A Manager’s Essential Guide to Holding 1-on-1 Check-Ins

How to guide cover bookFor most employees, their days are riddled with meetings. All-hands meetings, departmental meetings, quarterly kick-off meetings, annual review meetings — the list goes on. Some meetings are critical to productivity, others, not so much. You need to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em – if you’re interested in holding all the aces, your weekly 1-on-1 meeting is not one to be skipped.

Use this as a handy, basic guide for managers to organizing and holding 1-on-1 meetings.

Who’s in a 1-on-1 meeting?

The 1-on-1 meeting happens between a manager and their direct report. They usually have some sort of cadence to them (see “when”) and are instrumental in driving team alignment.

What do I talk about in a 1-on-1?

Have you ever walked into a meeting and had no idea what you’ll be talking about? It’s an awful feeling. Not only does it prevent you from coming to the conversation prepared, but it also devalues the point of the meeting, making it an interruption versus a benefit. This is exactly what you don’t want your 1-on-1 meetings to be.

Introducing, agendas!

Okay, we’re not offering a revolutionary idea here, but the fact of the matter is that agendas are an important, if overlooked, component in meetings. Particularly in 1-on-1s, where the setting is more relaxed, agendas are sometimes perceived as too formal. This is a fatal flaw, as agendas shape the meeting, focus the conversation and keep things on time. Here are the key items that should be on every 1-on-1 agenda:

  • Employee items — This meeting is for them, let employees start it off.
  • Temperature check — Gauging engagement levels.
  • Short-term priorities — What are we doing specifically to meet commitments?
  • Commitments — Review of longer term goals / Are we on track?
  • Roadblocks — What challenges exist & how can the manager help?
  • Updates — Company news, HR information, etc.
  • Career development & growth

Oh, and we can’t forget the dreaded “F” word. That’s right: feedback. Are you cringing? This word seems to make managers and employees both squirm, envisioning an awkward conversation that points out everything we are saying and doing wrong.

But, what if we told you that that’s not the accurate definition of feedback? That in fact, feedback is a 360 conversation that draws attention to both successes and areas for improvement. Feedback is the cheapest, most powerful, yet, most under used management tool we have at our disposal. For direct reports, feedback is a way to validate their role, while fostering development. For managers, feedback from direct reports can help improve their coaching, while also giving insight into the team’s engagement levels.

What are the best ways to give and solicit feedback, you ask? Great question, we say! Come to your meeting prepared, be specific and timely, and approach challenges from a solutions-oriented perspective.

Where should I have a 1-on-1 meeting?

There’s flexibility here. Perhaps the manager and employee like to get offsite because the conversation becomes more candid. On the other hand, it could be that your direct report prefers privacy and would like to talk in a meeting room. Maybe a medley of different spaces works best, depending on the week.

Manager and direct reports should chat and set expectations from the beginning about where they want to meet. There is no one perfect place to conduct 1-on-1 meetings – it’s about what makes both parties feel comfortable.

When should I have 1-on-1 meetings?

The timing of your 1-on-1 meetings is really up to you and your direct report, and what works best for you both. If, as the manager, you have a weekly management meeting that is renowned for running late, it probably doesn’t make sense to book a 1-on-1 meeting right after. Some say that Mondays and Fridays are not great days to book 1-on-1s because people are less productive, and these days are commonly used as vacation days for extending the weekend.

Meetings can be as succinct as a 15 minute check-in or as long as an hour. There isn’t an ideal length. To ensure you hit the mark when it comes to the length of the meeting, make every minute valuable. If there is time leftover, you don’t need to keep the meter running. Similarly, if you constantly go over time, formally extend its duration.

Why does a 1-on-1 meeting even matter?

Only 30% of employees and 35% of managers are engaged at work. This is alarming. When the workforce is disengaged, productivity decreases, turnover increases and customer satisfaction levels plummet. What’s more is that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. So, if an employee is disengaged, and their manager is disengaged, one of two things will happen: either the employee will stay and work at less capacity, or they will quit.

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We’re about to share one of the biggest secrets to company success:  Regular 1-on-1 meetings between a manager and direct report are critical to employee engagement.

How do I start conducting better 1-on-1 meetings?

With the 1-on-1 who, what, where, when and why under your belt, you’re on your way to improving employee satisfaction levels and developing better manager/direct report relationships. As for the last question – how do you do this?

Tracking and managing your 1-on-1s is a great place to start. Using a tool to document the key points in conversations, detail the week’s priorities, and to refer back to in future meetings is key to staying organized.

Here’s that “F” word again, feedback. Both managers and employees should regularly weigh in on the effectiveness of the 1-on-1 meeting. Deploying surveys is a great way to solicit feedback that will help you evolve your 1-on-1s and maintain its purpose.

  • Jennifer Miller, PhD

    I don’t think we can overstate the value of holding 1-on-1 meetings, yet they are often the first thing to drop off a manager’s calendar when time gets tight… I think high performing managers *want* to show up this way, but need finding their way. I have had many managers ask for a tool/template to enable a productive check in or 1-on-1 with their employees.