you spend on meetings and reap big financial gains in improved employee motivation, productivity and employee retention. This isn’t an area in which you can afford to fail, because 95 percent of workers “fail to be engaged” when they receive only minimal feedback from their supervisors.
Gallup research reveals that, while just 30 percent of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work, those who do strongly agree with this statement are 3.6 times more likely than other employees to be engaged. As a manager, how you handle one-on-one meetings can make all the difference when it comes to engaging your employees.
Learn more managerial tips by accessing our e-book: “Empowerment and Trust: The Keys to Employee Engagement.”