Tips on Good 1-on-1 Meetings with Direct Reports

As a leader, it’s easy to get sucked into filling your days with meetings focused on the work, and not investing time in taking care of your people. Don’t let this happen — it reminds me of the personal finance concept of “Pay yourself first”, meaning carve out money for things like savings and investing, instead of letting the leftover scraps, when there are some, go to savings.

Invest time by blocking recurring time on your calendar and your direct reports’ calendars to talk 1-on-1.

  • Conduct in-person if possible (video conference if in-person isn’t possible)
  • Conduct frequently (weekly or every other week)
  • Be fully present – this is critical time, don’t check your email or your phone during these discussions!
  • Do not only focus on tactical items/coordination – use this as an opportunity to “zoom out” on more strategic/big-picture discussions

Here are some suggested agenda items to cover:

  • Start positive if you can, and express gratitude for the things they’re doing well
  • Discuss negative feedback too – don’t let that accumulate/fester and only discuss it in annual focal date (performance) reviews or never. Proactively discuss this and discuss where their performance and your expectation didn’t meet and what you expect going forward.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get the conversation flowing in useful directions, and to reveal new insights – questions like “What’s your favorite part about what you do?” or “What would you change about how we work?”
  • Career Planning reflections, desires (Where do they want to steer their career? Are there areas/projects they want to focus more on?)
  • Professional Development interests (e.g., domains they’re interested in learning more about, skills they want to improve in, training they’d like to consider requesting approval for)
  • Discuss progress advancing big, significant initiatives/projects
  • Discuss roadblocks, challenges, and/or frustrations they’re experiencing
  • If your direct report is a supervisor or others, consider these additional topics:
    • Their consistency in conducting 1-on-1s with each of their people
    • Morale of their team
    • Performance of their team: Who is struggling? Who is excelling?
    • Morale of their team: Who is loving work? Who is not engaged/happy?

See some additional recommendations in this HBR article.

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