LME031 – One-on-one meetings: Why to to do them and what questions to ask

As a boss, you should have regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. But what do you actually talk about? How often should you meet?

My experience with one-on-one meetings

During my time as managing director and employed manager, I conducted a large number of meetings with employees.

As a boss, you can screw up a lot – and that’s what I did. Over time, however, I learned how it works ,I improved and, above all, I understood how important and meaningful it is to have regular one-on-one meetings.

The big misconception

Many bosses only associate the term “one-on-one meeting” with an annual face to face meeting. After all, that’s what HR requires every year.

 “That is not correct. I talk to my employees all the time, for example during coffee breaks, or between team meetings.”

Yes, that may be right. But most of these conversations are mostly about day-to-day business, things that are urgent. There is deadline pressure. Something is burning and a decision has to be made quickly.

You also talk about upcoming problems during a jour fixe meeting. Here too, it’s mostly about day-to-day operations.

However, there are certainly occasions and matters for an arranged one-on-one meeting regarding employee issues.

For instance, I suppose you have a meeting if there is escalating conflict or you need to talk with your employee about a salary increase.

When do you talk about personal stuff with your employee?

The problem is that conversations dealing with employee issues are too rare. So, when do you talk about personnel development, the mental state, questions about major goals, your business vision, the strategic direction of the department or the company? When do you do these talks with your employee?

“We do that during the annual meeting. And otherwise there is also the meeting of the workforce every quarter. We have a lot to do here. I can’t constantly talk to everyone about their feelings. ”

That´s too short-term focused.

Many bosses underestimate the so-called one-on-ones. This one-on-one meetings serve to build trust: the boss’s trust in the employee and vice versa.

A one-one-one meeting is not about day-to-day business.

It’s all about building trust

It is about building trust, it is about orientation, it is about essential decisions, often also about personal matters. One-on-one talks are about important things that are not necessarily urgent.

One-on-One talks are also about information exchange and the exchange of expectations. What does the boss expect from the employee and vice versa.

Trust between employees and managers only builds up over time. Both parties need to speak to each other to get to know each other.

“OK, but what do I talk about during one-on-ones, if it is not about daily work?”

What to talk to in one-on-one meetings

Well, ask questions outside the day-to-day work. Encourage your employees.

For example try to get answers to:

  • What are your employee’s current challenges?
  • Does your employee know your expectations?
  • What does your employee expect from you?
  • Does he or she know your actual goals, the goals of your company? What’s about your company vision and strategy? How does your employee think and feel about it?
  • What goals and visions does your employee have?
  • Do you know what is important to you and what is important to your employee?
  • What challenges does your employee face? At work as well as in private.
  • What kind of support does your employee need from you?
  • What kind of support can you offer?

There are a lot of things you can and you should talk about.

This intensive exchange between you and your employee rarely happens during day-to-day business, right? It is therefore important to arrange regular one-on-one meetings with your employees.

How often should you meet one-on-one?

My recommendation: Do it once a week for 30 min with each of your direct reports, i.e. the employees who report directly to you. You may say:

“What? With each of my 7 employees? That would be 7 x 30 min = 210 min, i.e. 3.5 hours per week. Are you out of your mind? I don’t have time for that. “

Please keep in mind: if you work 40 hours a week – and I know as a boss you will probably work even longer – but even at 40 hours a week it does not even amount to 10% of your working hours.

You’re a leader, aren’t you? You lead people. Therefore, your employees should be worth 10% of your time, right?

One-on-ones have a huge ROI

In the long term, these talks will bring an incredible return on investment. They save you massive amounts of time and money. It is an investment with a great ROI.

If you do it right, you will get motivated, thoughtful employees who will pull in the same direction along with you. You will be able to tell much better as to how your employee is doing.

As you get to know your employees better and better during these one-on-ones over time, you will be able to delegate tasks much better and get your time back.

If you take the time for the one-on-ones, you will show appreciation to your employees. That creates trust.

And if you have a trusting relationship, your employee will tell you, for example, if he has problems or if she is dissatisfied with the job.

That’s a surprise…

I keep meeting executives and managers who are taken completely by surprise when one of their best employees suddenly quits and then they say:

“I didn’t see that coming.”

Well, too bad. Almost always there are many red flags beforehand indicating that an employee is going to quit.

You will only notice these signals, if you spend time you’re your employee and if you exchange ideas with your employees in one-on-one meetings on a regular basis.

Click here for more info on one-on-one meetings

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The inspiring quote

“When you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you can see that the person critiquing you is merely trying to help.”

Fran Hauser