Rapid business transformation amid prolonged economic uncertainty has prompted many leaders to introduce more frequent performance reviews and one-on-one check-ins with employees.
Since the pandemic, both these exercises have become especially vital since ever-evolving business goals require employees to pivot more frequently and pick up new competencies more quickly than before in order to achieve ever-evolving business goals.
However, some leaders neglect to appreciate the difference between the two. Often, managers end up treating one-on-ones as performance reviews. Others squander opportunities to make one-on-ones truly meaningful.
Leaders must recognise one-on-one check-ins as opportunities to cultivate trust and strengthen relationships between managers and their team members, creating an environment where people feel safe which in turn, can lead to increased productivity and innovation.
Such meetings can also be valuable coaching and mentoring sessions. By learning to actively listen to their team members and providing feedback and advice along the way, managers can better support employee performance and improve success.
Here’s how you can get started on having more meaningful and effective one-on-ones.
1. Know the Difference Between One-on-One Meetings and Performance Reviews
To get the most out of each type of meeting, managers need to be able to distinguish between one-on-one check-ins and performance reviews. Each one has different goals. Here are the main differences in a nutshell.
- Review the performance of direct reports
- Evaluate their results and how far these go in terms of meeting their goals and organisational goals
- Provide feedback on strengths and areas of improvement
- Formulate a plan of action for the next quarter
- Understand and eliminate roadblocks to goal achievement
- Discuss growth and development opportunities
- Ask about challenges, issues and feedback (topics include work habits, collaboration, engagement, etc.)
- Professional development plans and goals
- Provide ongoing coaching
- Build trust
- Ask employees for feedback on how the manager can improve, better support employee goals, etc.
Both managers and direct reports should take notes in order to keep track of topics and follow through on issues.
Remember that one-on-ones should be centred on growth and development, professional goals, challenges and feedback, not project status updates or performance evaluations.
2. Set a Recurring Meeting in your Schedule and Never Cancel
One-on-one meetings need to occur regularly in order to be effective. Whether you choose to do them weekly or fortnightly, schedule them into the calendar as a recurring meeting. This sends out a clear signal that managers are committed to the relationship.
Naturally, things will come up and schedules might change, but instead of cancelling the meeting, reschedule it. Cancellations signal that the meeting is unimportant and make your direct reports feel insignificant.
3. Keep it Informal and Collaborative
One-on-one check-ins are meant to be a two-way informal discussion.
Managers should play the role of a supportive coach while ensuring direct reports remain the focus of the conversation.
We advise having a shared collaborative document for both parties to list specific topics they would like to discuss. While planning an agenda is helpful, make sure it’s flexible enough for the employee to bring up related issues that enter their minds on the spur of the moment.
Consider having the meeting over coffee or a meal outside the office. This keeps it informal and further distinguishes it from performance reviews.
4. Ask Questions and Listen
The manager’s role as a coach necessitates asking questions and listening attentively in order to understand employees’ perspectives. Never interrupt. Let them finish their thoughts and learn how to ask follow up questions in order to elicit more relevant information that could give you a clearer picture of their concerns.
Listen carefully to what is being shared with the goal of supporting the employee in the best way possible. By showing recognition of the other person’s vantage point and opinions, managers are likely to increase their chances of building a stronger relationship with their team.
While you may not have answers for every issue that concerns your direct reports, always be willing to find collaborative solutions and do whatever you can to help as an individual with greater authority, whether it’s getting rid of roadblocks within the organisation or sending them online resources that can help them excel.
5. Open Up to Encourage Direct Reports To Do Likewise
Managers must remember that they are in a position of power. It’s natural for direct reports to be intimidated and as a result, have difficulties opening up to you.
As such, managers have to set the tone. In order to create a safe space and communicate that it’s okay for direct reports to share their challenges, thoughts and feelings authentically, managers have to share their own challenges and shortcomings. For instance, if you’re new to being a manager, admit that there’s much for you to learn and your direct reports’ feedback would help you improve. Follow up by being direct – tell them that these meetings are meant to be a two-way conversation and to provide you with feedback if they have any. To engender a sense of shared purpose and solidarity, you can position one-on-one meetings as opportunities for both of you to grow together.
Share personal anecdotes and experiences if you feel they can be a source of guidance, inspiration or support. Such stories could encourage employees to open up further.
To create a psychologically safe space, ensure that everything is kept confidential. While addressing issues brought up during such meetings might require managers to involve others in the organisation, the names of individuals who bring up the issues should never be shared.
6. Be Open to Feedback
Managers must set an example by showing they are open to feedback on their own performance and development. Show that you can process the feedback in a healthy manner. Losing your cool or not doing anything about feedback discourages people from providing more. In order to ensure that one-on-one meetings are meaningful, each party must be willing to learn from the other.
Focus on actions that build trust, strengthen relationships and fuel growth.