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Ultimate Guide to Effective 1-on-1s for Managers

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When it comes to building engaged and productive teams no matter where they work, the top tool in your belt is consistent, effective 1-on-1s for managers and employees.

In fact, Gallup recently found traditional, inconsistent performance reviews and feedback — which only come once a year — actually make performance worse about 30% of the time. On the other hand, employees who experience effective 1-on-1s are 3.2X more motivated and 2.7X more likely to be engaged.

So regular 1-on-1s aren’t a nice-to-have — they’re essential for business success. In this article, we’ll cover the nuts and bolts of effective 1-on-1s for managers. 


Elements of effective 1-on-1s for managers

Feedback

The results are in: Employees want feedback. 40% of workers report that they’re disengaged when they receive little to no feedback. By contrast? 43% of engaged employees receive feedback weekly. What’s more, more than 80% of all workers say they appreciate feedback whether it was positive or negative.

Actionable takeaway: Give honest feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, at least once a week. Feeling stuck? Check out our guide, Employee Feedback 101.


Get feedback tips, tricks, and best practices
Read: Employee Feedback 101

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Coaching

At its core, coaching draws out the best in your direct reports, and continually connects them with career development opportunities. Studies show employees of the best managers are 3X more likely to be high performers. These employees are also less likely to leave their companies than their less happy counterparts, as they feel their skill development and career goals are a priority to their managers.

Actionable takeaway: In addition to giving feedback on past or present work, talk with your direct reports about the future. Connect them with experts (either inside or outside your company) who can help them develop the skills they need to grow.


Relationship-building

In a study of 38,000 people, those who felt their manager functioned as a partner were both happier and more likely to be loyal to their company. Yet only 48% of employees report trusting the company they work for — so this is a major area of opportunity.

Actionable takeaway: The best way to build trust is through quality time. Use 1-on-1s to really get to know your direct reports, both on a personal level and a professional one — we’ll show you how below.


Goals review

Just like the tires on your car, the goals of your team need to be realigned every now and then. Effective 1-on-1s allow for a sense of shared investment and accountability, ensuring everyone on the metaphorical boat is rowing in the same direction. 

Actionable takeaway: Status updates are important, but even more so are goals updates. In addition to discussing individual tasks, make sure you’re leaving room to look at the desired outcomes that tend to change over time.


Roadblock removal

As a manager, your job is to set up your team members for success. Effective 1-on-1s identify any current or potential roadblocks to that success, and work together to remove them. A great 1-on-1 offers specific support in ordering priorities, sharing resources, and connecting with leadership. 

Actionable takeaway: Don’t stop at clarifying goals; to take it a step further, proactively identify any barriers your direct report has in meeting them.


What managers should do before the 1-on-1

Being prepared can make or break a 1-on-1. Before your next one starts, make sure you:

Create a shared agenda

Having a successful one-on-one relies on both clarity and good planning. Remember, this is a collaborative discussion. Both you and your employee should edit and update a shared meeting template leading into the one-on-one.


Need structure? Download our template
Agenda-Based 1-on-1 Template

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Review notes from the last 1-on-1

It’s important to circle back on roadblocks, goals, and challenges discussed last time. This keeps the ball rolling forward, while showing your direct report that you listened well and that you truly care about their progress.


Clarify the desired outcome

Prioritize the top agenda items. Need to give constructive feedback? Before your meeting, ask yourself what you want the end result to be. Think through a strategy to deliver that feedback in a way that your report is most likely to receive it and work toward the desired outcome.


What managers should do during the 1-on-1

You’ve taken the time to prepare. Now what? Here are some tips for executing successfully:

Be personal and open-minded

1-on-1s are a valuable opportunity to build rapport and trust, and a natural place for coaching on a regular basis. The best managers generally find that open-ended questions get the most helpful answers. 

For example, try “Tell me how your project is going” or “How I can I best support you?” Some managers prefer to start with conversation about life outside of work — particularly if the circumstances a team member is facing could impact their performance. Others prefer to save personal life for the end (reserving 10 or so minutes to chat). 

