Employee Check-in & One-on-one meetings

A Manager’s Checklist for Employee Check-Ins


We often discuss the topic of employee ‘check-ins’ (or one-on-one meetings, progress meetings, sit-downs, etc.) in our blog or with our clients. No matter what it’s called, increasing the frequency and quality of employee performance conversations remains a priority for most companies today.

Some companies have mandated weekly employee check-ins, some 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: keep the lines of communication open between managers and employees in order to engage and manage performance effectively.

The more employees and managers can 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 to ensure 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.

Conducting Effective One-on-One Meetings

Before the meeting: Prepare

Nothing is worse than going into a meeting with a manager that comes off as uninvested or unprepared. Take 5 minutes to prepare before the meeting. Managers should easily access and skim past meeting notes and performance if you are using a central location or tool for goal tracking, feedback, and/or journal/meeting notes.

  • 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 should be discussed.
  • 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 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 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 essential 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 vital 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 needing 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 engage and keep talking during the check-in meeting. Remember, this meeting is about them. The more they contribute to the conversation 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:

“Go on…..”

“Tell me more…”

“Why do you say that..”

“How do you mean…”

“Can you give me an example…”

“What else…”

At the End of the Meeting: Summarize

Before the employee leaves the meeting, spend a few moments summarizing the key discussion points. This will help remind employees of any action items and reinforce any acknowledgment 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 small step is significant and often skipped over, but it 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 serve as a useful log when managers need to review performance trends. 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 strive 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 essential items to confirm understanding?
  • Did you provide practical coaching tips?
  • Were you distracted in the meeting?
  • Do you feel the meeting was valuable?
  • Did you discuss all the critical points?
  • What could you do to improve the next meeting?

Overall, frequent check-ins with employees are a must to ensure clarity, provide coaching, and offer the support needed for an employee to succeed. Although finding time in the day can be a challenge for many managers, check-ins are time well spent and will pay off in the long run for the manager, the employee, the team, and the company.

For additional resources on providing feedback:

Performance Goals, Projects, and Check-ins

All in One Place.

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.Tag on-going feedback after employee check-ins

Ready to make a change?

Contact us to see how we can help you transform performance management to better align, develop, engage & retain a world-class workforce.

Sources: County of San Mateo Human Resources Department: How to Conduct One-on-One Meetings https://hr.smcgov.org/how-conduct-one-one-meetings-guide-supervisors

You’re an experienced manager with ten direct reports. Two are talented stars, four are doing well enough, and three could use a nudge in the right direction but are generally on track. Unfortunately, the last one on your list is not doing quite so well. He’s young and ambitious, and he cares about the job, but he’s struggling. And he isn’t just struggling across one or two of your performance metrics, but all of them.

You’ve lost more sleep over this employee and spent more hours editing his review than you have with any of the others. You’ve gone over all the facts in your mind a thousand times. You want to make sure you’re being fair. And you want to do what’s best for the company, the employee, and the members of his team. So how can you turn a host of mistakes and disasters into a host of positives? And how can you press the reset button on this troubled employer-employee relationship?

A Bad Review: The Aftermath

1. Know exactly where you want to be by the time the review session ends. Set clear goals for yourself. If your goal is to have the employee recognize the gravity of the situation and understand his proximity to termination, act accordingly. But if your goal is to find any possible way to keep him on board and retain the valuable skills for which he was hired, let that guide your process.

2. Know what you’ll do the day, week, and Read More

Taking Legal Risks Out of AppraisalsIt’s an unfortunate reality that organizations need to be cautious in how they deal with employees day to day. With the increase in the number of employee lawsuits, it’s imperative that companies arm themselves with the appropriate tools that will help them deflect any potential legal hazards. From a legal perspective, performance reviews provide proper documentation, and if done right, can be a great way to avoid any mishaps.

If your company fails to administer performance reviews on a regular basis, you could be putting yourself at risk for accusations relating to wrongful dismissal and discrimination, to name a few.

Avoid sticky situations by administering sound and accurate performance appraisals.


Here are 5 ways to cover your tail:

1. Check your pre-determined biases at the door. Managers should always be objective in their approach and should never carry-over personal feelings or opinions they may have of an employee into the review process.

2. Ensure that appraisals are fair and accurate. The most effective way to do this is to assess every employee the same way and ensure your process is consistent. Use a set rating scale to avoid generalizations.

3. Implement and document goals and development plans for under-achievers. Doing so will provide written back-up and justification for dismissal should an employee fail to follow-through with their suggested development plan.

4. All managers should provide ‘realistic’ reviews. Give credit where credit is due, but also don’t be afraid to speak the truth. If an employee is under-achieving, then say so! And then follow-up with the proper corrective measures. Failing to do so could potentially come back to haunt you.

5. Communicate performance expectations all-year round. A performance review should never be a once a year thing. Employees should get regular feedback throughout the year to avoid performance surprises.