One-on-ones are an essential part of performance management. The meeting between a manager and direct report is uninterrupted, pre-scheduled time to discuss work projects, problem solve, remove blockers, and discuss professional goals and career development.
There’s no one-size-fits-all one-on-one template to follow. But by using the framework outlined below, you’ll get the most out of your one-on-ones and run a customized meeting that fits the needs of your organization and direct reports.
The most crucial part of using this one-on-one template is creating a space where employees feel comfortable discussing their work performance and any concerns or issues. Here’s how to do it.
One-on-one template: how to run effective meetings
Set a regular cadence
A regular meeting cadence ensures that managers and direct reports stay connected and develop a good working relationship. Connection helps with employee engagement while allowing issues to be dealt with on a routine basis rather than letting frustrations build up. Pre-scheduled one-on-ones also allow employees to mentally prepare and help busy leaders manage their time effectively.
How often you meet with your direct report is up to your team’s experience. For example, with newer or more junior employees hold one-on-one meetings once a week. For more seasoned employees who need less hand-holding, you might want to bump one-on-ones to bi-monthly.
Some managers might dedicate a whole day to their one-on-ones, whereas others might feel more comfortable and productive scheduling check-ins across a whole week. One key benefit of scheduling one-on-ones on the same day is it’s easier for leaders to piece together insights from their team and frees up the rest of the week for other work.
However you approach a one-on-one meeting cadence, make sure it’s the best schedule that matches the needs of you and your direct reports.
Make introductions and conversation
Making polite conversation goes a long way in building rapport and trust with your direct reports. Deeper work connections help foster a culture of open communication and employee engagement, so it’s essential to ensure that your employee feels comfortable talking freely and without repercussions.
A simple ‘How was your weekend?’ opens the door to natural conversation and helps employees relax and feel at ease, setting the tone for the duration of the session. Then, follow up with more open-ended questions that focus on allowing the direct report to share any constructive feedback or issues.
Before you dive into the specifics of goals and priorities, we recommend celebrating a win with your direct report. This could be anything from ‘I loved the thoughtful, engaging question you asked at the company all hands’ to ‘You handled that account very professionally. I understand it was challenging, so well done.’
Discuss goals and top priorities
Well-organized and effective businesses use goal-setting to achieve results. Goals have many frameworks, but two of the most common are KPIs and OKRs. Gallup states that employees involved in goal setting with their manager are almost 4x more likely to be engaged with their role.
So check in with your direct report on how their work is going and what progress they’ve made toward their goals since you last spoke. Here are a few prompts to help:
- How have things been going since our last one-on-one?
- What are you most excited about at the moment?
- What have you been stuck with lately?
- What do you feel has gone well this week?
- Are you facing any challenges since we last spoke?
- What are your priorities until we meet again?
To help keep all the information in one place, onboard performance management software that comes with an in-built one-on-one management feature to keep everyone aligned.
One-on-one meetings are primarily to discuss work achievements and personal development, but you might find that employees want to chat about interpersonal issues relating to a project or department.
Remember that it’s your job to listen, offer support, problem-solve, and not judge. If a conversation feels above your pay grade, feel free to document the discussion and take it to your own manager or HR department.
Now that you’ve listened to your direct report and asked open questions to gain insight into their perspective, it’s time to add your take. A one-on-one is an ideal situation to share honest, actionable, specific feedback based on your employee’s information. By understanding the situation, you can collaborate, identify causes, and find solutions.
One caveat: feedback can be tricky to get right. Follow these simple steps to ensure you deliver effective feedback that inspires and empowers your employees rather than disengages and demotivates them.
- Be specific. “Your work is great!” is much less helpful than “I thought the copy you wrote for the recent social media campaign was thought-provoking and engaging.”
- Offer guidance. Use your leadership skills to show your direct report a way forward. For example, “I noticed that you missed the last couple of deadlines for the social media copy. I’d like to work with you on time management to help you complete tasks in a timely manner.”
- Be professional. Depending on the feedback you deliver, an employee might become defensive. That’s okay. Remain professional and display empathy and support. Note that very unexpected feedback should never occur — regular one-on-ones and engaged management mitigate any surprises.
- Keep it private. Leaders should not gossip about employees. Keep your information to yourself.
- Allow for follow-up. Give your direct report the space to digest the feedback and ask follow-up questions.
Create action items
Action items establish clear expectations and priorities while helping employees know exactly what to accomplish and improve. By setting action items, you’re setting your direct report up for success. Additionally, action items help improve a direct report’s professional development and give them something to work on before your next meeting.
There’s no better coaching strategy than empowering direct reports with effective professional development. Use this one-on-one template as a guideline for your own conversations, or download this template if you need more assistance.