During my career as both a manager and an employee, I’ve had good one-on-one meetings and I have had one-on-one meetings that dragged on forever and left me thinking that I would never get that hour back again. Search the internet, and there are tons of articles that tout the benefits of effective one-on-ones. There have even been tools built specifically to make one-on-ones easier like SAP SuccessFactors Continuous Performance Management (although we must remember that one-on-ones aren’t strictly about performance, but something to encourage engagement is helpful).

In one-on-ones there are objectives and agendas, do’s and don’ts, suggestions and expectations. And while most of the literature states that one-on-ones are an important part of the working relationship and may help with employee retention, the comments to the various articles I read indicate that people are split. Some people hate them and others, like myself, think that it’s a great opportunity to let my manager know what I am working on and allows me a safe venue to showcase my ideas for improvement or growth.  

Keep One-on-Ones About the Employee

The question begs to be asked – how can one meeting, with such a non-descript name, gather such a wide range of emotions? You might have a been soured on the concept if you have been subjected to a one-on-one where the manager did all the talking, and you were simply there listening (and feeling that you should get paid a psychologist’s salary for the hour), or if it was a point of delegation where you walked off with 20 more things to do than an hour before. If that was consistently the case, the next time you get an invitation from your boss you’d probably find yourself looking for scheduling conflicts rather than subject yourself to another hour of “togetherness time”.  

A one-on-one is supposed to be about the employee. It’s meant to help them meet their objectives, spark interest in continuous personal growth, and show them that they are not just another cog in the wheel. And while a one-on-one is about the individual, it is also about the individual and their environment – namely the organization.

As employees, we are part of the “machine”, and we all have a part to play in making sure that it is running smoothly. This means that there needs to be a safe place to voice opinions, share ideas and ask for help without being made to feel that one is less of a professional for doing so.

So, what is the role of the manager while someone bares their soul? Listen actively and participate in the employee’s growth. Give constructive feedback so that one feels empowered to adjust and change. Provide guidance and remove roadblocks. Be clear about expectations.  

It’s a lot to expect on both sides – So let’s talk about what a one-on-one is not:  

  • It’s not a one-way complaining session (if there is something negative to say, bring potential solutions to discuss)  
  • It’s not a performance appraisal session (feedback on what one is doing well, and what one could improve on is not the same as a performance appraisal)  
  • It’s not a personal psychology session (and all that entails …)  

Always Be Prepared

Before going into a one-on-one, I like to be prepared – after all, 45-60 minutes is a long time – and if I have made that time available to my direct report, or my manager has made that time available to me – I don’t want to waste it. From the employee’s perspective, here are some things I think about before walking into a one-on-one:  

  • Do I have any roadblocks preventing me from meeting my commitments?  
  • Am I progressing with my career the way I want to? (and how can my manager help?)  
  • Is there something that I need to let my manager know? (upcoming vacation plans, upcoming changes in my personal life)  
  • Ideas for improvement  
  • Opportunities for change  

Now that you have a warm and fuzzy feeling about one-on-ones – and hopefully this whets your appetite for a meaningful meeting with your manager – what do you do if you don’t have a one-on-one scheduled with your manager and you feel that you need one? Approach your manager and let them know that an invite is on its way – and since no one likes to be surprised, how about putting a quick note as to what you are hoping to accomplish in the invite – that way, both you and your manager can be prepared.    

Read on with more one-on-one resources that I have found helpful:

Conducting Effective and Regular One-on-Ones

1:1 Meetings – Useful Not Useless