How to Optimize 1:1 Meetings for Performance and Development

Let’s get talking—the true strength of one-on-one meetings.

Are you ready for your next one-on-one meeting? If it’s been a while since your last one, you’re not alone—but you might soon be. Brandon Hall Group’s report, Performance Management Snapshot (August 2017), found that 29 percent of organizations have completely replaced annual performance appraisal discussions with more frequent, in-the-moment feedback.

Gone are the days of the aloof, “hands-off” manager, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to start micromanaging the team. Proactive, efficient managers take their employee performance and development responsibilities seriously. And one of the most valuable ways managers can empower their employees to take ownership of their performance and development is through one-on-one meetings or check-ins.

Organizations that encourage regular one-on-one meetings between managers and their employees report significant increases in employee engagement and participation in development opportunities, according to the Brandon Hall study.

So what does that mean for HR and Learning and Development (L&D) leaders?

If you’re not yet supporting and educating your managers to optimize their one-on-one meetings for employee performance and development (because they’re already setting up those meetings regularly, right?), then it’s time to get started.

Ignite the Conversation, Follow the Cues

It’s no secret that providing employees with learning and development opportunities is a business-critical priority for every organization. Improving employee skills and supporting their career growth helps your organization stay competitive and increases employee engagement.

One-on-one meetings are perfect opportunities to explore these areas and start building a plan that empowers both managers and employees.

  • Ignite the conversation. Both managers and employees should have ample time to prepare for their meeting. Employees should bring a short list of important things to discuss and should direct the conversation. When it comes to broader development conversations, managers should consider questions they share with employees in advance to frame the discussion.
  • Get SMART about development. When done right, employee development plans are SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound), just as your employee goals should be. Once development plans or activities are in place, the check-in conversation should carve out specific time to discuss progress on this important personal growth goal or skill-building with employees. What have they enjoyed about their new learning opportunities? What new stretch goals can be co-created to apply the learning at work? These are all important facets of this developmental discussion.
  • Keep it simple. When it comes to creating and discussing performance goals, it’s easy to get overexcited and try to focus on too many simultaneously. Choose three to five performance goals to focus on in any given time period. One of these can be developmental. Employees are accountable for the progress on goals and keeping them agile. They should consult with their manager about removing any roadblocks to achievement.
  • Create a feedback loop. Don’t go the way of the annual performance review and only discuss development or goal achievements once per year—celebrate any incremental progress and encourage an open dialogue. What’s working, what’s not, and what else can be done to support success?
  • Build on strengths to develop weaknesses. Hey, we’re only human. We can always improve in at least one area. Managers need to identify and acknowledge their employees’ development gaps while reinforcing and celebrating key strengths. While delivering feedback about areas of weakness, development becomes a critical part of the one-on-one yet again. Managers can identify the area needing improvement framed in light of the employee’s aspirations or goal achievement, paired with a discussion of what skills might need to be developed in order to achieve the goal or next career step.

There are numerous things to focus on in one-on-one meetings, but the key is to approach each meeting with a clear understanding of where you are and look forward to where you want to be. The beauty of supporting development through ongoing performance conversations is that the dialogue will begin to form more naturally as time goes on.

Keep Moving Forward

But dialogue is just one piece of a holistic plan. Once everyone is clear on expectations, the key is to take action. Fill in a checklist or development plan framework together or separately; take note of specific actions that help keep you on track to completing your goals; flag any challenges or potential risks that would hamper you from reaching your goals; set up a time for the next meeting immediately following the last.

Whether managers only have time for a 15-minute focused check-in on one topic or can block off an hour, it’s critical that they keep using the one-on-one meeting model to continue moving forward in nurturing performance and development. Organizations increasingly are moving from a process-centric system to a people-centric one. One-on-one meetings are not only important for employee-manager relationships, they are part of the bigger picture in creating and supporting a culture of learning and development throughout the organization.

Hawley Kane is the head of Learning and Organizational Development of Saba Software. Saba is a digital employee management tool that focuses on: tracking and measuring employees, reinforcing business goals, and providing employees the freedom to help shape their own career paths.

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