Open communication is crucial to increase productivity and employee satisfaction in the workplace, and at the heart of successful communication is the one-on-one meeting. Like perfecting a recipe by fine-tuning and tweaking it over time, developing a strategy for successful one-on-one meetings with my employees has taken years of trial and error. Although the recipe continues to evolve, these three components remain key ingredients:
Make it personal
Showing interest in your direct reports as people, not just as workers, may be the most important component of a successful one-on-one meeting. Since becoming a manager in 2008, I have prioritized forming personal relationships with each of my employees.
Face-to-face interaction demonstrates that you value and respect your employees’ time, a sentiment that is often lost in an email or phone exchange. At the beginning of my managerial career, the majority of my direct employees were remote, so I made a point to schedule at least one hour of face-to-face time with them per week. If remote workers were local, we met at coffee shops. If they were out of state, we Skyped. Over the years, the structure and methodology of these meetings has evolved, but the foundation has remained the same: showing interest in all aspects of employees’ lives and making the effort to continuously maintain healthy, well-rounded relationships.
This approach is great for boosting employee morale, but how does forming personal connections affect the bottom line? Well, employees give what they receive. A study conducted by the University of Missouri found businesses that invested in employees’ happiness saw vast improvements in brand satisfaction reports over companies that did not. When things are going poorly in our personal lives or we are not satisfied in our jobs, our work suffers. Having a personal relationship with the manager empowers employees to be open about what they are experiencing and allows managers the opportunity to help.
Set up a regular rhythm of communication
Sporadic one-on-one meetings are not enough to maintain an open, two-way street of communication between you and your direct reports. Set aside one hour per week (at least) at the same time and on the same day, and only reschedule when it is absolutely necessary. Nothing demonstrates your dedication to your employees’ success and satisfaction like giving one-on-ones a regular slot in your schedule. This shows you place high value on the time you spend with employees and the things they want to discuss. What’s more, having consistent meetings will give your employees ample time to gather their thoughts and prepare accordingly.
Cultivate an employee-led agenda
Think of one-on-one meetings as time for your employees to have unhindered access to their manager. I always begin my one-on-ones with the question “What do you want to discuss today?” to set the tone for the employee to take ownership of the meeting. It is their time to ask questions, ask for feedback and bring attention to anything impeding their work. The question suggests that all subject matter is fair game, and surprisingly, the most common issues I encounter from employees are relational. Negative relationships with team members or clients can have a huge impact on employees’ quality of work and satisfaction, yet many feel uncomfortable discussing this outside of a one-to-one situation.
If an employee doesn’t have much on their agenda for the week, I have several fallback questions prepared. Asking about development goals shows you are interested in the progression of your employee’s career path. Are they taking any continuing education classes? How about working on a certification? Ask your direct reports about their progress and how you can help. Additionally, your employees and their teams likely have quarterly goals, but be wary of bringing these up too frequently. After all, you don’t want your time to devolve into a weekly anxiety-inducing interrogation.
Forming personal connections, scheduling regular time for communication and allowing workers to take the reins empower employees to be their best selves in and outside of the workplace. That is why, as a manager, I always have and always will prioritize one-on-one meetings with my direct employees.
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