Everyone craves a functional, healthy relationship with their manager. But too often, employees are left to build that relationship in bits and pieces via Slack messages, emails, or, in pre-pandemic times, water cooler chats. The ingredients for healthy employee/manager relationships are two-way communication, storytelling, empathy, patience, accountability, vulnerability, and trust. This recipe for a better employee experience can quickly become part of your culture if you provide your people with the structure to make it happen!
Pingboard 1:1s gives your managers and employees a consistent avenue to build strong relationships by holding structured, intentional one-on-one meetings where career goals, job satisfaction, and even your latest crazy dream can be discussed (A foam party and unicorns on your first day back in office? but it felt so real!).
Maybe your organization doesn’t have a standard process for holding one-on-ones, or perhaps you want to learn how to make your managers more effe1:1ctive at conducting them. Either way, our new offering will help you provide some structure and radically change your company’s culture (and bottom line) for the better.
Two words: voluntary turnover.
Voluntary turnover happens when an employee becomes disengaged and leaves your company without being fired or being asked to leave. This type of turnover is typically more expensive to a business because it often involves losing a high-performing employee.
When a high-performing employee departs, you’ll have to spend valuable time and resources to find a suitable replacement—and even then, there are onboarding and training costs for the new hire.
However, your company can combat voluntary turnover with one-on-ones that drive employee engagement.
These meetings are meant to be a vulnerable experience for employees and managers alike and can pay dividends in performance and engagement. When managers develop rich, healthy interpersonal relationships with their employees and focus on performance to drive engagement, employees will be more likely to feel enthusiastic about their work, connected to the company’s mission and values, and overall satisfied with their physical, cognitive, and emotional performance at work.
As reported by the Harvard Business Review, employees without regular one-on-ones are two times as likely to view leadership unfavorably. Meanwhile, research by Gallup has shown that employees with regular one-on-ones are three times more likely to be engaged (which also bodes better for their perception of leadership).
Validation that they’re cared for at work
More opportunities for recognition and praise
The feedback that can help them get back on track if they’ve fallen behind
Clarity on team-level and company-wide goals, initiatives, and updates
Space to voice their concerns and frustrations
Think of effective one-on-ones as your Swiss army knife fix to all kinds of problems. By running effective one-on-one meetings, you can:
Hone the hard skills employees need for their jobs
Provide coaching on soft skills (like etiquette)
Check-in on the overall well-being of employees
Brainstorm and shop ideas
Improve low morale before it becomes a major issue
Help underperformers improve their output
Mentor and motivate high performers
Save money on hiring, onboarding, and training (it’s expensive to find new people!)
The keyword here is effective. Without the right approach to one-on-ones, you won’t see these benefits, and you could even run the risk of making things worse. But by taking specific steps, positive outcomes are easy to achieve.
Whether you’re currently holding regular one-on-ones and want to revamp them or are just getting started, you and your employee should spend time getting into the right headspace.
Generally, the people who will need your time more frequently are:
newly promoted employees
employees who’ve recently switched teams.
Consider setting weekly or biweekly meetings with these folks, initially.
Happy, high-performing employees who are more than six months into their roles may not need that frequency of time with you, but you should still have a habit of meeting regularly. Consider meeting with them once or twice a month, but prepare some open-ended questions to the conversation to make sure it’s as meaningful a conversation as possible. Remember to let employees weigh in on how often they would like to meet, too.
Communicate clearly with your employees about your new one-on-one system (or your revamped one) and how it’s meant to be a safe space for collaboration, personal and professional development, and getting help with sensitive issues.
Bonus Tip: Do you manage more than four people? Block off an entire day (or two) to run all of your one-on-ones on the same day (call it a “people day”).
Regardless of how often you meet, the best practice is to schedule one hour for each one-on-one. We know – at first, that sounds like a lot of time.
But, consider this quote from Andy Grove, the co-founder and former CEO of Intel:
When they know they have ample time to voice their thoughts, employees will be much more likely to talk to you about deeper work-related matters, as well as personal matters that might be affecting their performance.
Bonus Tip: Sometimes, one-on-ones might run less than an hour. Don’t be afraid to ask your direct reports if they would like to end early if you’ve both run out of things to talk about. If you find yourself ending early too often, think about changing the frequency of your meetings or making sure your employees are adding topics of their own ahead of time.
Both parties need to come to one-on-meetings prepared, so make sure you always add some open-ended questions to your shared agenda.
Your agenda should include a healthy mix of fun discussion topics, what’s on each person’s mind, recurring questions, new questions, and action items. Using this format helps make your time together something both of you look forward to instead of being “just another meeting”.
Remember – 1:1s are not for giving or receiving status updates or recaps on open projects, they’re for relationship building. There are many project management tools your organization can implement to get status updates another way, at another time.
A great way both managers and employees can keep empathy top of mind is with personality typing. If you both take a free personality assessment beforehand to learn about your personality type and share your results, you can determine how you can best work and communicate with each other.
For example, say you’re an ENFP (known for being friendly but also highly emotional), and you learn that your direct report is an INTJ (known for being straightforward but also very private). With this information, you can adjust your questions and tone to ensure that your INTJ employee doesn’t feel like you’re probing too far into their personal life.
Knowing about each other’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and tendencies helps both of you remember not to take things so personally. You know your employee can tend to be more direct, and your employee knows you’re a wild child creative at heart.
