1:1 Meetings: Strategies for Managers and Direct Reports

“Of 250 direct reports I surveyed recently, nearly half rated their 1:1 experiences as suboptimal.” – Steven G. Rogelberg

How as a family business owner or manager, can you build in strategies for improved communication, productivity, and company success from your direct report? Effective 1:1 meetings will provide you with these benefits. We will look at the types of meetings you can structure, how to prepare for them, potential mistakes and pitfalls to avoid, and finally, how to ensure continuous improvement following the meetings. 

As a manager, do you have regular 1:1 meetings with your direct reports?

If not, let me tell you why these meetings are essential. Symptoms start to appear in a company if managers do not connect regularly and meaningfully with subordinates. Problems that can occur include lower productivity, staff turnover, quiet quitting, unresolved conflicts, as well as stress, and health issues in management and employees. Further, employees have difficulty adapting to change because they are not prepared with the right skillsets to grow with the company.

Direct reports and managers/supervisors benefit from 1:1 meetings both to give and receive feedback. We will discuss ways to evaluate the effectiveness of your current approach and ways to increase the impact.

The Key Benefits of Regular 1:1 Meetings for Managers and Direct Reports

Regular, planned 1:1 meetings have numerous benefits to the company, manager, and their direct reports. Rogelberg explains there is improved day-to-day output and efficiency, psychological safety and trust, and greater participation, motivation, and positive experiences from consistent 1:1 meetings.

Additional benefits include:

  • Improved communication, resulting in more clarity and reduced conflict 
  • Feedback exchange between both parties
  • Goal alignment between the employee and the company
  • Professional development opportunities for the employee

4 Key Types of Meetings

Not all 1:1 meetings are alike but can be very effective in their own right. They can serve different purposes and address a number of issues in one sitting. The most important consideration is that the meetings are purposeful, focused, and not about dealing with the latest crisis instead of working through results-oriented, long-term investment results. 

Building long-term relationships ultimately becomes an investment in customer services, operational efficiency, alignment with company culture, revenue growth, and talent retention.

There are 4 different types of meetings:

  1. Performance – a review of key performance indicators, an informal review, or a discussion about potential areas to look at working on in the future
  2. Projects – status, timelines, resource preparation, next steps, future projects
  3. Status updates – on employee’s work and task completion 
  4. Growth and development – build trust, engagement, and connection with direct reports.

These 1:1s need to be regularly scheduled priorities. So often in family businesses, owners put these meetings off for when they have more time or things aren’t so busy. These meetings must be priorities – not postponed, canceled, or fit in between the other meetings. These points are a vital piece of the talent development cycle.

Setting the Stage for Success: Preparing for Meaningful 1:1 Meetings

To make meetings meaningful and productive, here are 3 practical steps you can follow to support success and provide value in building relationships and serving the company’s needs.

The discussion is to support the growth and development of the employee: resources, additional experiences or training, career trajectory, goals, questions asked & answered – all are appropriate topics for the meetings.

  1. How to schedule the meetings
    I recommend scheduling the meetings either once a month for an hour or twice a month for 30 minutes. Schedule these ahead of time and treat them as sacred. 
  1. Start a shared agenda
    Start a shared document that the direct report can build out an agenda. The leader can add to the agenda and make notes, but it belongs to the employee.
  1. Identify the  topics you will talk about in the meeting
    The discussion is to support the growth and development of the employee: resources, additional experiences or training, career trajectory, goals, questions asked & answered – all are appropriate topics for the meetings.

Author David Lancefield outlines 4 areas to be mindful of when booking meetings. These include: 

  • Clarifying the agenda with participants ahead of time so that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to meeting topics
  • During the meeting, explain the value of the meeting and how it has strategic value to align with the goals of both the company and the employees.
  • Be positive and encouraging, and motivate the team to contribute, use active listening.
  • Self-awareness – decide how you want to contribute to the meeting, the impact you want to have on meeting success

Tips for Direct Reports to Maximize the Benefits of 1:1 Meetings with Their Managers

So far we’ve focused on management’s role and preparation for successful meetings. Here are 4 key tips for direct reports to keep in mind and take responsibility for your role.

  • Take ownership of your personal development. How do you want to learn, grow, and contribute? Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, personal interests, and values.
  • Seek feedback proactively. If you feel unclear, ask questions.
  • Communicate goals and challenges effectively. Spend time looking at what you want to accomplish in your career and how you can actively support company success before meeting with your manager.
  • Be prepared to offer feedback to your manager too. How are things going at work, what makes you happy, inspired, or frustrated? Are there conflicts you are struggling with? How do you feel about your relationship with your manager?

Follow-up Actions to Ensure Continuous Improvement after 1:1 Meetings

As a manager, now that you know how to schedule, prepare, and conduct effective 1:1 direct report meetings, here are 3 tasks to do to ensure ongoing success. 

  1. Follow-up actions after meetings. What tasks and timelines were agreed upon? 
  2. Document action items and next steps
  3. Track progress between meetings 

Don’t Make These 6 Meeting Mistakes

Leaders, owners, and managers can easily make the following mistakes. By following the action steps outlined above you can avoid the pitfalls below:

What NOT to do

  • Discuss projects, clients, or the most recent crisis. 
  • No preparation, intention, or thought done ahead of time
  • No agenda for the meeting
  • Postpone and or cancel the 1:1meeting due to more ‘urgent’ matters
  • Make the discussion about how the employee can help the leader, rather than the true purpose of the leader supporting the direct report to succeed.
  • No follow-up was completed after the meeting

1:1s should be done with every employee. They aren’t about punishment, they are an investment in the person and the company. This isn’t about the company, the metrics, or the clients.  This meeting is about developing the talent in the organization – specifically the person you are meeting with right now. 

Conclusion: Harnessing the Power of Effective 1:1 Meetings

Owners have a responsibility to support the growth and development of their employees. If managers are willing to invest in employees by building relationships and creating teams of talent that are aligned with organizational goals, the company has the building blocks in place for success.

1:1 meetings are a critical part of laying that foundation, establishing trust, rapport, skillsets, adaptivity, and cultural alignment of employees to the organization. This does not happen in one meeting or in twenty but is a long-term investment that continues to compound in value over time. Strong, healthy, valued employees are motivated and produce their best work, come up with solutions to obstacles, have endurance, and are committed to the strategic plan of the company they work for.

Additional Resources

There are 3 articles that I’d like to offer as resources:

Lancefield, D. (Mar 2022). “Stop wasting people’s time with meetings”. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/03/stop-wasting-peoples-time-with-bad-meetings

Rogelberg, S. (Nov-Dec 2022). “Make the most of your one-on-one meetings”. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/11/make-the-most-of-your-one-on-one-meetings?autocomplete=true

Zhang, C., Spreitzer, G. & Qui, Z. (Aug 2023). “Arrange your meeting schedule to boost your energy”. Harvard Business Review. https://bit.ly/3LAujef

Join us this month of September for our Lunch and Learn topic. We will be talking about How to Have Effective 1:1 Meetings Between Direct Reports and Their Managers in your family business. We will discuss both ways to evaluate the effectiveness of the current meeting approach and ways to increase the impact. Click the link HERE to learn more and join us on Tuesday, September 26, 2023 @ 12 p.m. EST.

Wendy Dickinson

About the Author

Wendy Dickinson is the founder of Ascend Coaching Solutions LLC, a coaching firm that specializes in working with business owners and executives who plan to expand their leadership capacity as their business grows.

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