Holding Effective 1:1 Meetings (with handout)
Best practices for helping employees and managers achieve their goals
1:1’s are a constant in every organization. Setting up simple rules and frameworks for making this time as productive as possible is absolutely essential for long term success, regardless of how you define it.
In this post, I’ll define best practices for two groups: managers and employees.
Best practices for managers:
At a macro level it’s the responsibility of leaders to set clear monthly, quarterly and annual goals. 1:1’s are there to make sure we’re all rowing in the right direction and hitting our weekly goals in order to reach our larger objectives.
Some ways you can ensure your 1:1 time with employees is efficient and beneficial:
Employee focus. The meeting should be focused more on the employee and his/her needs, and less on you
Manage up. Create an expectation on your team that people “manage up”. Help your employees become owners and empower them to make decisions on their own, while escalating only the absolutely urgent decisions to you
Weekly touchpoints. Set up a weekly, 30 minute meeting with your direct reports, and don’t change the time of the meeting frequently. Employees need consistency, and keeping meetings on a consistent cadence will allow them to get stuff done without delays because they were unable to get the answers they needed
👉 PRO TIP: If you’re bringing on a new employee and you don’t have a Learning and Development department - or you have limited onboarding materials - 1:1’s should be daily and gradually move to weekly as the employee ramps up
Be strategic. Choose the day/time of the meeting strategically. I’ll do a future post about proactive vs reactive work, but it’s important to place 1:1 meetings on your calendar - and your direct report’s calendar - in a thoughtful way, so it doesn’t disturb either person’s proactive work blocks. Having a discussion with them about what day/time works best on their end can also go a long way with building trust and making sure they have a say in how - and when - these discussions will happen
Agenda, agenda, agenda. Your calendar invite should include a running meeting agenda document that both you and your report can add to. Keep it simple by using a Google Doc that tracks topics and deliverables by the date of the meeting in which they were discussed. By turning action/takeaway items into checkboxes, it allows you and your employee to ensure they’re completing follow up items
👉 BONUS: Here’s a simple template that you can copy to get you started
Set clear expectations. Make it clear that each employee needs to come prepared with agenda items for each 1:1. A good best practice is to require that agenda items be added to the running document ahead of time, so you have time to review them and prepare for the discussion. Explaining that you’ll review agenda items ahead of time also helps the employee understand the importance of preparing you for any conversations, so you have time to think about your response prior to the meeting. These agenda items should include metrics recaps of the week along with the plan for the following week. If they exist, you can look at dashboards together, but ask the direct report to lead the walkthrough
Help prioritize action items. At the end of the meeting, you should ask yourself “does the direct report have a clear plan for hitting their goals?” If not, help guide them towards creating that plan and help them formalize and prioritize it
Nobody wants a robot boss. Don’t forget to be human! Check-in to see how your employee is doing in general. Happy employees tend to be more productive and stay with you longer. A simple way to accomplish this is by asking “on a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling right now?” Their answer will tell you a lot about their stress level, and it opens the lines of communication to dig deeper into what is preventing them from being a 10 on the scale. A great follow up question is “what can I do as your manager to help you get closer to a 10 on the scale?” You’ll be surprised with the amount of tangible, actionable items they’ll give you, so you can be an effective leader and keep them happy and engaged
👉 PRO TIP: You should have a good idea of what motivates an employee before you hire them, but if you don’t, your 1:1 meeting is the place to get that information. Find a way to tie their motivation to the job.
Best practices for employees:
Being a good employee sounds like an easily attainable task, but it can be complicated by the fact that each manager has a different leadership style. Regardless of their personal style, here’s some tips to help you be successful:
Be proactive. Not every manager will give you well-defined monthly and quarterly goals. Don’t wait for them to give them to you. Be proactive and create a proposal and present it during your 1:1 so that you both have a starting point to work from.
If you are in a position where you have to do this, consider what your boss’ boss has to achieve for the year and work backwards from there. Try to understand where you and your boss fit within the bigger picture
Don’t be afraid of presenting something the wrong way. Having the conversation and coming to an understanding around your goals is the first step in moving your career forward, as well as making your 1:1’s as productive as possible
Manage up. Managing up can be defined in a few different ways, but I view it as ownership. You own your development and progress toward hitting your goals. Operate as an owner on all fronts.
Recap, recap, recap. Present your weekly recap and goals for the following week in your 1:1. Whether that includes metrics or projects, make it tangible
For major decisions, use your 1:1 and not email or instant message. Making requests is best done in 1:1 conversations. For large requests, first try to understand how budget decisions are made and the hurdles to overcome when getting something changed within the organization. Ask your manager to explain the process to you before actually making a request. Try starting the conversation by saying “I have an idea, but before we discuss it I’d like to understand how changes/budget are approved internally so I can continue to refine my proposal. Can you walk me through how ideas have gotten approved in the past?”
Some of the most rewarding relationships I’ve made in my life are with my previous managers and direct reports. Be transparent with the other party, and remember you’re all on the same team.
Thanks for reading The Advisor! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.