Bonus Tip: Add personality type as a custom field in your Pingboard account’s Profiles.
Now that you’ve set up a consistent schedule to meet with each employee, take steps to ensure that each meeting is successful.
Whether it’s your first one-on-one with a new employee or your thousandth time around the sun with one of your rockstars, always start the meeting by creating psychological safety.
Tell your employee that you’re here to listen and advocate for them, that this is their meeting and whatever is said at the meeting stays between the two of you. Being clear that it’s their time, not yours, builds trust and empowers your employees to be candid with you. As you continue to have one-on-one meetings, you can reiterate this message as you see fit.
Remember, one-on-ones aren’t about getting help on a project or sharing status updates– those are called working sessions and should be scheduled at a later time. Instead, launch into the discussion by starting with an open-ended, non-work-related icebreaker question (check out our recent blog post for ideas) like “You’re going to sail around the world, what’s the name of your boat?” This will help you get to know your direct report as a person and enable the two of you to bond on a level that’s not related to the tasks on hand.
Relationships aren’t built overnight, so don’t worry if it seems to take a while to get someone to open up. Keep chipping away by remaining structured and opening this way each time. You’ll slowly build enough trust for your employee to start shedding some more light on what makes them tick outside of work.
Once your employee has shared a passion, hobby, or story with you, and you’ve reciprocated, there’s enough comfort to start tackling work-related topics. You can start the work-related discussion with a positive question, such as “What are you most excited about at work right now?” and then segue into hearing out their worries, concerns, and challenges.
If an employee needs to vent about something work-related with you, let them. Use it as your chance to investigate what the root cause of the problem is. For instance, if they’re angry with a coworker, their anger in the situation might have an important root cause. Maybe it’s rooted in miscommunication or misunderstanding of job roles. Or perhaps a frustrated employee is feeling and acting on-edge because they don’t feel confident in a certain aspect of their position and they’re feeling threatened.
Assume positive intent, but if the employee starts to make unnecessary or hurtful statements, you can course-correct by saying something like, “I hear you. Let’s focus on the facts of what happened and try not to attack or insult people who aren’t here.”
Bonus Tip: You can also use the one-on-one time to brainstorm or shop around ideas you’re considering for your team and help the employee feel like part of the process. When there’s a tough decision or change coming up, get their buy-in so they feel heard and you can benefit from their ideas.
Make sure you stay focused. Unless you’re expecting an emergency call, put your phone away. Close your email and messaging apps as well so you don’t read any notifications.
Actively listen to your direct report by using your body language and feedback statements and by not interrupting them as they speak. It can be hard not to interrupt a tangent, but remember this is a vulnerable meeting. It’s the most critical time to let the employee have the space to find their words to convey something that’s important to them
Bonus Tip: Consider going for a walk during your one-on-one meetings! Sometimes having meetings outside of the formal office (or these days, home office) environment can help your direct reports feel more comfortable discussing certain topics. Pingboard 1:1s can easily be pulled up on mobile and you can both view the agenda and take notes.
During your meeting, be sure to celebrate your employee’s wins—and the successes of their team members, too! This can strengthen bonds and encourage more collaboration. You can also take these peer wins outside of the meeting. Using Pingboard, for example, when anyone in your organization feels that someone went above and beyond, they can leave Applause for everyone else to see. In a 1:1 with their manager, any recent recognition can be seen by the manager and should be brought up and celebrated – it reminds the employee how much their work matters.
Don’t shy away from honest, constructive feedback. It can help you fix problems when they’re small instead of letting them grow into annual review topics or, worse still until it might be too late to turn things around.
Explain the “why” behind your feedback so the employee can understand that you’re trying to help them, not hurt them. For instance, if they need better people skills to get promoted, you can say something like, “I know you’re frustrated, and you want to take the next step in your career. I want that for you, too! To win people over to your way of thinking, we need to help you understand all the different personality types on our team. That’s the leadership we need to see in you (and I know it’s there) for you to get promoted. How can I help?”
Be sure to share your past failures as well, when appropriate. For example, if your direct report runs into a roadblock you’ve encountered before, be human and tell them! That kind of vulnerable storytelling shows them that you understand and that they can overcome that challenge, too.
Bonus Tip: If an employee becomes combative, use the “yes, yes” approach. Get them to say “yes” to two things you both agree on. For example:
You: “You want to get your bonus this quarter, right?”
You: “And you want the process of logging your activities in Salesforce to be more efficient, right?”
You: “Ok. What can we do or who could you work with to improve the process so this doesn’t feel so frustrating for you?”
As the last step of your meeting, you should work together to list takeaways, action items, or anything you didn’t have time to get to. This will help both of you remember what was discussed and what needs to get done before the next one-on-one, creating an easy accountability system.
Keep your promises! As the manager, if you promise to unblock something and you regularly don’t, your employee will lose trust in both you and the one-on-one process. Eventually, they’ll stop being open with you because they won’t see the point in doing so. And, before you know it, they’ll be announcing their resignation and you’ll have to start again with a hefty recruiting process sucking up a lot of your time. Keep your promises, and keep your people happy– your employee experience will reflect it!
Bonus Tip: Leave room for your employee to ask you any questions about your takeaways and action items at the end of the meeting so they aren’t unclear about any tasks.
Pingboard offers an easy solution for your teams to take get the most they possibly can out of their 1:1. Sign up for a free trial and begin optimizing this crucial part of your employee experience!