Employees don’t leave companies. They leave managers.

If that sounds counterintuitive, think of it this way: a manager is an employee’s link to everything that is the company. When it comes to the employee experience, they can either be an asset or a detriment.

Recently, Gallup devoted an entire section of its 2017 State of the American Workplace report to management’s role in the sad state of employee engagement (just 33% of employees are engaged at work).

Why? Because managers are vital to employee engagement and, ultimately, a company’s success. When employees are connected to their managers — meaning they trust their managers and have real performance conversations with them — they understand their impact at work, find meaning in their jobs, and connect with the company as a whole.

How to make the most of manager 1-on-1s
This means the manager 1-on-1 is one of the most overlooked and underutilized tools companies have for creating a culture of continuous feedback.

It’s time for this to change.

If your most valuable resource is your people and your people managers aren’t trained properly, how are you making the most of that investment?

— Kim Dawson, Director of Employee Experience, Kazoo

The Kazoo team has poured its passion for this topic into company-wide training geared towards making the most of 1-on-1 meetings. To cap this off, we’re sharing our knowledge on this process with anyone interested via this recorded webinar and 1-on-1 frameworks any company can use.

What can companies change?

By making the most of 1-on-1s, companies are actually creating a culture that has no surprises.

Many companies still do annual performance reviews. In these, employee performance and manager relationships are evaluated once a year only to discover — surprise! — discord and distrust have been derailing performance for some time.

There are three areas companies can change to turn 1-on-1s into a vehicle for continual performance feedback that breeds employee-manager trust and connection, making managers a reason employees stay at companies rather than jump ship, and helping companies avoid surprises.

Onboarding.
It’s easy to demonize managers for ineffective performance management, but part of the problem stems from onboarding practices.

Many times, managers are hired with the expectation that they just know how to “manage.” In reality, each company’s expectations are different, so it’s imperative that every manager is onboarded properly, has ongoing training, and receives ongoing check-ins to make sure everyone’s still aligned with those expectations.

This cannot be stressed enough. If your most valuable resource is your people and your people managers aren’t trained properly, how are you getting the most from that investment?

Manager preparation.
Too often, managers take an off-the-cuff approach to 1-on-1 meetings. Whether they are viewed as an important necessity or an annoying obligation, a lack of preparation will cause these meetings to devolve into managers giving employees a list of things to do or berating them with reasons they’re performing poorly.

Neither of these outcomes creates trust or desire to engage from the employee’s point of view. Whereas if the meetings serve to show employees the importance of their contribution or impact and the managers are invested in their success, they’ll be motivated to perform.

Simply put, plan for these meetings. In our 1-on-1 webinar resources, we’ve included multiple frameworks for planning and executing manager 1-on-1s. These frameworks are designed to not only bring purpose to meetings, but also to equip managers to connect with employees in meaningful ways.

From an employee’s perspective, managers can’t fake connection. If you don’t know me, I don’t believe you’re invested in my success. It feels disingenuous.

Follow Through
A common mistake managers make in 1-on-1s is thinking the discussion ends with the meeting. What progress was identified? What challenges? What action items?

When managers make it a habit to follow through on these items outside of meetings, trust is built, and employees become more accepting and open to feedback. It also sends a clear signal to employees that their manager is invested in their success. These are two of the clearest signs your company is making the most of manager 1-on-1 meetings.

We cover “start/stop/continue,” goal-focused, and agenda-based approaches to following through in our 1-on-1 webinar resources.

Questions from our webinar

A Manager’s Playbook: How to Hold Effective 1-on-1s,” was one of Kazoo’s highest-attended webinars. We ran out of time before we could cover every audience question in the Q&A portion, so in an effort to help out further, we’d like to answer some of them here:

How do you handle the employee that’s constantly negative and defensive in one-on-one meetings?

Every situation is different. The big advice I give on this is to just be a regular, honest, straight-talking person.

With that in mind, make the negativity a part of the employee’s development plan in these meetings. There’s something missing trust-wise if they’re defensive. Why is that? A great way to find that out — just ask that question!

For instance, you might say things like:

“It feels like you’re being defensive every time we’re having a conversation; if we can’t address this, we won’t be able to move past it moving forward.”

“During our last 1-on-1s my feeling is that you’ve been 90% negative. In our next 1-on-1 I’m expecting you to dial that back. Don’t have to be perfect, but just dial it back. This negativity is holding you back; we could do better if channeling it into something more positive.”

