How to conduct a 1-to-1

So you got promoted and you have direct reports now. Good, well done. Something that’s expected from you from now on is that you’ll actually build a report…with your report. It’s more important than some people tend to believe. In a lot of employee surveys, the lack of consistent reports with management is often mentioned as one of the pain points of the employer-employee relationship.

1-to-1’s can be a bit scary though. Every manager experiences, at some point, a 1-to-1 that goes horribly wrong. And we all have team members we secretly loathe or even dislike. Here are some pointers on how to approach this topic with some background information to help you out.

3 reasons

From a people management perspective, having regular feedback sessions with your team members is a vital part of your tasks. Doing these sessions will help you in the long run (even more than it will help your team members).

The first reason is that it will give you an opportunity to build a personal relationship with people albeit in a professional environment. Certain employees put high importance on this and will judge your skills by the amount of emotional effort you put into them. This will be important later when you need them come crunch time. It’s said people stay with companies for their leaders and this is a good way to set an example.

The second reason is that you’ll need to track personal performance and this is the way to do it. By having a 1-to-1 you can delve into performance & KPI’s much easier than simply going through it during team meetings. Not all employees are extroverted personalities and some will prefer a personal approach. As every team member is a piece of the puzzle, you’ll easily put the pieces together by speaking to all your team members individually.

Finally, having recurring 1-to-1 sessions provides predictable expectations for all parties. What I mean with this is that for your team members it will be a fixed spot in their agenda to vent, express concerns, or evaluate certain issues.

By organizing your 1-to-1 as a fixed recurring event you can easily track performance. This will help you in your year-end evaluations or bonus discussions. If you keep your 1-to-1’s regularly during the year, any performance or achievement issue at the end of the year should not be a surprise. On the contrary, by tracking progress on regular intervals you can intervene whenever needed, not when it’s too late.

The basic rules

So what constitutes a good 1-to-1? Here are some basic rules:

Use a personal custom made approach. Some people like small talk. Some people even need small talk. Other people hate it and want to go straight to the point. Other people need to feel good. They need to know their place in the team matters and care a lot about the inner team workings.

If you want to maximize the output of your meetings, create a team template that can help you in how to approach your team. You could make a basic split between:

Extroverted – Focus on the person, emotions, and communication, assumptions can help to get feedback. Listen.

Introverted – Focus on the work and results. Make no assumptions. Talk.

Career driven – Focus on goals, process, and results to get optimal feedback and set clear expectations.

Team driven / 9 to 5 – Understand emotions around team collaboration and communication. Work on building an understanding of goals & targets. For some people work is a place that needs to be fun. For others, work is just a 9-to-5 part of their day. Respect all views.

Do not pigeonhole your employees or make assumptions about their character or personalities. Talk to them, discover their personality, and talk to your direct peers if you need opinions on this (bear in mind, these are just opinions!).

Start and end with a question. A 1-to-1 is not your moment to shine. It’s a time for your employee to share whatever they want with you, to synchronize expectations versus reality, and to talk about performance. Mind you, this is not a performance review. Remove any tension if you feel employees are nervous when talking to you.

Always start by asking how things are going. And always end your 1-to-1 with a final “is there anything else I can do for you”. You might discover stuff you could never have assumed. It could be something you overlooked while looking at your team or an individual or even something your employee has been pondering on for a while.

Don’t forget that for you, 1-to-1’s can become routine. However, for your employee, it could be something they’ve been thinking about for days or even losing sleep on.

Keep notes of the conversation and boil them down to action points. You can also ask your team members to do the note-keeping which will help them with ownership of their activities. Express deadlines or formulate clear expectations (if you aim for improvement for example) in your notes. It will make your life easier but also shows your employees your listening to them and taking their comments or requests serious

Conflict resolution is probably one of the toughest topics to discuss in a 1-to-1, especially in a he-said-she-said scenario. Make sure to never talk about other team members yourself and leave the talking to your employee.

Your 1-to-1 is also the place to criticize an employee if needed as opposed to doing it in public, on the work floor, or in team meetings. Applaud in public, criticize in private is a good rule to follow.

Never skip, always reschedule. Never ever assume you can simply skip a 1-to-1 because you believe there’s nothing to discuss. It might be true, but if it’s not you’ll be rightfully perceived as a manager with not enough time for his employees and you can lose touch with employees for whom this is a sensitive topic.

If you have a busy schedule with overlapping meetings, simply try to free up 5 minutes for a small ‘how are you doing?’ and reschedule your 1-to-1 to a max of 5 days later. This is important. Never skip anybody.

This article was written from the manager’s perspective. I will write another article in the future from the employees’ perspective and how these meetings can be used to your advantage in a smart way.

Feel free to contact me if you want to prepare for your next 1-to-1 or need some more pointers.

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Tales from the office helps employees and managers find their way in the vast world of corporate life.

By sharing non-generic real life advice I hope to help anyone out looking for guidance on surviving the rat race.

My advice is based on +10 years of senior management experience in a Fortune 500 company.


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