At Duuoo we believe, that employees are the most important part of a modern workplace. Attracting, nurturing and retaining the best talent is key to succeeding in the marketplace. Over the last decade, technology has globalized and escalated the battle for talent – employees are nowadays less bound to their home country due to the availability of cheap flights, the development of immersive communication and advances made in connectivity enabled by the Internet.
This increased global competition makes it even more important to nurture the most important assets of our time: people. Yet, many managers are still not putting in the work needed to build and sustain an engaged and satisfied workforce. According to Gallup, less than one-third of the American workforce is engaged in their job – only 34% according to their latest study.
How can you as a manager make sure that you are taking the right action in this new competitive landscape?
In the following, we will take you through a manager's best tool in this global fight for talent: the one-on-one conversation. We will guide you through all the how, why and ifs of this powerful tool and provide you with ready-made agendas you can start using right away. Furthermore, we will provide you with two examples of one-on-one meeting agendas for managers, that you can use or take a starting point in when having one-on-one meetings with your team members.
In the numbers-driven economy of today, it is not hard to figure out why so few managers are doing it right: it can be difficult to quantify the effect of being a good manager. This can often result in the manager deprioritizing one-on-one talks and feedback loops to make room for operational work and focusing on deadlines. This is a vicious circle – leaving even less time for the human-centric parts of managing people.
Engaged employees produce more and achieve better results, and furthermore, they will be less prone to leave your company and may even campaign and showcase your company externally.
According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, employers will need to spend the equivalent of 6–9 months of an employee’s salary to hire and train their replacement. That can end up being quite a lot of money; for instance, an employee with a salary of $60,000 will cost the company anywhere from $30,000 to $45,000 if he or she quits.
So how can you as a manager ensure that your employees are productive and remain engaged? Recent research has shown that one-on-one meetings are one of the best ways to foster an engaged workforce:
It is important to realize that a one-on-one meeting is not the same as a performance review or salary negotiation, etc. Instead, a one-on-one meeting is an informal talk about how things are going. It is the employee’s meeting – not the managers – and should be used by the employee to vent out frustrations and to better guide their manager on how they feel the manager could support them.
Note, if now you want to jump straight to the one-on-one meeting agendas created by the Duuoo expert team, please scroll to the bottom of this document.
The Shift Towards a People-first Culture
Over the last 10 years, a transformation has taken place in the business world. It used to be that companies would focus primarily on profits and work backwards from there. While optimizing profits is still the goal for most companies today, a shift in focus started happening around 10 years ago when companies started adopting a customer-first mindset.
Instead of focusing on profits first, and then customer experience, companies reversed their priorities. The goal became to optimize the customer experience as this turned out to be a better way of increasing profits. As products became more complex and as connectivity improved with the Internet, recognition of the positive effects of having happy customers improved by many orders of magnitude.
Now, 10 years later, the world's most successful companies have gone a step further back and realised that by adopting a focus on employee engagement, the rest will naturally follow. Talent is more important than ever and it is for solid economic reasons that companies like Google are taking good care of their employees – most of whom are part of the millennial generation – and are laser focused on improving their employee experience.
The new millennial workforce expects a lot more from their employers in return for their hard work and dedication than was the case with previous generations. A good paycheck is no longer enough. The new millennials:
don’t care about traditional hierarchies and expect to have ‘autonomy with responsibility’;are less loyal to their workplace than previous generations. They may be more inclined to feel that they are doing the company a service – not the other way around;are always connected and this goes for their work as well;indeed, they might check their Facebook during the day but they will also answer emails before they go to bed;care who they work for and what the vision of the company is;prefer informal, honest relationships with their superiors – and want to feel like their ideas are heard.
Good communication with their manager is a key part of creating a satisfactory work life for the millennial generation. Do not leave it up to chance that you might talk about these things – make it a priority as a manager to conduct one-on-ones regularly!
“In good organizations, people can focus on their work and have confidence that if they get their work done, good things will happen for both the company and them personally. It is a true pleasure to work in an organization such as this. Every person can wake up knowing that the work they do will be efficient, effective and make a difference both for the organization and themselves. These things make their jobs both motivating and fulfilling.” - Andreessen Horowitz
But how? The following section will introduce you to some basic rules to follow when conducting your one-on-one meetings. These are important to read as they are not always intuitive. Many managers feel an instinctive need to use these one-on-one meetings to give rather than to take feedback.
6 Principles For A Productive One-on-One Meeting
As a manager, it is crucial to understand that a one-on-one meeting is not a performance review, status update or salary negotiation. All of these should be kept to separate meetings – the one-on-one meeting is the employee’s meeting, not the manager’s.
Listen, don't talk
As the manager, you should only be talking 20% of the time. Your goal should be to open up your employee and create an environment in which they feel safe to talk.
Listen for clues on how you can help
You need to figure out how you can support your employee even better. Listen for subtle clues. Employees might not know exactly how or where you can help, so do not leave it up to your employee to explicitly state how you can assist them.
A one-on-one meeting is an opportunity to improve your relationship and to develop trust between you and your employee. Aim to reduce formality and make the employee feel like he or she can talk openly.
It is important that the agreements you make are written down for future accountability. You should always talk about the agreements you made in your last one-on-one meeting to see how they are working out. Do not fall victim to just writing down agreements in your notebook or pieces of paper that you’ll never look at again.
Ask good questions
Refrain from yes/no questions and ask open, general questions that will make your employee open up. Think about which questions you want to ask beforehand and send them to your employee so that they have a chance to prepare. We recommend using the one-on-one meeting agendas from this document, which have been created by the Duuoo Conversation Engine™.
