A quick and easy way to build an effective higher quality relationship with your employees is via one-on-one meetings. Last month, we discussed the importance of building and maintaining effective relationships with your employees. More specifically, we discussed three types of relationships, i.e., high-, middle-, and low-quality. Having frequent, bi-directional, open communications with your direct reports gives you an opportunity to mentor, motivate, coach, and listen to them. Providing employees the opportunity to voice their aspirations, desires, ideas, and problems can establish trust, can enhance communications, and can help to elevate the relationships to a higher level (e.g., from middle-quality to a high-quality). One-on-one regular scheduled meetings with your direct reports are the ideal process for providing such opportunities to them.
Depending on the nature of your business, we suggest meeting with your employees every one to two weeks and definitely at least once a month. To ensure the meetings are productive for both you and the employee, we offer the following guidelines.
1. Schedule re-occurring meetings
This demonstrates your commitment and it allows you and your employee to effectively prepare for the meetings. Make sure you do not schedule meetings during your busiest day of the week/month or their busiest day of the week/month. This reduces the risk of cancellation. Avoid cancelling meetings as this sends a message that the meetings are not important to you. If you must cancel, provide an explanation and re-schedule immediately. If you cannot re-schedule, make sure you allow additional time at your next scheduled meeting to address the employee’s topics even if it means delaying your topics of discussion to a future meeting. I’ve had instances where my boss would call me into a meeting without notice, leaving me to re-arrange my entire schedule for remainder of the day. If I knew that this last minute change would impact my one-on-one meeting with an employee, I would let him/her know about the situation and I would immediately reschedule. There were times when I would sacrifice my lunch hour to meet with an employee, especially, if the employee felt they needed to meet with me that particular day.
2. It is not all about you
Remember: the meeting is to create bi-directional, open communication and consequently, an effective quality relationship. Hence, format the meeting so that you both have adequate time to exchange information. For the initial meeting, provide your employee with an agenda. Allow your employee to begin with his/her topics for discussion. This sends a message to the employee that the meeting is to primarily focus on their needs rather than your own. After discussing your employee’s topics, put forth your topics. Inform your employee that future meetings will follow
this format, thus allowing the employee to be prepared. We suggest 45 – 60 minutes for a meeting. Following is a suggested format for a 45 minute meeting
- 15 Minutes: Employee leads the conversation with their needs.
- 15 Minutes: You discuss topics that need to be addressed, provide mentoring and coaching.
- 10 Minutes: Open discussion on topics such as employee career goals, department goals, strategy, etc.
- 5 Minutes: Closing – an opportunity to re-state action items and make plans for the next meeting.
3. Focus on your employee
Give your full attention. While meeting with your employee, do not allow disruptions. Be present physically and mentally by closing your door and not answering phone calls and emails. If you do not have an office (i.e., cubicle), schedule your meetings in a small conference room. This provides a safe environment for your employee to have open communications, thus maximizing the benefits of a one-on-one meeting. For example, during a meeting with one of my employees whom I considered to be in a low-quality relationship with me, he revealed that his wife was having serious medical issues. This put more responsibility on him to take care of their two young daughters. He shared with me that he was having difficulty dropping the children off at school and making it to work by 8AM. We immediately discussed alternative solutions and finally decided on him coming to work 30 minutes late and taking a half hour lunch versus one hour to make up the time. This breakthrough moment elevated our relationship from low- to middle-quality status. I feel strongly that, had it not been for these one-on-one meetings conducted in a safe environment, this employee would have suffered the undue stress of work-family conflict, and he probably would not have found the time and the courage to bring up his family issues with me. Another tip is to take notes during the meeting. It is important for you to remember to follow up on action items and to hold the employee accountable for following up on their action items.
4. Be adaptive and attentive
Let your employees know that this re-occurring meeting is not the only time you will meet with them. There will be times when your employee may need to meet with you before your scheduled meeting to ask for input on urgent situations. Or if you notice that your employee is not as engaged or seems distracted, it would behoove you as a leader to take a few minutes for a quick meeting to inquire. In other words, being adaptive and attentive to your employees demonstrates to them that you are paying attention to them and their needs. For instance, I noted that one of my best and most productive employees, who was in a high-quality relationship with me was not performing at her usual superior level. Even though it was a busy week, I took 15 minutes to have an impromptu meeting with her. With minimal probing, I discovered that she was having marital problems which were affecting her concentration at work. Without hesitation, I empathized with her and asked if there was anything I could do to help. While she insisted there was nothing I could do, her performance started to immediately improve. By proactively addressing the issue, this demonstrated to my employee that I was concerned about her well-being. Even though our relationship was high-quality, actions such as this help to nurture and maintain the quality of relationships.
One-on-one meetings with your employees are beneficial to you as a manager and to your organization. These meetings are essential for employees’ development, engagement, commitment, job satisfaction, and retention. As discussed in last month’s blog entry, such one-on-one meetings can bring your direct reports from low-quality relationships into middle-quality relationships with you. If you choose to do so and if you have the resources, you can use the meetings to also bring more of the middle-quality employees into high-quality relationships with you. As employees in higher quality relationships with their boss are more productive, these one-on-one meetings may be a simple way to achieve higher customer satisfaction, lower turnover among the staff, and, ultimately, revenue and profit growth.
Written by Dr. Terry A. Nelson, Assistant Professor of Leadership, College of Business and Public Policy, University of Alaska Anchorage and Dr. Bogdan Hoanca, Professor of Management Information Systems, Director of Graduate Programs, College of Business and Public Policy