In my pursuit to help my employees improve their career satisfaction, I came across something called one-on-one meetings. I know this is nothing new to most nor a revolutionary concept but how many people really have them? In a few recent presentations and workshops I conducted, I discovered there are many leaders out there who do not have these kinds of meetings with their direct reports. Some had never even heard of the concept.
What Is a One-on-One Meeting?
For those of you not familiar with this concept, let me explain it. The idea is to meet with each person on your team individually. The goal is to get to know them better, find out who they are, and what really excites them.
This meeting is about them (not you) and for them but will benefit you as a leader greatly. These meetings are meant for any employee that works for you, from the struggling employee to even the rock star.
The one-on-one meeting with an employee is about them, not you.
When I meet with people one-on-one, I always use a basic agenda available to them anytime. The agenda can be any tool or application to which you both have access. With so many cloud-based options out there, most organizations have access to something that will work. Before cloud-based tools, I used documents on a shared drive, which still works. My expectation is that either of us can add agenda items or prepare ahead of time what the other person wants to discuss.
The Meeting Format
It is important to use a standard format that works for you and your employees. For starters, we have a general practice to have one-on-one meetings for one hour every other week. With so many people to meet with, this works for me. But you could even have them for 30 minutes every week. You need to figure out what works best for you, your staff, and your organization. The important part here is to make them recurring, same time and day for each person. And try to NEVER cancel a one-on-one meeting unless you absolutely have to. Even try rescheduling, if possible. I make it a practice not to schedule one-on-one meetings for Mondays and Fridays since those days are the most requested for days off.
I try to keep the same format (see the figure below) for all of my staff and for my own sanity. However there are times where I have had to customize the agenda for certain people. For instance, I have a systems administrator who currently has more work going on than he can possibly handle. He has chosen to discuss these things in our one-on-one meetings regularly. This agenda not only helps us keep track of work that needs done, it also allows me to show my boss when more resources are needed for our team.
This represents our agenda, which is basic and very flexible in nature. We have an area for new topics to discuss. I try to always start out with what is on their plate first. Giving them the opportunity to cover their items first makes them feel this is their meeting and they are valued. If they did their homework by reviewing the agenda ahead of time, they will usually address my items for me. We usually discuss any concerns they have, projects they are involved with, and what blockers are causing tasks to be delayed.
Most importantly we discuss how they are doing. We review the things in their yearly evaluation on a regular basis, whether every meeting or at a minimum once per quarter. No one on my teams are surprised come performance evaluation time. They all know well in advance how they are doing. Mind you, they may not like the rating in any given category or even the overall rating. But they know what to expect well before that day.
During our one-on-one meetings, we also discuss career development. While a part of the agenda, this is also a separate topic we discuss periodically throughout the year. Actively discussing career development and planning with your team shows them you care. Unless your employee is at the very top of their profession, or at least as high as they want to go, you should help them keep progressing. And even then I work with them to keep them challenged and engaged.
The career development section can cover many things such as working towards a degree, reading professional books, obtaining certifications, job shadowing, and attending conferences. This is up to you and your organization to determine what counts towards professional development. We also discuss where my staff members want to go, what hobbies we might be able to turn into a career. And believe it or not, I even talk with them about finding other opportunities outside of my department and even organization if that is what they want for their career. You need to do what is best for them, not you. If they are not happy with what they are doing, no one wins.
Many managers are worried their staff will leave eventually. I expect all of mine will and actually look forward to it. It helps them and keeps your team fresh and excited. You really should not expect people to stay in the same position forever. Sure, some may want to, and that is OK. But for those who want to move on, you should help facilitate progression. I discuss with each member of my team if they have a one-year, five-year, and beyond career plan. I let them know if they want to move up or out to let me know, and I will help them the best I can.
I often come across people who want to advance their career but just don’t know where to go. Talking things through in the one-on-one meeting helps them know what is out there and what options they have. We work together to find out what their interests are, what kind of jobs fit that interest, and what opportunities might be available. In the past three years, I have helped create positions for people based off their interests that just happened to match a need for my organization. Every one of them is flourishing in those roles because they helped create and define them. Only two still work for me; the others still work in my department but for other managers.
It’s About Them
Remember, caring about your team starts with each person on your team as individuals.
- Meet with them one-on-one 30 minutes each week or one hour every other week.
- Have an agenda that both of you can access any time.
- NEVER cancel a one-on-one unless absolutely necessary.
- Make it about them, not you.
- Do not be afraid to discuss their future career goals.
Join Thomas for his session on Managing Struggling Employees at HDI Conference & Expo.
Thomas Wilk is an IT manager at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has become a performance improvement leader, helping employees find their way along their career path. As a mentor to managers, he helps them develop leadership skills so they can better engage with their staff. Tom has a bachelor’s degree in Information Science and is currently working towards a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in the Public Management program. To see more from Tom, visit
his YouTube channel, and follow him on Twitter @spiller150.