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How to Drive Better Performance with Effective 1:1s

Are you making common mistakes when it comes to 1:1s?

These meetings are crucial for any management strategy aiming to enhance team performance. In a recent HR Chief webinar, Emily Martin of Ally HR Partners and Namaste Reid of Bonusly explored how effective 1:1s can transform management practices and significantly boost team dynamics and individual performance.

hand with pen writing on a paper with checkboxes

Rethink your approach to 1:1s

The meeting should be dominated by topics relating to the needs, concerns, and hopes of the employee, who should take an active role in presenting them. As the manager, your responsibilities are to ensure that the meetings occur, actively facilitate them, encourage genuine conversation, ask good questions, offer support, and help each team member get what’s needed for optimal short-term performance and long-term growth. - Make the Most of Your One-on-One Meetings

Think of 1:1s as non-negotiable events on your calendar. They’re your opportunities for sparking real growth and lighting up that trust and alignment within your team. These meetings are your launchpad for not just reaching but zapping past those team goals.

The secret sauce? A mix of solid structure and the nimbleness to swing with the punches. Whether it's navigating career ambitions, tackling personal hiccups, or dishing out the feedback when it counts, your ability to flex in these chats is what cranks up their impact. Make each 1:1 count by being as adaptable as they come.

Effective 1:1s:

  • Are frequent
  • Allow most time for topics driven by the direct report (think two ears, one mouth)
  • Have a co-owned agenda
  • Require a very high bar for canceling

Why are 1:1s so important?

Annual check-ins are too infrequent to keep pace with the rapid developments in an employee's career and the agile adjustments required in modern work environments. 1:1s provide a regular rhythm of feedback that's integral to the continuous feedback loop, fostering an atmosphere of trust and psychological safety. These sessions are crucial for understanding and supporting an employee’s career aspirations and personal development goals.

Remember, the focus of these meetings is on the employee; it’s their time to shine, discuss, and delve into their professional journey and personal growth, making each 1:1 a stepping stone to greater engagement and fulfillment at work.

Holding successful 1:1s

To nail a successful 1:1, set the stage for your direct reports to take the wheel. Let them bring up the hot topics on their mind. This not only carves out a safe zone for honest chit-chat but also puts a spotlight on the magic of real listening, making it a genuine two-way street.

These chats are your golden ticket to cultivating leaders, nudging each team member address challenges that really matter. Urge them to spark changes. That's how you stir up some bottom-up innovation. It's about giving everyone the reins to toss in their two cents, boosting their drive and setting your workplace apart from the crowd.

For a solid 1:1, both parties need to come in with a game plan. That means an agenda, context, and a truckload of focus. Keep it snappy and developmental, with feedback that’s as timely as your morning coffee, sparking that brainy buzz with regular coaching. Zone in on career growth and syncing performance, all in the spirit of empowering your team. Don't forget to write down what you discuss. Notes aren’t just for doodles, they evolve into your roadmap to real results.

Bringing effective feedback to 1:1s

1:1s are the right stage for serving up feedback that doesn’t just tick the box but truly transforms.

This isn’t about dredging up the past; it’s about fueling future wins. The key? Identifying ingredients of effective feedback:

  • Timely - ensure it’s fresh and relevant, providing a direct line from insight to action
  • Future-facing - don't dwell on a fumble weeks after the fact
  • Balanced - blend of clarity and empathy
  • Objective & fair - focus on a productive discussion that's unbiased
  • Clear - cut through the noise and directly spotlight areas for growth
  • Empathetic - understanding different perspectives makes feedback easier to digest and act upon

Common 1:1 mistakes to avoid

One major faux pas is the mismatch in meeting perspectives and purpose. Imagine thinking you’re stepping into a brainstorming session, but it's actually a lecture. If the meeting is solely driven by the manager, it becomes as engaging as a monologue at an open mic night. Also, constantly rescheduling or canceling these sessions sends a signal that they're the low man on the totem pole, which is hardly motivating.

Then there's the issue of just running through task updates. This approach turns what should be dynamic growth discussions into dull, procedural check-ins.

And omitting career growth chats is like setting sail without a compass. Sure, you’re moving, but to where?

Without these discussions, you're missing critical opportunities to align personal ambitions with organizational goals. And let's not forget the chaos of entering these meetings without an agenda. Keeping these sessions focused and meaningful requires preparation and a clear sense of direction. Avoid these blunders, and you'll transform your 1:1s from obligatory calendar fills to crucial catalysts for growth and engagement.

Staying ethical and compliant in 1:1s

As we wrap up our discussion on effective 1:1s, it's crucial to acknowledge their role in fostering an ethical and compliant workplace.

These meetings serve as a confidential channel for employees to voice concerns, allowing managers to swiftly identify and escalate issues, thus preventing larger problems. They act as an early warning system, pinpointing risks related to compliance breaches, signs of a toxic culture, or mounting stress, and help in managing these proactively to safeguard both employee welfare and the company’s reputation.

Moreover, 1:1s help cultivate a culture of honesty and transparency, which is essential in avoiding toxic workplace dynamics. By encouraging open dialogue and showing genuine concern for team members' well-being, leaders nurture an environment of trust and respect. This not only ensures adherence to HR policies but also builds a foundation of psychological safety, empowering employees to perform their best. Thoughtfully conducted, 1:1s are more than just a managerial task. They're a pivotal strategy for building a resilient, ethical, and high-performing team.

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Alex Sumner