With the willingness to improve employees experience and well-being, while increasing talent retention, running frequent one-on-ones between managers and their direct reports became an increasingly important process in any company. Mike Acton, Engine Director at Insomniac Games, perfectly explains the importance of one-on-ones in those three sentences: 

“1:1 meetings are the most important thing a lead of any team can be spending their time on. It’s not a trade-off against more important things. It is the important thing.”

However, as a manager, having productive one-on-one sessions with direct reports can be tricky. It’s pretty common to wonder what to say, which topic to cover and what feedback to give to motivate team members. Therefore, ones-on-ones are often skipped or they’re just awkward moments that managers and employees will try to shorten to get back to work. 

Hopefully, there are simple tricks to turn 1 on 1 meetings into constructive feedback sessions which have a long term impact on employees well-being and engagement. Here are three advices you can directly apply for your next one-on-ones.

Consistency is key.

Being consistent is an advice we often hear, in various and multiple fields: any podcast about marketing will tell you to be consistent and to post content regularly to increase awareness. Any coach will tell you to train frequently to get better in any sport. Being consistent in your sales approach will get you more leads. And so on.

The same applies to one-on-ones. As a manager, you have to define a frequency for your meetings with your direct reports and stick to it.

Now, how to choose the perfect frequency for your one-on-ones ?

Facebook is famous for having weekly one-on-ones. It’s something that Sortlist, a successful Belgian scale-up, also does. The way Sortlist runs their one-on-ones is highly effective, yet easy to reproduce. First, they let their managers decide the frequency of their one-on-ones (every week of two weeks). During those (bi-)weekly sessions, managers and "managee" talk about work performances, work prioritization and trainings. Then, once a month, they run a meeting focusing on career development and well-being. Sortlist gives to their managers a whole list of questions from which they can inspire themselves for their one-on-ones.

This (bi-)weekly process, completed by a monthly meeting has proven to be very effective to build strong relationships between managers and their direct reports. Find more details about how Sortlist runs their one-on-ones in this interview with their country manager.

So, start by choosing your frequency. If weekly meetings are too much for you, you can start by running bi-weekly or monthly sessions, but not less.

Preparation changes everything.

This is, by far, the most valuable advice we can give to increase the quality of your one-on-ones. Preparing the meeting will have a significant impact on your feedback sessions. In a perfect world, managers should have all the input they need before the meeting, so they can think about the feedback they will give during the one-on-ones. This can be done by sending a few questions to your team members before the meeting. For example, it can be highly productive to ask your employees what were their biggest achievements and challenges. It lets the employees think about their week and take a step back.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of questions that you can send before a weekly meeting:

  • What was your biggest achievement this week? What are you most proud of?
  • What seemed complicated to you? How could it be improved?
  • Do you have any feedback for me? Can I help you with your anything?
  • Are you satisfied with your own performances this week? How could it be better?
  • Is there anything else you want to talk about?

Giving your employees the opportunity to write a few sentences for each of these questions before the meeting will have a massive impact on the quality of your discussion. First, it helps your employees think about what they do. This retrospection help them to think about the impact they have in the company. Then, employees will feel much more comfortable to write and structure their ideas before having the meeting, especially to talk about tricky subjects or negative feedback they should give to the manager. If this step is skipped, there’s much more risk that the employee doesn't talk about what is not working well or talks about it in a chaotic way.

Then, as a manager, if you have the answers before the meeting, you’ll be much more prepared for the one-on-ones. You can also forget about the fear of not knowing what to say, the content will be in front of your eyes.

Another useful tip is to always ask what the employee wants to talk about so you can co-create the agenda of the meeting. One-on-ones don’t have to be unilateral. It’s important to imply your direct reports in the process before the meeting takes place.

Get all your data in the same place.

How many times haven’t you said “Oh sh*t, what did we say at our last one-on-one again ?” or “We defined a great action plan at our last 1:1, what was it again ?”. Having the possibility to easily see what was said at your last meeting will help you to get organized, save time and easily see the progress of your teammates.

A Google Drive organized per employee with reports of each one-on-one is a good first step. However, if you want to take your HR and coaching to the next level, it can be interesting to invest in a solution to save time, receive suggestions of topics to cover, automate repetitive tasks and see the progression of the employees.

So, to sum up, if you want to run successful one-on-ones, we highly recommend you to:

  • Let your managers define a frequency and make sure they stick to it
  • Apply a rotation in the topics covered (work, well-being, career progression)
  • Prepare the meeting by sending a few questions before the one-on-one
  • Read the answers before the meeting to prepare your coaching
  • Keep all your data in one place to easily see what was said at the last one-on-one

If you read this article to the end (thanks!), this can look like a lot of work for managers and pretty time-consuming. Time is, however, the manager’s primary resource.

That’s why we created Frizby. 

Frizby makes sure that managers can have awesome one-on-ones while significantly decreasing the time it takes.

How ?

By automating all the repetitive tasks.

Frizby automatically sends preliminary questions to your direct reports at the frequency you want, creates reports with their answers and centralises all the information per employee. Then, during the one-on-one, you can use Frizby to take notes and define action plans.

Whether you use Frizby or not, we hope this article gave you useful tips that you’ll be directly able to apply for you next one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. We can ensure you that by being consistent, by preparing your meetings and by keeping all you reports in one place, you’ll quickly see an improvement in the way you manage your employees.

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