Accountability, Coaching, Communication, Engagement, Leadership

How to Have Successful One on Ones

Experienced and successful managers will appreciate the tremendous value of having regular one on one meetings with their direct reports. In fact, many would claim that one on ones are the most influential and strategic meetings they can have with their staff to:

  • Facilitate communication,
  • Foster collaboration,
  • Focus engagement and
  • Further capacity

One on ones are a combination of:

  • Supervision – to ensure oversight and accountability,
  • Mentoring- to provide wisdom, information and training and
  • Coaching – to listen deeply to an employee’s needs and challenges and ask empowering questions to help them tap into their own thinking to identify effective strategies and actions.

For one on ones to be successful managers need to take active responsibility for building a positive climate of relational rapport with each direct report. Also, to be truly effective, one on ones should be held ideally weekly or at least fortnightly to address issues, concerns, problems and possibilities identified by both manager and employee.

The Benefits of One on Ones

Regular one on one meetings between managers and their direct reports provide the following benefits. They help to:

  1. Determine the employee’s progress and needs.
  2. Provide an early warning system for when intervention is needed. McCrindle research shows 58% of Gen Z (people born between 1995 -2004) and 45% of Gen Y (born between1980 -1994) seek guidance on how to improve their skills in their work roles. These age groups are particularly open to learn and develop.
  3. Significantly reduce the need for performance management as the regular meetings enable issues to be addressed before inappropriate behaviours become entrenched.
  4. Discern career development pathways and strategies for employees. Again, research by McCrindle shows 38% of Gen Z and 29% of Gen Y expect career guidance from their employers.
  5. Develop a manager’s coaching skills – an essential capacity for promotion to executive roles.

How to Have Successful One on Ones

  • Agenda – Develop an open agenda that lists the items the manager wishes to address in the meeting, together with space for the employee to identify their issues. The agenda is sent to the employee at least 3 days in advance and should be returned to the manager with any additional items at least a day before the meeting. Unless an extra-ordinary issue arises in the interim, no other items should be added. In this way both parties can prepare for the one on one meeting. (If the agenda ends up being too long the manager and team member should negotiate priority items at the start of the meeting – non priorities can be deferred.)
  • Set Time – Schedule ahead a mutually agreed time each week (or fortnight) for the meetings, ideally the same time each week. This enables both parties to be able to plan their work schedule well in advance.
  •  Focus – The focus of the meetings should be to address goals, follow up progress on action plans (identified from previous meeting/s), issues, problems and the employee’s career development. Towards the end of each meeting clarify the action plans needing to be carried out before the next one on one. For Gen Z and Gen Y staff particularly (see item 4 above), I suggest every fourth meeting should primarily focus on career development ambitions, options and possible strategies.
  • Be Positive – As far as possible try to affirm more positives than negatives. I recommend at least a 3:1 ratio with only 1 negative per session. Towards the beginning of the meeting aim to make a positive comment about the employee’s work, behaviour and/or attitude and towards the end offer encouragement.
  • Feedback – As well as giving feedback to your team members, create a climate whereby they feel safe to give feedback to you about their needs, team relationships, the organization and yourself as their manager. Such feedback enables you to more effectively work with your direct reports, undertake any appropriate interventions and communicate helpful information to your manager. 

Finally … To a significant degree, successful one on ones hinge on managers being able to encourage their employees to do most of the talking. As a general rule I recommend a 1:2 ratio so that the employee does twice as much talking as the manager. If the manager is doing more than 50% there’s likely to be a real problem. Generally speaking, the more the employee talks the more the manager will discover what’s needed and the more the direct report will take ownership of the outcomes from the meeting. The manager facilitates such an environment by practicing deep listening and asking empowering and mainly open ended questions that can’t be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Graham Beattie

1 thought on “How to Have Successful One on Ones

  1. Thank you Graham for these thoughts. As a Pastor of a Church with no employed staff I still spend quite a deal of time encouraging and helping people on their journey of life and coaching principles are very much to the fore in most times of encouragement. I use what I have learnt from my “coaching days” and these thoughts are also very useful reminders, thank you.

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