In today’s working world, the employee experience is in trouble. Employees in the U.S. are up to twice as likely to be disengaged at work.
And this disengagement can cause problems. Gallup finds that organizations whose employees are actively engaged reap substantial rewards (vs. unengaged peers) such as 41% lower absenteeism, between 24 and 59% lower turnover, and 17% higher productivity. Clearly, organizations simply cannot afford to ignore the importance of the employee experience.
Approaching this on an organizational level can seem daunting, but that need not be the case. Improving employee engagement using this one simple tool is key – the one-on-one (1:1).
Over recent decades there has been a noisy trend in the private sector to abolish managers as unnecessary, hailing flat organizations as the future of work. However, the team structure – of which managers are essential figures – is the foundational cell of engagement and productivity and has proven to double employee engagement when compared with employees not on teams. The 1:1 between a manager and an employee on their team, is an effective format to ensure the employee is being coached, offered growth opportunities, and empowered to maximize their performance.
How to Conduct a Manager-Employee 1:1 Meeting
There is much to say about how to guide managers to be better leaders. But this article will focus on just one powerful tool at manager’s disposal: the 1:1 check-in between a manager and an employee on their team.
While research defines 1:1 check-ins in many ways, I define these meetings within the following scheduling and structural parameters:
- Prioritized weekly (during some periods bi-weekly, but weekly is ideal)
- 30-45 minutes (30 is standard, with additional time for monthly/quarterly)
- Only Manager and Employee should participate, hence the term 1:1
- Topics should be provided prior based on employee and manager input
- The meeting should cover a manager’s five main roles in a direct report’s career: Person, Leader, Feedback-Provider, Coach, and Supervisor.
What Standard Questions Should Be Asked During a 1:1?
Gallup argues that there are 12 key questions that demonstrate whether employees are truly engaged. These questions should be weaved in throughout your 1:1 check in meetings, as described below. If your employees can answer “yes” to all of these, then you are covering the right topics during your meetings.
What Cadence Should be Used for 1:1s?
Prioritizing the 1:1 experience frequently ensures employees feel heard, receive feedback in a timely manner (i.e., when it is still relevant or applicable) and allow the correction or anticipation of issues or mistakes. This timing addresses one of Gallup’s true/false questions, “In the last seven days, I received recognition or praise for doing good work.” While bi-weekly 1:1 check-ins may be acceptable occasionally, sustainable practice is once within every work week.
How Long Should a 1:1 Meeting Be?
Next, allocating the right amount of time is critical. Everyone is busy, but making others feel as if you are too busy is counterproductive. While some suggest 10-15 minutes, shorter meetings can often feel rushed or confused with opportunities for Just-In-Time (JIT) feedback. Set aside enough time to cover your employee’s needs, and adjust accordingly if an employee seems to be falling behind or struggling.
1:1 check-ins can also be bundled to give employees additional context. Every fourth meeting (monthly), every twelfth meeting (quarterly), and so on should be granted additional time (~15 minutes) to give the employee a broader sense of how they are progressing in their career. This directly addresses two more Gallup questions: “In the last six months, someone at work has asked me about my progress,” and “In the last year, I had the opportunity to work, learn and grow.”
What is the Ideal Structure of a 1:1 Meeting?
How the meeting is structured is an essential component of the 1:1 check-in. For starters, the meeting should be private, between only the employee and manager. This allows for greater openness, honesty, and vulnerability, all of which are needed for both parties to build trust and respect.
The 1:1 check-in allows managers to effectively deliver on their key obligations as managers:
Being a person is key. Don’t just dive into the agenda – meet employees where they are and thus address another key requirement for an engaged employee, “My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.”
- Next, as a leader, take this opportunity to inspire, empower, and connect them to the broader organization, “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.” Additionally, if there is a difficult conversation, model humility and patience.
- Third, managers must be feedback-providers and manage the flow of quality work. so Providing feedback, not only in the moment (JIT), but during these meetings to help praise or clarify work is foundational (“I know what is expected of me at work” and “At work, my opinions seem to count.”)
- Fourth, managers should coach employees by aligning their performance (as well as their strengths, development areas, attitudes and opportunities) in the context of a broader career and development. This approach allows employees to affirmatively respond to these questions: “There is someone at work who encourages my development” and “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”
- And finally, managers may sometimes act as a supervisor and, only when necessary, use some of the time to clarify policies or other compliance items important for that employee. Note: do not wait for these meetings to discuss infractions or other matters of urgency.
These guidelines are intended to both inspire change in those not currently using 1:1 check-ins and urge those already doing them to add the structure and frequency that’s proven to improve their effectiveness. Prioritize 1:1 check-ins, especially in times of stress or a demanding workload. Holding these meetings frequently and consistently will allow managers to motivate employees in times of monotony, clarify in times of confusion, anticipate in times of disconnect, and inspire in times of uncertainty.
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