A quarter of professionals have more than 15 meetings, catch-ups, calls, and internal meetings every week. With the average meeting running a full hour, it’s important to make each one count so you’re not losing productivity and wasting people’s time. When done well, a one-on-one between a manager and their direct report can ensure alignment, improve retention, and catalyze important company-wide changes. Here are some ways to make the most of your one-on-ones:

Schedule a regular time

Determine how often you want to meet with each of your reports, and set a recurring meeting on your calendars. Weekly one-on-ones are generally best for new, or recently promoted, employees who may need a bit more support as they grow into their roles. Similarly, remote employees may appreciate weekly one-on-ones since you don’t run into them in the office. If you find that this cadence isn’t necessary for more tenured employees, discuss cutting back to bi-weekly meetings instead. Bi-weekly—or even monthly— one-on-ones may also be necessary if you manage a large team, travel frequently, or have a lot of other meetings. Find a cadence that works best for you and each of your reports.

Begin by booking each meeting for an hour, and make sure to arrive on time. There may be many things you want to cover in your one-on-ones, and it’s not ideal to cut an important conversation short if one of you has to run to another meeting. You can always finish your one-on-one in less time than allotted, and simply get that time back for other things.

Set an agenda

Get the most out of your one-on-ones by planning your topics of discussion ahead of time. Try to steer clear of mere status updates, as those types of discussions are not usually the best use of time. Instead, focus on more big picture items:

  • Discuss employee goals and priorities. 
  • Provide coaching and create employee development plans. 
  • Give and request feedback. 
  • Encourage your reports to share their wins, blockers, and anything else that’s on their minds.

Change up the agenda as you see fit. For instance, discuss new goals prior to the start of each new quarter, and periodically check in on progress toward those goals during one-on-ones. Dedicate time after your compensation cycles to discuss raises with each employee, as well as how they can earn their next raise or promotion. And if you sense an employee is becoming disengaged, dedicate time to learn about underlying issues so that you may address them.

Offer feedback and recognition 

Employee recognition can be a powerful tool for employee engagement and retention—or a lack thereof can work against you. Only 45 percent of employees are completely satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive. Employees who don’t feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year. But 40 percent would put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.

Take the time during each one-on-one to recognize your reports for their wins and contributions. It may help to jot them down somewhere so you can remember them during one-on-ones and performance evaluations.

One-on-ones are also a good time to provide constructive feedback around opportunities for improvement—and development. Discuss ways they could improve in their current roles, and what it would take to get to the next level in their career paths. This can help ensure that employees don’t have any surprises when the time comes for performance evaluations, raises, and promotions. With a clear path forward, employees will be incentivized to stay at your organization long-term.

Encourage your reports to share candid feedback

Collecting employee feedback is an important step toward better supporting your reports. Learn how they like to receive feedback, their preferred communication style, and what they need to be successful at work.

Learn what’s holding them back at work, and if they have any ideas for solutions. For instance, if your open floor plan office space is making it difficult to get work done, you may offer remote work options. Or if another employee is creating a bottleneck that impacts their work, perhaps you can streamline processes or increase headcount to alleviate the issue.

Pay particular attention to trends in employee feedback, and make sure it reaches company leadership. For example, if employees don’t feel their compensation is aligned with market rates, or unfairly distributed throughout the company. 

Follow-up and follow through

Take time after each of your one-on-ones to email next steps and corresponding timelines for both yourself and your reports. This ensures alignment around goals and priorities that were discussed during the meeting, and gives you a point of reference to hold you both accountable and keep you on track.

Then complete your action items and communicate outcomes or progress toward solutions to demonstrate your support, and show that you take feedback seriously. This can help strengthen your relationships with direct reports and ensure that you continue to receive valuable feedback from them.

Final thoughts on creating the best one-on-ones

One-on-ones can be a valuable tool for managers and their reports to connect—or they can be a waste of time for everybody involved. Make the most of your time by creating some structure, while allowing flexibility for your reports to get what they need out of the meeting. When done right, one-on-ones can help you build better relationships with your reports, so you can better engage and retain them.

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