You've been subscribed to the Lattice Blog newsletter. You'll receive an email next time we post.
Learn more about Lattice →

Managers, Here's How to Run a One-on-One

A 1:1 meeting is an ongoing feedback strategy to keep both the manager and the employee updated on the employee’s progress, an opportunity to develop employees’ skills, and gives the employee a chance to discuss workplace challenges with their manager. Much more informal than annual performance reviews, these meetings focus on solutions to day-to-day problems as well as help an employee develop strategies of their own in the long run.

There are four elements to keep in mind when planning a 1:1 —

1. Frequency

2. Expectations

3. Format

4. Goals

Frequency

Effective communication is important in any workplace. However, many managers don’t always communicate with their employees nearly as often as they could. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day business and only call on employees when you need something. But calling on an employee only when you need something done is the wrong approach to managing human capital.

According to a survey cited by the Harvard Business Review, research shows the main complaints employees have about their managers is not enough communication, particularly around both positive and negative feedback, clear direction, and making time to meet with the employee.

That’s why it’s so important to schedule routine 1:1 meetings. That way, you’re not just checking in when something goes wrong or right, but habitually on a long-term basis.

For MonsterBruce Tulgan of RainmakerThinking Inc. writes that in an ideal world, a manager would meet with their employees individually on a daily basis. However, this isn’t possible, especially depending on the size of the team you manage and type of environment you work in. The key to a 1:1 is consistency. Weekly meetings are a great goal, but you can also start off with biweekly or monthly check-ins if you don’t currently hold 1:1 meetings with employees.

The best way to find time is to make time. When managing your own work schedule, save time for your employees weeks and months in advance. For instance, if you utilize Google calendar, choose to make 1:1 meetings on a recurring basis weekly, monthly, or a customized frequency. Invite your employee to the calendar event as well. The small gesture shows you’re invested in your employee’s development, even if the meeting is set a bit in advance.

Likewise, understand the consequences of cancelling a 1:1 meeting at the last minute. When you’ve already invested so much into blocking out times for your employee, they could be frustrated when you don’t deliver.

Expectations

When it comes to a 1:1, your employee runs the show. They dictate the content of the conversation and share the responsibility of setting the  agenda. Make sure they know that. Set expectations on what to discuss at these meetings by asking your employee to come prepared. For instance, ask one of the following questions at least a day before the on-on-one meeting, ideally in person, but if not, over email:

Additionally, stress to your employee that 1:1 time is scarce and should be reserved for the topics you can’t discuss over digital communication. Engineering and Product Vice President at Facebook Mark Rubin suggests making a rule to bring up any discuss any topic you wouldn’t discuss amongst the team. “If it’s safe enough to be overheard — it’s not the right content for a 1:1,” he explains on Medium. “Email it, send it in Slack, discuss among the desks, say it at a meeting, anything but a 1:1.”

Format

It helps to change up the setting of these  meetings compared to other work meetings. We’ve written the case for  getting out of the office: go to a cafe, grab lunch, take a walk, or sit somewhere outdoors. The change of scenery not only boosts your health, it can also help reorient both you and your employee to the more informal, more relationship-based meeting.

To help track an employee’s progress on-the-go, take notes of your own during these meetings. These notes can be used to reference their progress in the future to illustrate their growth. This tiny detail proves to an employee you’re committed to their professional development.

Goals

The goals of these 1:1 meetings should be employee-oriented and relationship-driven. It’s your chance to focus on the employee’s needs and how they benefit the company.

For Inc., Kathy Rapp names three qualities of a relationship-based leader: practices honest and open communication, is decisive to build consensus, and thoughtfully responds to conflicts. All these qualities orient the other party—employees—in an office environment. Using these 1:1s to track progress towards long-term goals and the employee’s happiness is a management strategy to help maximize their output and keep them happy.

For instance, some employee-oriented check-in questions you can ask include:

Ultimately, the way you integrate 1:1s into your management style is up to you. 1:1s give employees the time to provide status updates on their projects to managers. But with a little extra forethought, these conversations can be great opportunities to talk to your employee about longer-term development such as career development and job satisfaction.