If you’re concerned about your organisation’s churn rate, it’s worth assessing the rhythm and quality of your one-to-one meetings. These meetings should be recurring calendar entries at all levels through the organisation, which provide an opportunity for line managers and direct reports to spend focused time together. Done well, they develop employees’ confidence, performance and sense of belonging to your organisation, which in turn drives employee engagement and commitment. 

Too often, line managers postpone or cancel their one-to-one time with direct reports because they have ‘more important’ or more pressing things on their plate. Even when they’ve been told that holding regular one-to-ones with their team is the single most important success criteria for their organisation, they may hear other contending messages like “Make the sale!” or “The client always comes first”. Indeed, these are important, but when one-to-one time is postponed, the direct report hears the message that these meetings aren’t important or – worse still – that they, as an individual, don’t matter.  

Over time, if one-to-ones are let slip by managers, it results in a culture of postponed commitments to employees and an un-nurturing environment, causing employees to be lured by opportunities at other organisations that promise a greater focus on employee development.  

You’ve heard the expression, “Employees leave their boss, not the organisation.” Focusing effort on developing good quality 1:1s throughout your organisation strengthens the line-manager-direct-report relationship and helps retain your top talent. Therefore, these meetings come under the heading of “Crucial Conversations”. 

It’s true that your managers may feel inundated by meetings and, therefore, view their one-to-ones with direct reports as burdensome or inconvenient. But when a rhythm is established for one-to-ones, the benefits to line manager, direct report and your organisation are many. 

For example: 

  • Rapport-building 

The ideal tone of one-to-ones should be relaxed and conversational. It’s not just an opportunity to review work but also to build trust and connection between managers and direct reports. Part of the one-to-one should be dedicated to taking an interest in and checking in with their direct report as a whole person. What do they do with their spare time? How’s their family? How’s their health? etc. 

  • Performance enhancement 

Importantly, one-to-ones review recent performance. In the planning stage for a line manager’s one-to-one, they should prepare their direct report’s recent performance metrics in a shareable format. This forms a core element of the one-to-one, creates transparency and means that feedback conversations (the positive and the developmental) are evidence-based. 

  • Priority-setting 

One-to-ones ensure that direct reports get a few key areas to focus on that both their line manager and they have agreed on and that will be reviewed in their next one-to-one. 

  • Time optimisation 

“Not taking the time at the front end to effectively manage your direct reports leads to a lot of wasted time on the back end,” says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, in HBR article “Cancelling one-on-one Meetings Destroys Your Productivity” (March 2015). If a direct report is unsure of what they are to focus on or how they are doing, their line manager risks them continuing to work inefficiently. Alternatively, the line manager may find that they’re receiving a stream of emails/messages from their reports or they may see them hovering outside their office in an attempt to catch their boss as he/she moves between meetings. This is distracting and the manager may well feel a sense of being out of control.  

Hence, booking in time for a one-to-one means that the line manager and the direct report make sure that they are both clear on how work should proceed and provides an opportunity for queries to be raised ahead of time. 

  • Confidence-building  

The intention of quality one-to-ones is to encourage the direct report and to make them feel supported in their current role as well as in their career aspirations. When run well, direct reports should leave their one-to-ones feeling uplifted. They should feel like this time spent with their boss was time well-spent.  

A consistent routine and healthy, candid tone for these meetings establishes positive expectations, builds trust and results in a sense of progress for both the line manager and their team members. 

Steven Rogelberg, author of “Glad We Met: The Art & Science of 1:1 Meetings” writes that 1:1 meetings are “foundational to being a manager”. He says that they are “arguably one of the most critical meeting types for the success of team members, managers, teams and organisations.” 

If you would like a workshop on how to improve the quality of 1:1s in your organisation, please email: Team@strattonhr.co.uk 

And look out for our next blog: How to structure quality 1:1 meetings 

19th October 2023

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