Conducting Effective One-on-One Meetings with Employees
We mention the concept of ‘check-ins’ (or one-on-one meetings, progress meetings, sit-downs etc.) a lot in our blog and with our clients and prospects. No matter what it’s called, the notion of increasing the frequency and quality of employee performance conversations remains a priority for most companies today.
Some companies have mandated weekly check-ins, some are free to schedule them as needed, others ask managers to ensure meetings are complete after every project, and other companies schedule formal check-ins throughout the year. Regardless of the frequency of these conversations, their purpose remains the same: to keep the lines of communication open between managers and employees in order to effectively engage and manage performance.
The more employees and managers are able to communicate, the better they will be able to work together to accomplish goals, develop skills, and give/receive feedback. Although check-ins should appear relatively casual to employees, managers should follow a loose structure in order to make sure this time spent remains valuable and drives action.
We thought it would be handy to prepare a checklist of discussion points and conversation starters that managers could use to make the most of check-ins with employees.
A Manager’s Checklist for Employee Check-Ins
Before the meeting: Prepare
Nothing is worse than going into a meeting with a manager that looks lost or like they aren’t invested. Take 5 minutes to prepare before the meeting. If you are using a central location or tool for goal tracking, feedback, and/or journal/meeting notes, managers should easily access and skim past meeting notes and performance.
- Review any notes taken during the last meeting to get up to speed on any planned deliverables.
- Review the employee’s list of goals and projects to see if there are any due or running off course.
- Make a note of important department or company changes that need to be discussed with the employee.
- Review any feedback sent/received to identify any discussion points.
- Unplug from other activities so the employee knows they have your complete focus.
During the Meeting: Possible Discussion Points
The bonus of frequent check-ins with employees is that managers don’t need to open a fire hose in each and every meeting. They can select specific goals, projects, or coaching points to focus on in each meeting. Employees might also start the conversation and guide the focus (even better).
Generally, managers and employees should prioritize discussion points based on due dates and progress. What is discussed will actually change meeting-by-meeting.
Sample Employee Check-In Agenda/Discussion Points:
- Get the Employee Talking!
- Use conversation starters to engage the employee in conversation
- Use open-ended questions to keep them talking
- Let the employee steer the conversation but make sure you discuss any important items
- Goal/Project Updates
- Discuss the status of short-term goals and long-term projects
- Adjust/update existing goals with the employee
- Discuss any challenges or lessons learned
- Offer coaching and/or assistance for any roadblocks
- Discuss if any other priorities might affect the goal progress
- Ensure all goals is still on track
- Acknowledge any milestones or accomplishments
- Discuss/confirm any new goals for the employee
- Recent Accomplishments
- Acknowledge recent accomplishments and provide feedback
- Ask the employee for any recent accomplishments
- Status of Training/Learning
- Discuss any training items due/in progress
- Ask the employee if there are any training requests
- Ask if the employee feels they are getting enough feedback
- Ask if the employee is learning from peers/mentors or if they would like to
- Recommend training items to improve skills and further career
- Discuss how training is/should be executed
- Company or Team Updates/News
- Discuss any important company/team updates or news
- Confirm any action-items needed
- Employee Ideas/Requests for change
- Ask the employee for any ideas/input
- Discuss any areas in need of change (company, team, project etc.)
- Ask the employee if your management style is effective for them and get suggestions for change
- Discuss any overall roadblocks or distractions that might be affecting the employee
- Employee Career Development
- Discuss employee’s career goals
- Discuss how you can work together to achieve their career goals
- Discuss opportunities and career paths for the employee
- Set clear expectations for any lateral/upward movement
- Plan for the Week/Month/Quarter
- Review the priorities for the short and long term
Conversation Starters: Keep Them Talking
Some employees are more reluctant to speak-up but this doesn’t mean that a manager should do the bulk of the talking. There are simple ways to get the employee to talk and keep talking during the check-in meeting. Remember, this meeting is about them. The more they talk, the better.
Here are some open-ended questions to get employees talking:
- Tell me about your week/month – what’s it been like?
- Tell me about what you’ve been working on.
- Where do you think I can be most helpful?
- Are you on track to meet the deadline?
- What areas are ahead of schedule?
- What questions do you have about this area of responsibility, or project?
- How are you going to approach this?
- What have you learned about this area of responsibility, or project?
- What didn’t go as you had hoped? Why?
- What can you/we do differently next time?
- What suggestions do you have?
Here are some tried and true conversation starters to keep employees talking:
“Tell me more…”
“Why do you say that..”
“How do you mean…”
“Can you give me an example…”
At the End of the Meeting: Summarize
Before the employee leaves the meeting, spend a few moments to summarize the key discussion points. This will help remind employees of any action-items and reinforce any acknowledgement or coaching tips provided. Ask the employee if anything was missed and remind them of when the next meeting will be.
After the Meeting: Document
This very small but significant step is often skipped and yet can make a big difference. Take 2-5 minutes after each meeting to record key discussion points, action-items or feedback. This will help kick-start the next meeting and will serve as a useful log when managers are looking at trends in performance. Keep these notes in a centralized location. A performance feedback and journaling tool like emPerform tag can serve this purpose nicely.
We polled our clients and found that managers who made 1-2 notes about each employee per month shaved 50% of the time off of entering year-end comments during the annual review. That is because they aren’t sitting trying to remember key milestones or trends in behavior).
How Did You Do?
Take a few moments after each meeting to evaluate how you did. Even the best managers should be striving to improve their communication and meeting skills.
- Did you talk too much/not enough?
- Did you actively listen?
- Did you ask questions?
- Did you acknowledge the employee’s feelings?
- Did you paraphrase key items to confirm understanding?
- Did you provide effective coaching tips?
- Were you distracted in the meeting?
- Do you feel the meeting was valuable?
- Did you discuss all important points?
- What could you do to improve the next meeting?
Overall, frequent check-ins with employees is a must to ensure clarity, provide coaching, and offer the support needed for an employee to succeed. Although finding time in the day is a challenge for many managers, check-ins are time well spent and will pay dividends in the long run for both the manager, the employee, the team, and the company.
For additional resources on providing feedback:
- Coaching vs. Mentoring: How Are They Different?
- Foolproof Tips for Successful One-on-One Meetings with Employees
- Painless Performance Conversations
Looking to help managers and employees document and monitor performance goals, projects, and check-in discussion points? Check out emPerform for ongoing goal management, feedback, and performance logs.
Sources: County of San Mateo Human Resources Department: How to Conduct One-on-One Meetings http://hr.smcgov.org/how-conduct-one-one-meetings-guide-supervisors