Feeling stuck? Try these open-ended questions:

  • What do you love about working here? What do you not love? 
  • Which tasks are draining right now?
  • What would you love to do more of?
  • What can we do to support your well-being?
  • Do you feel like you’re being challenged?
  • What are you most proud of accomplishing lately?
  • How am I doing at managing you? 
  • How can we invest in your career development and goals?
  • What training would be most valuable to you? 
  • Which part of the day is most productive for you? How can we order your day to maximize that?

Pro tip: One excellent tactic that allows managers to “read the room” at the beginning of a meeting is to use Brene Brown’s one or two-word check-in exercise.


Listen! 

Don’t be so fixated on your talking points that you forget to hear your team members’ concerns. This is a collaborative discussion. If you’re the only one talking, it’s not a conversation! A sense of trust and safety is key for successful 1-on-1s. You can build psychological safety by practicing: 

  • Honesty, or radical candor. It’s better to be direct and prompt rather than to hedge — especially if you have something difficult to say.
  • Vulnerability. Admit your weaknesses; own it when you fail.
  • Transparency. Keep your direct reports in the loop and invite them into the decision-making process as often as possible. Explain the “why” for decisions frequently.
  • Consistency. Set an ongoing calendar event, and try not to cancel. If you must, then reschedule promptly.
  • Openness to feedback regarding your management.

The power of vulnerability in 1-on-1s


Identify roadblocks

….or anything getting in the way of progress on goals. Ask how you can help.


Deliver feedback

It’s never easy to give or accept constructive feedback, but delivering well goes a long way to making sure it’s received well. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep the goal in mind. What do you hope to see happen in response to this conversation? What’s the best angle of approach? This takes knowing your direct reports well. Sometimes a simple suggestion, “Next time, I’d love to see you try….” or a question, “I wonder if it might have worked to….” is the way to go. Other instances and personalities require a strong statement, “Please be mindful of…”
  • Don’t let the moment pass. The sooner you can talk, the better.
  • Address issues face-to-face. Text formats like Slack or email leave too many things open to interpretation. Go for video chat if you’re working remotely and can’t hole up in a conference room
  • Be specific and tie to impact. Give the context (in the past tense), describe the behavior you observed, explain its impact. “When you spoke harshly to X in our last meeting, it affected the team in Y way.” Use verbs, not adjectives. And avoid sentences that begin with “You are ____”.
  • Provide clear next steps. What marks of change are you hoping to see?
  • Encourage your team member toward a growth mindset. It’s important to remind a direct report who’s receiving constructive feedback that this is a normal part of growth. The thing they’re dealing with isn’t an unchangeable personality trait—it’s a skill that can be practiced, improved upon, grown. 

Wrap up and plan ahead

Discuss action items to be addressed before next 1-on-1, and thank your employee for their time.


Want to keep leveling up?
Read: 8 Ways to Improve Your 1-on-1 Meetings

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What to do after the 1-on-1

The most successful 1-on-1s don’t end when the meeting does. For optimal results, use these follow-ups to keep heading in the right direction:

  1. Jot down notes and takeaways while they’re fresh, to make it easy to prepare for your next check-in.
  2. Follow up on any action items you took away, such as sharing a document or reviewing a report.
  3. Schedule the next 1-on-1, and don’t let too much time pass in between.

Start the conversation with Kazoo

We hope this guide to 1-on-1s for managers helped! And if you like what you read here, let’s talk.

Because at Kazoo, we’re passionate about bringing together all the tools you need to make work work better for everyone. That’s why the Kazoo Employee Experience Platform brings performance management and recognition and rewards — including Goals, Feedback, Conversations, Recognition, Incentives, and more — into one simple, easy-to-use platform.

If you’re ready to align, connect, and engage your workplace, check out our Kazoo overview. Or, schedule a personalized demo today.

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