Don’t be afraid to get personal
You shouldn’t be afraid to ask your employee personal questions. It should be clear if it is a topic they want to engage in or not – if they don’t want to discuss a particular personal topic, you should respect their wishes. However, if an employee is going through a hard time in his/her personal life, it could be good for them to externalise it, even if you are not able to help them.
Find the right frequency
One-on-one meetings should be conducted anytime from once a week to once a month. However, we suggest starting out with meetings once a month and then scaling up if required.
Keep the meetings between 30–60 minutes long. And make sure that you manage to go through all the questions that you wanted to ask. Most importantly, try to avoid ever cancelling the meeting. Cancelling sends a very strong signal that you are deprioritizing your employee. For an employee who might have been looking forward to venting their frustrations, a cancellation can amplify the situation. If you absolutely must cancel a meeting, you should try to fit it in later in the same day/next day and make it clear to the employee concerned that you have the meeting earmarked as your top priority.
A framework for conducting one-on-one meetings
At Duuoo, we have created a model to help managers ensure they touch upon all the different important themes in a one-on-one meeting. Obviously it is not possible to fit all these questions and topics into one meeting. Hence, as a manager, you should take a long-term perspective and plan for this when setting your agenda.
It might be that you have a special situation at hand – maybe the employee is new, going through a hard time in his/her personal life or not performing as you would have expected. You should always adopt the meeting to the specific situation at hand. See the meeting agendas below for some inspiration.
A key thing to remember when conducting your one-on-one meetings is that you should write things down. If you are not using a tool for your one-on-one meetings, keep a spreadsheet and note down what you talked about and what you agreed on at each meeting.
Continuity is important for both you and your employee. As a manager, you should be seeing your employee grow and develop over time. As an employee, you should feel that you have a manager and a coach who cares and remembers what you talked about and why in your last meeting and the ones before that too.
This also requires that you as a manager plan meetings in advance. It is very easy to forget and to deprioritize meetings if they are not set weeks in advance – which can be a daunting task to organize if you manage 5–10 employees. Make sure that you send invites out (use a tool such as Calendly or Duuoo to schedule) in proper time and make it clear that there are no excuses for not attending.
When setting your one-on-one meeting agenda think things through and prepare accordingly. The Duuoo system is based on 6 themes:
Each session includes four Talking Points within four themes depending on the context of the employee.
Duuoo automatically picks the four Talking Points for you, arranges your meetings and enables you to record agreements for future accountability. We even have a Slack bot to help you out! Read more at duuoo.io
Below you will find two examples of agendas to use in your one-on-one meetings. Read the question insights to make sure you are using the questions correctly.
Agenda 1 - Basic agenda
Question 1: What motivates you the most about working here?
Theme: Motivation and Inspiration
Question Insights: By talking directly about the things that motivate your team members you can learn new things about your team, their work processes, and your product - allowing you to improve and adapt accordingly. Motivation is a great driver for employee engagement - try and see if you can figure out where each team member gets his/her energy and motivation, and explore that further.
Question 2: Is our company’s mission clear to you? Please try to restate it in your own words the way you think it should be, or come up with a new one that you think suits our company better.
Theme: Strategy, Performance, and Work Alignment
Questions Insights: If you want your team to move in the same direction, make sure they know where to go. Do you have a clear company vision, mission, and strategy? And do your team members know about them? Now is the time to find out.
Question 3: Do you feel challenged at work? Please name 2-3 new things that you have learned recently or that have challenged you lately.
Theme: Personal Development, Goals and Competences
Question Insights: This Talking Point will make you and your team go into detail with how your team members feel about personal development. Some people don't have a strong urge to learn new things but are more focused on applying and honing in on what they already know. Yet, for some people there is a continuous and ever ongoing need for personal development. This Talking Point will help you reveal the different personality types that exist in your team.
Question 4: Do you feel you’re getting and giving enough feedback? How well have I been providing you with feedback and, on the flip side, listening to your feedback?
Theme: Feedback, innovation and company learnings
Question Insights: Feedback is a great way to learn new things from your team members and to share and develop new ideas across the board. Use a high frequency of feedback to retain and develop your team. Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and ‘Intrapreneurship’ are created on all levels, and feedback is often where it all begins.
Agenda 2 - Building up confidence
Question 1: What areas of your work are you most/least confident about?
Theme: Strategy, Performance, and Work Alignment
Question Insights: Structure, alignment, and goals - as an overall theme - is probably the single most influential business issue for any manager, and is highly influential from an employee perspective as well. Misalignment can have a negative influence on stress, efficiency, productivity, work-life balance, collaboration, etc. One of the significant advantages by conducting systematic and high-frequency 1-on-1s is that you minimize gaps and blind spots, allowing you to help your team members even more.
Question 2: Who would you like to work with more often? Why?
Theme: Collaboration and work environment
Questions Insights: Get insights on how the team members view each other. Assembling the right team is crucial to success. It is important that you hear all of your team members' perspectives as they can reveal new knowledge about the inter workings of your team.
Question 3: When have you enjoyed working here the most? The least?
Theme: Work/Life Balance
Question Insights: Talking about good times and bad times will give you a hint of the mental state that dominates your team members at this very moment. Try to ask questions based on what you hear - see if you can uncover new knowledge about the situation.
Question 4: What could help us raise the motivation here? Any suggestions?
Theme: Motivation and Inspiration
Question Insights: This Talking Point turns inspirations into action. Let your team members come up with new ideas. It’s a way to feel ownership over the solutions. Some may find that it’s a lot harder to come up with suggestions than to criticize. Keep in mind that some may come up with whole new concepts or strategies, whereas other team members may suggest immediate improvements.