What to Talk About in One-on-One Meetings

When You Meet With Your Employees, Hit These Key Points.

When I got out of college, and got my first real job, I learned a great deal about how NOT to manage employees. I remember very clearly thinking that my boss was not doing the things that my textbooks said a manager should be doing. I worked for the same manager for three years and the only time we ever had a one-on-one meeting was at the end of the year. That was basically the time when my boss told me how much of a raise I was getting.

Since I have gotten into the consulting business, I have seen over and over the value of bosses meeting face-to-face with their employees on a consistent basis. In many businesses, this is a challenge because of differing schedules, remote work, etc. Even with the challenges in making them happen, the benefits of one-on-ones far outweigh those challenges.

As a manager, and the leader of one-on-one meetings, what should you talk about? The specific agendas will vary, but here are some things to consider as a basic outline.

Forming the agenda. When you first decide to start having one-on-ones, work with your employees to determine what the agenda topics should be. Certainly, you will have things you want to discuss but give your folks the opportunity to add in things they feel a need to go over. By simply deciding the agenda yourself, you miss an opportunity to build ownership in the process on the part of your employees.

Frequency. My belief is that the frequency of one-on-ones should be fluid. How often you meet with your employees depends on a number of factors – their need for coaching, urgent issues, schedules, etc. If you have an employee who is an expert at their job, you will probably not meet with them as often as someone who is brand new. Your level of confidence in an employee’s ability will be a factor in how often you meet together. You want to touch base with all of your employees, regardless of skill level, however. Make an agreement that it is the responsibility of both people to make these meetings happen.

Performance. Performance should always be a topic. Whatever the key metrics are for your employees, individual or team, go over them in your one-on-ones. Have a baseline and a goal to compare current performance. Ask your employees if they feel that the goal is still reasonable. Ask them to share with you why they feel performance is good or marginal. Do not just focus on the downturns in performance. Talk about why performance is good because those discussions provide you with an opportunity to praise your employees. On the other hand, if there are some dips in performance, they provide you with the opportunity to do some quality coaching.

Teamwork. Use one-on-ones to talk about teamwork and how each employee feels it is going in your operation. Remember: it is not what the boss expects; it is what the boss inspects. If you talk about teamwork, it will be a focus for your people. This discussion should include within the employees’ own team as well as cross-functional teamwork.

Feedback for you. Ask your employees for some feedback on how you are doing as their manager. The chances of them telling you a lot of specifics are very slim, so you will have to guide that discussion. Give them some areas in advance that you would like some feedback on, and make it an expectation that they provide the feedback. This will be tough for employees to do, so do not ask for a lot at first, just a couple things. Make sure you respond to the feedback in a positive fashion, commit to making improvements, and say thank you. You expect your employees to receive feedback well, so you need to do the same thing.

Career stuff. Part of your responsibility as a manager is to help employees manage their career goals. It may not be an agenda in every one-on-one, but you need to talk about it regularly. Be very honest with what you see as the gaps that the employee needs to fill to get to the next level. Provide whatever help you can, within reason, to get them promoted and to move up. Ultimately, it is their responsibility but you play a key role.

Regular one-on-one meetings are critical for all managers to get a pulse of how your employees are doing and what their motivation level is. They are also a very good tool for building relationships and trust with your employees. Take advantage of this tool to help you both be successful.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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