Be yourself. We’re not wearing a “management mask” when talking to employees. We’re both people. Have a conversation, and don’t shroud the meeting in psuedo-management talk. Say what you mean if you want these meetings to lead both parties towards trust.

What if managers are not asking these questions at our company?

I believe the manager-employee relationship is as much the manager’s responsibility as the employee’s. If your manager isn’t asking these kinds of questions, tell them. You should have the kind of relationship where that can be requested.

For HR, this signifies there might be more manager training needed. Managers need to understand the “Why” of these 1-on-1 meetings. Help them understand.

How long should a 1-on-1 last? 15-20 minutes? I have eight employees, so could I just meet with each one for 20 minutes in one day?

Again, every company is different. Personally, committing an entire day to 1-on-1s isn’t the best use of my time. I would spread these meetings out and use the rest of the day to balance out my workload.

That said, I don’t think 15-20 minutes is enough for me to connect with my reports and what’s happening in their world. I believe 30 minutes is a minimum for doing this — sometimes you need up to an hour.

With one or two a day for 30 minutes each that’s an hour per workday. I might even suggest a full hour once a month.

These meetings are not “fact finding” excursions. They are meant to be conversations where we understand our goals, I can show you your impact, and I can have a good ratio of good-to-bad interactions. 15 minutes feels too short for that.

How do you handle an employee doing the bare minimum while working toward a second degree that takes them away from the company? I have already disciplined due to attendance and things have improved some, but how do I maintain that?

In this case, first I would make sure my expectations are well defined. If by “bare minimum” you mean they’re meeting those expectations, what is the concern? If they’re not meeting those, then a performance conversation is needed.

Of course, seeing the situation, you want people to continue to learn and grow, but if attendance starts to slip for instance, that is something to address.

All companies are unique. For Kazoo employees, our evaluation is less likely to note attendance, but more likely to incorporate performance conversations. If performance slips, that warrants a strict conversation.

Candidly, before pursuing more education, was this a person who was hitting his or her goals before pursuing further education? To date, has he or she shown signs of being engaged and invested in the company? I would consider these questions before heading into any further conversations.

Finally, have you worked to build trust, credibility, and the right expectations? If not, recognize these as opportunities to engage the employee.

What are your thoughts on using the webinar’s different meeting frameworks with the same employee over a certain period of time, just to switch things around?

You should use the tools in your toolbox however you think is best. Everyone learns and communicates differently, but I love the idea of switching things up — when 1-on-1s become rote, they become ineffective. Making them interesting can get difficult, so switching it up will keep these meetings fresh, making it easier for both parties to stay engaged and productive.

See Kazoo's resources for effective manager 1-on-1s

About Kim Dawson
Kim Dawson thrives when developing a unique, purpose-driven company culture. She oversees compensation, benefits, and HR for Kazoo. With a career spanning over 15 years in people-focused HR, Kim believes putting your employees first is the only way for your organization to thrive. Outside of work, Kim loves to laugh and hang out on the porch with her old dog, Dude.

About Kazoo
Kazoo is the employee experience platform powered by the science of motivation and the mission of improving the lives of employees everywhere, one company at a time. Founded in 2013, Kazoo grows company culture and improves bottom-line performance metrics through its robust engagement platform that delivers recognition, rewards, incentives, and team insights. Named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s list of Best Company Cultures in 2017, the Austin-based SaaS company and its technology platform are built on the four pillars of employee experience: connection, meaning, impact and appreciation. To request a demo, visit info.kazoohr.com/demo-request.

Ideally the values of any organization should influence everything that happens inside its doors — from employee interactions with one another, to customer partnerships, to how managers manage, to goals set by the C-Suite. When an organization declares its values through a mission statement, employees are clear on what’s important to the company. But simply creating a mission statement isn’t enough — it should drive every interaction and business decision.

Despite their importance, mission statements usually are only found in onboarding and marketing materials, but otherwise are left to gather dust.

If the company mission and values aren’t reflected in everyday work and interactions, employees will grow increasingly skeptical and resentful whenever they’re mentioned.

