Even with the great advances in performance management tools and technologies in the past decade, we have yet to encounter anything that can replace the power of one-on-one meetings or informal ‘check-ins’ between managers and employees. There are certainly ways to train managers on increasing the effectiveness of these meetings (and we’ll get to that below) and for documenting key action items discussed during the meeting (like tag) but overall, nothing engages employees like the time and attention that they get from their manager in a good old fashioned ‘check-in’.

After all, people love to talk. The English language has over a million words that allow us to do just that (although some might debate the validity of recently added ones like “meatspace” or “grrrl”). Human beings are social animals who spend a large portion of their time communicating in some form or another with others. This ability to communicate has played a key role in our species’ ability to grow and survive in many different environments. It is also how work gets done and businesses ultimately succeed.

That’s why we think it’s time to bring back the one-on-one meeting or ‘check-in’ or whatever you call that frequent and informal time when managers and employees stop communicating and start talking.

One-on-one meetings become even more important in a modern workplace where employees operate remotely (and may never actually see their manager) or where everyone shares an open space and group chat is the norm. No matter how busy we get in our jobs or how dispersed our company’s workforce may be, we can’t forget about the importance of face-time between managers and employees. It is during those few moments of uninterrupted attention and communication where employees and managers bond, employees can vent and share detailed accounts of accomplishments and concerns, managers can engage in effective coaching, and both parties achieve clarity and synergy (yeah I said it) on whatever might be going on around them.

Isn’t that what an annual appraisal is for? No! Annual reviews aren’t a substitute for ongoing employee check-ins. Performance appraisals are certainly a great time to re-group, re-focus, plan, and formally acknowledge goals and accomplishments, but they are by no means a replacement for one-on-one meetings. In fact, many companies are realizing the value in re-tooling traditional once-a-year appraisals by introducing more informal check-ins throughout the year – and are getting great results from it!

No matter how frequently your managers choose to meet, it is important that the time be encouraged. Too often, meeting time is viewed as ‘wasted’ and the first step in fostering a culture of engagement and development is to support one-on-one meetings and train managers to be effective at them.

Foolproof Tips for Successful One-on-One Meetings with Employees

Be Present: Employees should feel like their one-on-one time is a safe space to speak freely and discuss elements of their role and job. Managers should maintain eye contact, acknowledge they are listening with verbal and physical cues and should never, ever, ever stare at their computers or phones while an employee is talking. If a manager seems distracted or uninterested, employees will sense it and disengage from the conversation and likely feel offended and unimportant. The same is true for employees – this is a prime time for managers to coach employees on effective communication and guide them to being good listeners.

Keep it Regular: Whether meetings take place weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly (gasp), that time shouldn’t be shifted. If a manager commits to one-on-one time, that time should be considered cemented in their calendars unless a tornado strikes. Going back to being present, employees will disengage quickly if one-on-one meetings are frequently bumped or cancelled. Employees should feel they have consistent and reliable time with their managers.

Stay Loose: One-on-one meetings should be relatively informal and fluid. Some managers find it helpful to follow a loose schedule and format but we find it more effective to let the employee guide the discussion points. If there are urgent matters to discuss like looming deadlines, or the status of goals, then introduce the topic as a question for the employee and guide them through finding a solution or suggesting improvements and action-items on their own.

Keep the Chit-Chat Flowing: During one-on-one meetings, it’s important that managers follow the 80/20 role where the employee does 80% of the talking. This is isn’t easy for some managers but it can be achieved if they go into a meeting with that very intent. Managers should ask open-ended questions to steer the conversation back to the employee and avoid interrupting even if they don’t agree completely with what the employee is saying. This is the perfect time for managers to coach employees into finding solutions on their own – vital skills which will serve them well in their career. Managers can keep the chit-chat flowing with some simple ‘starter phrases’ like;

Tell me more…          What do you think?          How would you do things differently next time?

Or when the employee isn’t engaging, managers can always bring up everyone’s favorite topic – themselves!

What keeps you up at night?      How was your lunch/weekend?     Any plans for the coming holiday?     What’s going on lately? (It amazing how many managers never ask ‘how’s it going?)

Keep it Real: Managers aren’t expected to have all the answers and there is nothing worse than the ones who think they do. If an employee asks questions or makes requests where the answers are unknown, a manager should simply acknowledge it and let them know they will look into the answer. Employees won’t power down or start a coup if a manager says ‘I’m not exactly sure’.

Ask Them About You: Old-school leaders might want to brace themselves before reading this. A one-on-one meeting is not only a great opportunity to learn more about an employee, it can also be a chance for managers to develop. I’ve checked…twice…and there is no actual law stating that a manager cannot or should not ask an employee for feedback. Every so often, it doesn’t hurt to ask the employee if there is something they would like to see adjusted in regards to approach or methods, in order to better suit the employee’s learning or working style. In fact, it has been proven to improve working relationships. A manager might not agree with everything but asking the question will offer a deeper understanding of the employee and a small dose of self-awareness. An important warning: don’t ask the question if you don’t actually want any answers. It will do more damage than good if a manager simply spends the meeting arguing the employee’s requests or perceptions. If the requests are reasonable, a manager should commit to attempting some form of action.

End with a Bang: No matter what, managers should try their hardest to end one-on-one meetings on a high note. Thank employees for a job well done, tell a joke, or even circle back to a positive part of the conversation. No matter what, employees should leave the meeting refreshed and with a bounce in their step – not deflated. Unhappy conversations are unfortunately the reality of business, but there is a time and place for them, and it isn’t a one-on-one meeting.

For support with one-on-one meetings and overall performance logs, be sure to check out emPerform tag.



10 Ways to Have Better Check-Ins With Your Employees by Craig Cincotta Posted in Entrepreneur Online March 2015

The New Workplace Reality: Out of the Office by Naveen Narayanan, HCL Technologies Posted on WIRED.