Hit the Reset Button: How to Have Awesome One-on-Ones

One-on-ones are a very important tool to cultivate the relationship with your employees, and there are many tips out there on what managers can do to have effective one-on-ones. When I was managing a large operations team, I came with a strong background in HR, so I knew the ins and outs of having effective one-on-ones. However, what I didn’t anticipate is that the employees I managed had no idea how to have an effective one-on-one with me!

When I held my monthly meetings, I came well prepared. I would bring my notes from the last discussion, open up with an intriguing question such as “What’s on your mind?” or “What would you like to talk about today?” We ended up having great discussions but despite my efforts to keep the one-on-ones open-ended, they didn’t actually go anywhere unless I took responsibility for steering them.

During the discussions, it dawned on me that I don’t have to be the only one steering the discussion. As I met with each employee monthly, I started to get to know what they enjoyed talking about, and where I felt I was missing information about them. Once I gathered some notes, I told my employees how they can get the best out of the discussions with me. Here are some of the tips I gave my employees:

Keep Your Own Notes

Some employees are diligent. They bring their notebook to every meeting, take notes and follow up at the next discussion. Some, however, just come with a coffee in their hands. Culturally, as we have shifted towards encouraging more “casual” one-on-ones, we have also seen managers getting more creative on the location of the meetings, such as coffee shops or even walking meetings. The only difficulty is that it’s not the ideal environment for the manager and the employee to take notes and own the accountability of their action items.

I truly enjoyed taking advantage of the beautiful weather in the summertime by having one-on-ones outdoors, or at coffee shops for a change of scenery. But I also reinforced to my employees that I still wanted them to bring a notebook (and pen!) to capture their own takeaways for them to follow up on for our next meeting.

Don’t Wait Until Our Next One-on-One

The next tip I gave my employees is to keep a regular tab on the achievements they want me to know about, as well as areas where they need more help or development. Use any tool that works for you – a Word document, One Note, or even a physical notebook. Keep a running log and don’t always wait for the next one-on-one to share them. If appropriate, share these wins as they’re happening. If you get an email of praises for a project you worked on, or you helped out another employee and were proud of their accomplishment, don’t feel like you’re bragging or bugging your manager with useless information. Managers cannot see what is happening in your day-to-day life. They don’t know the details of your day and everyone you interact with and how. It is up to you to showcase all the positive interactions you are having in your organization. I wanted my employees to take responsibility for showcasing their achievements and their brand. This boosted confidence, motivation and ultimately lead to better one-on-ones because we could spend more of our meeting time talking about career succession and development based on the already known achievements.

You Are Responsible For Bringing Up Your Career Aspirations

This may surprise you, but managers cannot read minds (oh but do we wish we could!) Managers will also make mistakes; perhaps assuming an employee wants to progress in their career when they don’t, or encouraging their employee to grow themselves in areas they’re not actually interested in – especially with employees who are great performers or show a lot of potential. So my next tip to employees is – you own your career when you talk about it, and how much or how often you talk about it.

I have noticed in my many years as an HR professional that we tend to hold the development discussions to the end of a meeting. Whether it’s succession planning, career development, talent management – those discussions tend to be last on the agenda. With good intent though – leaders feel they want to give the most time to discuss these things because they are important topics, so they want the “small” things out of the way to have the rest of the time to focus on the meatier “people” items.

The problem with this is, we run out of time! Small things become bigger discussions and developmental discussions are left to the end – often without enough time to complete the conversation.

This is why I would encourage my employees to start our meetings with their career discussions, interests in where they want to develop themselves, or even highlights of their biggest achievements over the past month. Let’s start with the meaty stuff – because I bet we will inevitably cover the small stuff anyway.

Try these tips out with your employees and let me know if it makes a difference in your one-on-ones. If you and your employees both invested in the time to prepare for these discussions, they will become more meaningful, impactful, and will further the working relationship you have with each other.

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