You need only look as far as the headlines to see the dangers of ignoring corporate values in the name of profit and preserving the positions of “high performers.” Committing yourself to upholding corporate values in all facets of your organization has the power to build a more vibrant corporate culture. The benefits speak for themselves – employees are happier, more confident and believe their work contributes to something bigger. To make living their company values an everyday practice, some leaders tie them to employee recognitions.

Strengthening Company Values Through Recognition

While recognition technologies are often thought of as “nice to have,” solutions like Kazoo are a valuable investment. A mature recognition program encourages individualized messages acknowledging work reflective of the company’s values. If an organization regularly acknowledges when employees practice company values, those behaviors will be “hard-coded” into company culture. Likewise, culture becomes a competitive advantage that can reduce turnover. A positive culture means greater inclusivity, and according to Josh Bersin, greater inclusivity means organizations may be twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets.

In a recent study, HR teams that spent at least 1% of payroll on a values-driven recognition system perceived their system helped deliver a stronger ROI and attracted more new job candidates. But it’s not just about giving employees a platform for recognizing one another, best-in-class solutions also delivery analytic capabilities that provide data around recognition frequency, quantity and quality. Recognitions for achievements that are of little importance to the organization’s overall goals, weaken the power of employee recognition and diminish the value of the organization’s mission statement. The leaders who invest in a platform that is both able to align to their mission statement and provide proof of performance will enshrine their values more deeply than any words on a page could do.


Sally Scannell is a Customer Success Analyst at Kazoo, working with customers to establish key performance indicators and helping them achieve program goals. She contributes information both internally and externally by keeping abreast of industry news, research and studies. Alongside account managers, Sally serves as a trusted advisor to Kazoo customers, helping them drive continuous improvement in their employee engagement programs. 

Check out a few of the recent stories that caught our eye as well as HR industry news you might have missed.

Are Your Employees Less Engaged During the Summer?

With summer kicking off, companies are preparing for a seasonal slump. Here’s how you can upkeep employee engagement during the summer months.

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Happy Employees, Happier Customers

Research from the Aberdeen Group finds that 75% of companies with high customer experience scores have highly engaged employees. Check out our latest eBook to learn more about the connection between happy customers and happy staff.

Allen & Overy Drops Performance Reviews and Everyone Cheers (Especially Women)

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How To Manage a Needy Employee

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Here’s How Good Managers Give Bad Employees Feedback

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Is it Time for Employee to be King?

If your employees are happy, your customers will be too. Employee engagement and customer experience are more connected than you might think.

How to Give Constructive Feedback To Your Boss Without Getting Fired

This fighter pilot has some advice for people who might be hesitant to give constructive feedback to leaders: Don’t be.

Do You REALLY Know What Your Employees Think About Your Company?

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How Corporate Values Get Hijacked and Misused

Companies that establish corporate values but do nothing to instill them in every employee, process and decision are doing themselves a disservice. Here’s when corporate values can actually backfire.

The Sharp Drop-Off in Worker Happiness and What You Can Do About It

Research shows that half of American workers hate their jobs. As a leader in your organization, you can actually increase worker happiness before it’s too late. Learn how.

Waypoint Homes CEO and COO Talk About Company Culture, Feedback & Recognition

This CEO and COO knew building a strong company culture wasn’t just up to HR. Watch more about how the C-suite at one company has embraced a feedback and recognition-driven culture.

When you think of a bad manager, what comes to mind? Is it someone who berates employees in front of other coworkers? Someone who makes his or her team stay late or come in early everyday for no reason? Are they too “into the weeds” of employees’ work? It’s usually pretty easy for anyone in a company to identify those kind of bad managers even if they don’t’ report directly to them.

But what about the things a bad manager doesn’t do?

Skipping 1-on-1 Meetings

Getting stood up says a lot about any relationship. And it’s not just personal relationships – professional relationships suffer too when it’s clear that one person is more invested in it than the other. In the workplace, when a manager ditches a 1-on-1 meeting with an employee, it not only sends a strong message to the employee but it might suggest a deeper issue. For companies using employee engagement technologies like Kazoo that guide and track these check-in conversations, HR can drill down into their frequency — or infrequency to ask better questions about managers’ performance. With this solution in place, HR can ask questions like:

  • Is one manager consistently ignoring requests from his or her team for 1-on-1 conversations?
  • Has one manager in a particular location actually declined requests for check-in meetings?
  • Is there one manager who has never received a check-in request from an employee?

