How to Run a 1:1 Meeting as a Manager

A woman sits at a laptop and writes in a notebook

If you’re not having regular one-on-one meetings with your employees, you’ll want to start now.

As a manager, you have a lot on your plate. You’re steering big picture decisions, examining the important details, managing client relationships, and, of course, putting out fires left and right. But if there is one aspect of your job that you definitely don’t want to lose sight of, it's checking-in with your employees.

Regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports are essential for a positive work environment as well as your employee’s career development. 

And in today’s deadline driven, highly digitized workplace, employees are seeking human leadership in the office. They want managers who are not just thinking about the strategic needs of the company, but a manager who is compassionate and empathetic.

Why it’s important to have one-on-one meetings with your staff 

Some of the benefits of one-on-one meetings include:

  • Employee well-being. Regular conversations with your employee open the doors of communication. It’s a chance for them to air out any frustrations or discuss any challenges, and, most of all, feel heard. 
  • Productivity. By engaging with your direct report through one-on-one meetings, you’ll make them feel more connected to their role and the team at large. When you’re looking out for them and offering encouraging feedback, they’ll want to do their best.
  • Rapport. Big team meetings aren’t always the best way to get to know your staff. Meeting with them bilaterally offers you both a chance to build rapport and develop trust. 
  • Employee retention. One-on-one meetings can make the difference between an employee who is unfulfilled and one who is motivated and invested in the company. 
  • Personal satisfaction. One-on-one meetings are mutually beneficial and satisfying. When you invest in your employees, you’ll swell with pride every time they succeed. Your leadership skills will grow and your confidence as a manager will grow as well. 

How to prepare for an effective one-on-one meeting

As a manager, your time is limited. So you’ll want to make the most of your one-on-one meetings by doing some prep work up top. Here’s how to prepare the smart way. 

Define the main topics of your meeting 

An effective one-on-one meeting has a clear agenda. 

Make sure to involve your employee when coming up with the agenda items. This sets expectations for the meeting and creates a spirit of collaboration. Your employee will feel less like a passive participant and more active and engaged. 

Take a moment to identify the main topics of your meeting. Some examples include: 

  • Workflow for a current project 
  • Employee’s recent performance
  • Logistics for a special event 
  • Marketing strategy

Establishing the main topics in advance will help ensure that your one-one-one meeting has a clear purpose and that you and your employee will leave with a specific result or outcome. 

Identify the discussion points of your meeting

Once you’ve established the main topics of the meeting, you’ll want to identify the discussion points that you’ll cover.

For instance, if the purpose of your meeting is to discuss the logistics of a special event, possible meeting topics can include: 

  • Determine budget
  • Finalize guest list
  • Narrow down venues 
  • Press and media outreach

Discussion points will keep you both on track. And if you end up going off on a tangent, you’ll have a roadmap to come back to. 

Reset before the meeting 

If you’re feeling stressed or negative, you don’t want to bring that mindset into your one-on-one meeting. 

Take a moment to reset and shift your mindset. Go to the restroom or take a walk around the block, or close your eyes for thirty seconds. Now you can refocus your attention onto your employee and create a welcoming space. 

Actively listen 

Really listening to someone and being present is such an overlooked but essential skill. Make sure to take the time to really listen to your employee and hear them out, especially if they’re having a difficult time at work.

You can even start off the meeting on a personal note and ask them how they’re doing or how their family is. It’s a small but meaningful way to put an employee at ease and help them open up. 

Give constructive feedback 

A one-on-one meeting is also an opportunity to provide constructive feedback to your employee. 

You don’t want to wait until the annual performance review to discuss your employee’s progress. For instance, if your employee’s performance has been declining, then you’ll probably want to address that right away. Or if your employee’s been doing great work, then you’ll want to let them know regularly so that they can keep it up. 

When delivering your feedback, make sure to demonstrate compassion and empathy–especially if you’re addressing a difficult topic. And always come from a place of gratitude. Your employee will be much more eager to do a good job if they know that they’re being appreciated. 

Take notes 

Don’t forget to take notes to help you remember the salient details of the meeting.  

It’s always a good idea to take notes by hand. Studies have shown that you’re more likely to retain the information when you write things down. Plus, you’ll be more engaged in the conversation. When you use your laptop or phone, you’re more likely to get distracted or appear uninterested.  

During your note-taking, make sure to record any action items or to-dos that you need to follow up on. Examples: Review invitation copy, sign off on budget. 

Writing down next steps is essential for creating momentum. After all, you don’t want to keep having all these meetings without seeing any progress. And it will keep you both accountable for when you meet again. 

How to make this a regular part of your routine

It’s important to get into a rhythm with one-on-one meetings and make them a regular part of your routine. Depending on your schedule and on the size of your team, you might want to schedule bi-weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings with your employees. 

Your schedule will probably fluctuate often and many things will compete for your attention. So try scheduling the meetings during off-peak times in your calendar or days when you don’t have a packed schedule.

Making an effort to commit to your one-on-ones will make a positive impact on you and your entire team. 

Written by JiJi Lee.

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