In all relationships, checking in is the best way to show you care. It shows, with actions, that you are willing to take time out of your busy day to acknowledge the experiences of the other person. Simply put, you are invested in the well-being of another individual.
When it comes to an employee's experience, it's no surprise that checking in regularly is integral to positive outcomes in employee engagement.
That said, just because you host regular 1:1's doesn't guarantee that you will gain valuable insights or see tangible improvements in employee engagement, performance, and productivity.
First, an employee must feel a 1:1 meeting is a safe place to be authentic, open, and honest. Or else you'll end up receiving surface-level pleasantries and answers employees THINK you want to hear. Building a high level of trust takes time. Don't expect employees to open up right away.
With consistency and time, you can earn that level of confidence that reaps the highest rewards for both parties.
Second, a 1:1 meeting is a time to check in with an employee, but also gain insights that can be turned into actionable improvements to productivity and performance. This can only be achieved by asking the right questions.
That said, experienced managers might already have established a structure for their 1:1 meetings. However, new managers will likely benefit from a brief overview of the typical structure of a 1:1 meeting with an employee.
Let's dive into that now.
A 1:1 meeting is usually conducted either on a weekly or bi-weekly basis; it all depends on the availability of management and other logistical factors. There is no right or wrong here. Just keep in mind checking in regularly with your employees is an essential contributor to employee happiness and engagement, so try and do it as often as possible.
Moreover—be consistent. Consistency and follow-through is what builds a foundation of trust between you and your employee. If you keep putting off 1:1 meetings or cancelling them altogether, you're sending a strong message to your employees that they're not high on your priority list.
When management is flaky with 1:1's, it undermines the entire purpose of the meeting.
That said, to get the most value out of these short meetings, it helps to have a basic structure in place. Here are the four (4) basic components of a valuable 1:1 meeting with an employee.
Start by breaking the ice. One simple and effective way of achieving this is by asking your employees how things are going with them, not only in their work but personal life as well. It's important to keep things casual. This exercise is about breaking walls and building trust. Of course, you don't want to pry or be pushy; however—if an outside factor like a recent move or illness in the family is affecting your employee's morale, it's best for you to be aware. Great managers listen carefully and respond with curiosity and compassion.
1:1's don't intend to drill down into the details and specifics of a particular mandate or assignment. That should be covered during another type of meeting. However, a 1:1 is an excellent opportunity to talk about the employee's performance and goals on a higher level—the types of projects assigned, their workload, and their relationships with other team members. Asking the right questions will allow you as a manager to better understand what types of assignments your employee is interested in working on and what kind of environment and structure is conducive to their productivity.
Once everything is on the table, it's time to talk about the next steps. This is where you help the employee get back on track. If they are lost or unsure of where they stand in terms of a particular mandate or assignment, you provide some face-to-face guidance. In short, this is where you give precise and actionable feedback. This opportunity is perfect for expressing your gratitude in the form of verbal praise and recognition for any recent goals or successes the employee obtained.
The final few minutes of a 1:1 meeting should be saved for your employee to give you feedback—yes, feedback is valuable for everyone in an organization. This exercise can be inherently uncomfortable for some employees, especially younger ones, just entering the workforce. Reassuring your employees that this information is valuable to you, and they will, at the very least, appreciate that you care about their opinion, even if they are not ready to open up right away.
Now that you have a general idea of the structure of a standard 1:1 meeting let's have a look at some of the specific questions a manager can ask throughout this process. These questions are designed to generate highly valuable answers that will help you improve the overall happiness, performance, and productivity of your employees.
We all know the cliché catch-phrase therapists say, "how does that make you feel."
The intention behind this question is to motivate a patient to reflect on their experience. Eventually, they should come to develop a more impartial perspective on their own (sometimes negative or dysfunctional) patterns and ways of thinking.
Therapists know they will yield more meaning about a patient's subjective experience by asking them this open-ended question, rather than asking a closed-ended question like, "did that make you happy?"
Similarly, asking employees directly "what motivates you" or "are you happy about X" might be ineffective or yield very vague responses. Human motivation is a complicated thing; sometimes, we don't even know what truly motivates us!
Managers must act like investigators, asking questions that will slowly begin building a picture of an employee. By asking nuanced questions, you are not only understanding your employees better but helping your employees understand their own interests and passions more deeply.
In short, it's a mutually beneficial exercise that becomes easier and more fruitful with time and practice. So get to scheduling those 1:1 meetings as soon as you can!
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