Ignoring Requests for Feedback

If skipping 1-on-1 meetings is the equivalent of ditching plans, then disregarding requests for feedback is comparable to ignoring a question over text message. Managers who continually disregard feedback requests are a red flag. Asking for feedback is not easy so when a manager ignores it completely, employee morale and performance can suffer. These managers could either have too much on their plate to respond, or they might be unsure of how to deliver feedback constructively. Either way, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. HR can surface this information by asking:

  • Does a particular manager have pending feedback requests? How many?
  • Do employees on a particular team regularly solicit feedback from someone other than their direct manager?
  • If open-ended questions are asked, does the manager ever respond? Or do they do the bare minimum?

A lack of data is as powerful as an abundance of it. Platforms like Kazoo can provide powerful analytics about the quality and quantity of feedback, recognition and sentiment. However, it also spotlights areas of inactivity. With these analytics in hand, HR can ask data-informed questions that will help managers become better leaders and ultimately, contribute to a more feedback-rich culture.

It’s unofficially summer which often means some companies are prepping themselves for a seasonal slump. Decreased productivity and increased absenteeism can lead to plummeting employee engagement during this time of year. But you don’t have wait around until after Labor Day for employees to get back on track.

Here are three things you can do to maintain and even increase employee engagement during the summer.

Encourage Employees to Take Time Off

Seriously. According to the Harvard Business Review, taking time off can actually lead employees to be more productive when they’re back at work. For some companies, summer is slower than other seasons so using PTO won’t force other employees to pick up the slack. In fact, time away from the office can spark greater productivity once people return. At the same time, encouraging employees to take time off fosters an environment of trust. Employees shouldn’t feel guilty about using vacation time so encourage them to do so.

Stop Talking About Goals

For some employees, making progress toward professional goals during the summer (or any time of the year) is no big deal. They’re well-oiled machines. Because these employees are performing well, you don’t need to do anything else to make sure they’re happy, right? Wrong. These employees are very likely complacent, which is not necessarily a good thing. Encourage managers to check-in with employees and talk about anything else besides their established quarterly goals. Does the employee see growth opportunities within the company? Does the employee have any feedback on the manager’s performance? Has the employee explored any other professional development opportunities like webinars or in-person events such as conferences or meet-ups? Use the potential downtime of summer to have important conversations that can re-engage employees who might feel professionally stagnant.

Ask If They’re Engaged

You’ve gotten through the first two sections of this post and then realized, “Wait, I don’t even know if I have a problem to solve…Are my employees less engaged during the summer?” The solution here is pretty simple – just ask. Whether it’s a longer benchmarking survey or a quick pulse, you can ask employees to rate (on a scale of 1-5) their agreement with statements such as:

  • I am happy at work.
  • The work I do challenges me.
  • My manager provides me with frequent feedback on my progress and goals.
  • I receive regular communications that provide me with valuable information about my company.

With employee responses in hand, you’ll know problem areas and where to dig deeper. You might also be better equipped to thwart engagement issues before they happen next summer.

Customer-first mentality. Customer-centric culture. The customer is king.

Sit down with leading CEOs today, and you’ll find there are common threads in how executives describe their businesses, with a strong focus on customers being important across the board. And rightfully so. After all, a business can’t survive without customers, and a good measure of success is having happy ones.

But take a closer look into the inner workings of corporate operations, and you’ll see the customer experience is driven by their interactions with your employees at all levels of your organization. So, one could make the argument that if employees are the main driver of customer happiness, then shouldn’t employees be king?

In our latest eBook, Happy Employees, Happier Customers: How Engaged Employees Amplify a Strong Customer Experience, the answer is a resounding yes. We turned to the experts within the employee engagement and customer experience industries to:

  • Understand how and why employee engagement and customer experience are connected
  • Uncover research proving the value of engagement as a way to improve and drive the customer experience
  • Share real-world, tangible examples of how happier employees lead to a better customer experience

We also take it one step further to help you see the impact engaged employees have on all key functional areas of the organization. Here we debunk the myth that engagement is just an “HR problem” and customer experience is limited to interactions with sales and account managers. Departments like Marketing, Finance and Legal – all of which aren’t exactly seen as client facing – play a role in creating the customer experience at your organization.

Download the eBook today to help understand the important relationship between employee engagement and customer experience, and why an employee-first mindset can lead to happier customers.