1-on-1 meetings are an essential tool for managers to learn about their direct reports. These informal, regularly scheduled meetings offer a platform to monitor goal progress, discuss feedback, consider long-term career growth, share ideas, and develop trust. However, if you’ve never had 1-on-1 meetings before, you may be wondering how to start the process.
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Here are some tips for your first one-on-one meeting with an employee.
The 1-on-1 Mindset
An important thing to remember is that the 1-on-1 isn’t a performance review, it’s an informal check-in. The conversation can happen over coffee, lunch, or on a walk—any setting where you can chat privately and openly. There may be some initial awkwardness during the first 1-on-1—the less formal structure requires a getting-to-know-you feel—so doing some prep work can help both you and the employee feel more comfortable.
You should send an email to your team a few weeks before starting 1-on-1s to introduce the purpose and format of the meetings. This will also give you time to schedule meetings in advance to ensure there aren’t any postponements or cancellations. The important thing is to clarify that 1-on-1 meetings will be held with every member of the team and that one person isn’t getting singled out.
Set a Schedule
Perhaps the most important criteria for effective 1-on-1s is to hold them consistently. They can be 30 or 60 minutes long, and many managers find they’re most effective on a weekly or biweekly basis. You can sprinkle them throughout the week or dedicate one day for doing all 1-on-1s. Mondays are a great time to set a tone and goals for the days ahead, while Fridays are the perfect time to recap the week.
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To get the ball rolling, ask your reports to write down a list of talking points related to their workload, projects, feedback, goals, and any questions they have for you. You should do the same, then you can compare lists at the beginning of the meeting, choose the most important talking points, and kick off the conversation from there.
Start with Wins
A nice way to set a positive tone for 1-on-1 discussions is to start by celebrating a recent success for the employee. You can ask them to share something that they’re particularly proud of, or you can highlight a moment where they performed at a high level.
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The employee should be doing most of the talking during a 1-on-1. The manager’s job is to actively listen. Asking open-ended questions is a great way to keep the conversation flowing and gain insight into the employee’s thoughts, feelings, frustrations, ambitions, etc. You can see a list of good 1-on-1 questions in our Best 1-on-1 Meeting Checklist.
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Be sure to jot down notes during the meeting. This will not only demonstrate that you’re actively listening but will also help you retain information and provide a jumping off point for the next 1-on-1.