1-on-1s for engaged employees: How good managers run them

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of 1-on-1s but you’re not sure how your managers should run them? Or, perhaps you're finding it difficult to articulate the value they can add to your performance management process and the relationship between managers and direct reports? Look no further! We’ve outlined how the best managers run their 1-on-1s, and how they can help improve performance and development throughout you teams.

1-on-1s are known to strengthen relationships between managers and their team members (sometimes coaches, mentors, and peers too). They also encourage frequent performance check-ins and conversations between managers and their direct reports. The concept is fairly straightforward: meet regularly to discuss progress on goals, engagement, professional development and more.

While sometimes it can feel time-consuming, the return on investment is huge. Through regular conversations managers can develop trust, both with individuals and within their teams. In turn, trust in the workplace solidifies teams, creating a safe environment for people to work in new and collaborative ways.

1-on-1s are also a perfect opportunity for your managers to develop their coaching skills, something that is increasingly sought after. By learning to actively listen to their team members and providing guidance and feedback along the way, they are applying and practicing a coaching mentality. By becoming better coaches, managers can better support employee performance and improve overall team success.

A little structure for 1-on-1 meetings can go a long way. With preparation, a collaborative agenda, and thoughtful note taking 1-on-1s can be super effective. No matter your HR maturity stage, supporting your managers to have regular 1-on-1s and follow these steps can leave employees feeling energized, engaged, and prepared for their performance reviews.

How to prepare for a 1:1

1. Have the right mindset

Don't overthink the meeting, as it’s meant to be a discussion. As a manager, your role is to coach and support while ensuring your employees remain the focus of the conversation. The conversation should be flexible enough to accommodate topics that are top of mind for both sides. It can be useful to have a shared collaborative space to keep track of upcoming topics to discuss and help both managers and their direct report better prepare for a more effective conversation. To help keep it informal, you could go on a walking meeting, have a coffee, or meet for breakfast — just remember to take your discussion points with you. Sometimes having meetings outside of the formal office environment can help your direct reports feel more comfortable discussing certain topics. For example, it’s helpful to create a bit of physical space from the day-to day to cover topics like a performance review report, constructive feedback, or even professional goals.

2. Set a Recurring Schedule

In order for 1-on-1s to be effective they need to happen regularly. Once you’ve agreed to a cadence, ensure 1:1s are scheduled and added as a recurring meeting into the calendar, this is a subtle but clear way for managers to show that they are invested in the 1:1 relationship and that they will consistently make time for the individual. Things come up and schedules change but instead of canceling the 1:1 do your best to reschedule. Cancelling can send the message that the meeting isn’t important, when in fact, it’s the cornerstone of your relationship with your direct report.

Pro tip: Include a link to your collaborative space in the meeting invite so you and your direct reports can easily find and add topics to be discussed, notes on what you covered last time, and any open action items.

3. Keep it flexible

1-on-1 agendas should be collaborative, managers should encourage direct reports to share what they would like to discuss. Common topics can include current goals and their progress, recent feedback, recognition, mid and end of year performance review reports, career aspirations, etc. Google Docs work can work here but get messy over time, so it can be valuable to provide the tools to make it easy to have regular and valuable meetings week after week.

How to run a 1-on-1

What is said in the 1-on-1 should stay between the manager and their direct report. The manager should focus on asking questions and listening attentively to understand the feedback. They may want to prepare some questions, but in general stay open to whichever direction the conversation goes in.

1. Listen Actively

Listening is an important skill for managers to develop, even more so for effective 1-on-1s. Listen carefully to what is being shared and the feedback received, and remember, you’re not just listening to be polite, but rather to support your direct report in the best way possible. By showing recognition and respect of the other person’s context and opinion, managers are more likely to build a stronger relationship with their team.

2. Get personal

Sometimes it’s helpful to share some personal anecdotes or experiences in the context of the 1-on-1. It’s natural to want to unblock a project for your direct report by providing the solution. But by sharing your experience in a similar situation, you provide guidance, inspiration, and support to help the individual in a more sustainable way. By getting personal, you also encourage direct reports to open up and share any problems they aren’t sure how to tackle.

3. Be open-minded

It is important for managers to set the example in 1-on-1s by showing they are open to upwards feedback on their own performance and development. In fact, you might consider running a leadership review after a few months of running 1-on-1s to gather feedback from team members.

Answers from a leadership review can then be incorporated into a formal performance review process. It is important to a manager's success (and that of the company) to know what their team thinks of them and their management style. Once you have a clear sense of what’s working and not working with the team you can define next steps to keep iterating and improving your process

4. Be prepared

One-on-ones can be about almost anything. If you’re not sure what to cover, there are tools available today that can integrate to your wider performance management processes, allowing you to pull suggestions from a topics library on things like the direct report’s skills and competencies, current goals, and recent feedback on performance review reports.

To make certain you’re never short of topics to cover we’ve gathered some of the most common 1-on-1 questions and conversation starters below. The questions are broken out into 6 different topics and can help you get a better understanding of how your team members operate, increase team collaboration, discuss career development or more.

Example topics to cover in a 1-on-1

1. Work habits and employee performance

2. Team collaboration

3. Levels of engagement

4. Short & long-term performance goals

5. Professional development goals and plan

6. Manager improvement

How to wrap-up the 1-on-1

Make sure to wrap up the talking points and if relevant, set up an action plan to be carried out by the next meeting. Managers and direct reports should take notes so they can keep track of topics and add additional context on topics discussed so they can quickly review them, either before the next 1-on-1 or when preparing for the next performance review. Where possible try not to delete topics once they’ve been discussed, that way when you encounter similar challenges in the future you can look back on past notes and start from there.

Conclusion

1-on-1s are a great tool for team development and supporting your overall people enablement strategy, no matter your HR maturity stage. These sessions allow managers to check in on productivity, morale, and help teams to get to know each other better. If managers learn to conduct them properly, their team members will feel more engaged and valued.

1-on-1 meetings don't have to be just between managers and employees. Whether it’s a manager, coach, mentor, or one of their peers, it’s important for participants to regularly collaborate and prepare for 1:1s from a dedicated shared space to help improve communication and collaboration with the people they work with most.

Platforms like Impraise can provide a space to support your managers to have more effective 1-on-1 conversations while also supporting all other pillars of your performance management strategy. Explore the platform through the link below to learn if it might be what you've been looking for to support everything from automated reviews, goal setting, real-time feedback and 1-on-1s – all in one place.

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