How To Use One-On-One Meetings To Increase Satisfaction And Results

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

No matter how much we complain about meetings, one-on-ones are “the meeting everyone wants,” says Dr. Steven Rogelberg, Chancellor’s Professor and professor of organizational science, management and psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the author of Glad We Met: The Art and Science of 1:1 Meetings.

A one-on-one isn’t just another meeting; rather, it’s “the one meeting that should not be an email,” says Rogelberg. “It’s a very special opportunity to truly see and hear from your directs. It is that predictable moment when they can count on your full attention to address what’s on their minds.”

One-On-Ones Are A Worthy Investment

Yet despite the value of one-on-ones, even well-intentioned leaders often have trouble finding time to do them regularly. For some leaders, one-on-ones are the sessions they postpone when their schedule gets too hectic. But Rogelberg says a leader’s performance level can increase if they do one-on-ones consistently and well. “The research is really clear that it connects strongly with employee thriving and engagement. It connects with retention of your top talent,” he explains. “We all know the adage, ‘People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.’ These one-on-ones are your opportunity to prove that you’re not a bad boss, you’re a good boss.

“As your employees thrive and succeed, the team thrives and succeeds. And all of these things are a direct reflection on you,” Rogelberg continues. “We know that when employees are engaged in their jobs, they do perform better, they are safer, the customer service they provide others is higher, they help each other more, there’s literally less accidents on the job. In the face of obstacles, they persevere.”

For leaders, the time investment can pay off more directly. Many leaders assume that one-on-ones will take too much time away from their other responsibilities. Although there is an upfront investment in calendar time, the payback can be enormous, both short- and long-term. “When you have a predictable time with each of your people, they basically will save various topics for the one-on-one as opposed to interrupting you throughout the week, so you save time that way,” Rogelberg says.

For The Best One-on-Ones, Get Personal

The trick to making this investment worthwhile is for the leader to orchestrate the interaction. “This meeting is not for you. This meeting is for the employee—for them to bring up their challenges and issues and topics that are both short-term and long-term: career issues, issues with the team, questions about the organization,” Rogelberg explains. “This is just that one predictable moment when the employee can drive the discussion and they’re going to be able to bring up different issues in a one-on-one versus a team meeting. This is the one time when this employee knows they have your undivided attention. You can still go and have your team meetings and everything else, but this is just that one moment of connection.”

But it’s important not to let normal status updates take over during a one-on-one. “As a manager, you have a million ways you could monitor project status, right? You can send an email saying, ‘Hey, what’s the status?’ You can do it in a team meeting. You can have an asynchronous document where these things are tracked and discussed. You have lots of vehicles for doing it.”

What To Ask Your Direct Reports

The point of the one-on-one is for the leader to find out how the direct is doing and what they need—both at work and personally. But you don’t want a tired routine of “How are you?” and “I’m fine,” which allows the meeting to end without the leader making any connection or gaining any new understanding.

It helps to have alternative gambits. For instance, Rogelberg recommends asking the direct report about their biggest challenges and obstacles, so you can uncover the areas where you can provide support. Another stratagem is to ask employees how they’re doing that particular day on a 10-point scale, “with one being horrible and ten being excellent,” he says. “Now, you’re going to get responses of sixes, sevens, fives, eights—and you have something to work with. You can start by saying, ‘So tell me more. Why are you a six? How could you become a nine? What can I do to help?’” Then the leader can offer support and build the track record of trust and accomplishment between the parties.

Frequency Makes A Difference

The rhythm of one-on-one meetings is crucial, Rogelberg stresses: “We found consistently that the weekly cadence yielded the most gains; the bi-weekly, slightly less but still excellent. And then the monthly? There was a pretty good drop-off, although the monthly was still better than nothing.”

Unfortunately, though, he notes, “When it’s monthly, you have a harder time making connections and there’s a recency bias—we tend to talk about things that just happened.” He finds that one-on-ones “improve in quality when they’re in closer proximity because the ‘connective tissue’ is stronger.” He says this “also aligns with the data on preferences. We asked people their preferred cadence, and the vast majority wanted weekly.”

Responsibility Is Shared

Employees get the most value from one-on-ones when their boss prepares them for the experience. If, as a leader, you’re newly adopting this practice, or you know that you need to modify your approach to meetings for greater value, Rogelberg suggests using an opening like, “This meeting is for you. As your manager, I’m going to orchestrate and facilitate it, but it is for you. As a result, you have some key responsibilities to make this thing valuable to you—and I’m going to keep stressing, valuable to you: your satisfaction coming out of it and you feeling like your needs were addressed. Those are the criteria for success. Don’t talk about the things you think I want to talk about. Talk about the things that you need to talk about.”

He encourages managers to ask direct reports to consider both their long- and short-term needs for growth and success—in their careers, with their team, for the organization and even in their personal lives—because their well-being affects their work. Direct reports tend to be more engaged and candid once they get clear on what they want to get out of the one-on-one as well as any matters they’re trying to get resolved with their boss.

It’s up to the leader to explain how to ask for help effectively and not permit employees to wait for all their problems to be solved for them. This approach develops employees and also prevents them from wearing out their welcome. “It fosters your independence, not dependence,” says Rogelberg. “The more it fosters your independence, you look better in the eyes of the manager. No one wants a dependent person, they want to see a person who’s independent.”

Even Remote One-On-Ones Work Well

Although some leaders bemoan the fact that they can’t build the same kind of rapport with remote workers, Rogelberg doesn’t let them off the hook. He says one-on-ones may be even more important with remote and hybrid workers because they help employees “feel a sense of connection to the team and the organization.” In the end, he says, “It really comes down to less about the modality,” he says, “and more about the listening, the questions and the thinking.”

Onward and upward—

LK

Leave a Reply