One-on-one meetings are one of the best tools in a manager’s arsenal. Whether you write it as 1 on 1, one on one, or 1×1, it simply describes a meeting between two people—usually a manager and a direct report.

Not only do one-on-ones give employees better insight into how their day-to-day work maps to their long-term goals, but they also show that you care about their well-being as a manager.

Which means, hopefully, they’ll stay at your company longer and perform better. One Gallup survey found that one out of two employees left a previous job just to get away from a manager.

So…how do you make sure these meetings are actually worth the time you invest in them?

Here are a few pro tips for how you and your employees can get the most out of one-on-one meetings.

#1. Put your employee in the driver’s seat

The surest way to build ownership on your team is by putting employees in charge. Ask your direct reports to build most, if not all, of the meeting’s agenda. They’ll learn what they need to update you on, what they can handle on their own, and what they actually need from you.

Hopefully, they’ll start to see their role from your eyes, so that they can proactively set goals and gain your guidance for how to achieve them.

#2. Be consistent

Sticking to your one-on-one schedule week-in and week-out shows your employee they’re your top priority, no matter what else is going on.

Not only that, but employees won’t constantly interrupt you with small questions throughout the week. Instead, they’ll hold out for your next scheduled conversation.

Now, things come up and sometimes one-on-ones have to be moved, but it’s important to reschedule them and never cancel all-together.

Constantly ditching a meeting is a sure-fire way to demotivate your team; they’ll take the cue from you and stop putting effort into making the most of your time together.

#3. Make your meetings a safe space

You need to make sure your team feels safe so you can encourage their honest and unfiltered thoughts.

How do you do that? Good question. Here are a few suggestions we think will work:

Go over the status of large projects and deliverables the day before

Getting the numbers out of the way before the meeting takes away the anxiety associated with status updates and frees the two of you up to focus on solutions.

Have a special spot

Going to a rarely-used space or even getting out of the office will help mentally differentiate this meeting.

Kick it off with some positive feedback to set the mood

Nothing calms people down—and puts them in a more receptive mindset—like hearing about something they recently did well.

#4. Be prepared (as the backseat driver)

Just because you aren’t in the driver’s seat doesn’t mean you can come unprepared. Here are some ways to help guide the conversation:

  • Come in with context. Know what your employee has been working on and how it fits into larger organizational priorities.
  • Have a few open-ended questions on their work in your back pocket. This is both a great way to show interest and to get a sense of what your employee currently needs more help with.
  • Align their current work to their long-term goals. If you haven’t already, have a conversation about where your employee envisions their career is going to take them. There’s no better way to foster buy-in on today’s work than framing it as a way to strengthen your employee’s future.

#5. Put in the work after your meeting

Your job isn’t over when the meeting ends. For your employee to continue to put effort into this meeting, they’re going to need to feel like their words were both heard and that they resulted in actions.

Make sure you follow up on action items and help with whatever you can.

  • Write up takeaways and deliverables. There’s a tradeoff between note-taking and being truly present in meetings. In one-on-ones, lean towards the latter, but take the time to ensure you’re on the same page with the overall takeaways from the meeting.
  • Take action items and complete them before the next meeting. What’s stopping your employee from doing their job? Show that you care by taking time in the following week to address those issues for them. This will earn you greater trust and more candid talk in the future by proving to your employee that they were right to trust you with the problem.
  • Encourage your employee to actively prep for your one-on-one throughout the week. The best inspiration for a conversation rarely strikes just before a meeting, so have a living, (or in other words, ongoing), document that both of you can scrawl notes and reminders into throughout the week. This ensures meaningful topics don’t get lost if they come to mind several days before.

One last thing…

Really want to make sure your one-on-one meetings are effective?

Use the time you have to treat your employee like they’re the most important person in your world (because for that hour, they are). They’ll respond by letting you into theirs.

The result? An engaged and motivated employee that will do whatever they can to fix problems, find opportunities, and surpass their goals.

Marshall Darr Marshall ran email at Gusto. He's also an avid fan, and occasional practitioner, of stand-up comedy.
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