How to Conduct 1-on-1 Meetings With Your Staff

As a manager, your primary role is to help other people succeed, starting with your staff. But how can you do that? One of the tools in your management toolkit is 1-on-1 staff meetings, and it provides a unique opportunity to understand what success means to each member of your team. Of course, if you have a large team this can be a real challenge, at least time-wise, and is the reason many managers never get around to it. 

The key is to make a commitment and get going.

Here are some tips to help get you started:

  • Consider the team members past experiences with 1-on-1's: perhaps they were mostly disciplinary in nature? If so, and you are a new manager, it's best to deal with this upfront.
  • Let your team know the purpose of the meetings (hint - it's to discover how you can support them in their quest for success)
  • Let them know how long each meeting will take, and how often they will be held (e.g. weekly, bi-weekly, monthly)
  • Strike a positive tone by focusing on their strengths and aspirations, in particular their career goals
  • Ask them how you can help (e.g. giving them more authority, training, removing barriers to performance, etc.)
  • Follow-up and keep your commitments
  • Don't make any promises you can't keep
  • Let your own manager know what you are doing, and keep them posted. Ask for his/her support.
  • Stick to your plan/schedule. If you have to veer from it (emergencies do happen), let your staff know how you will deal with it and share your plan for getting back on track
  • Maintain confidences - these are 1-on-1's, and some personal stuff will emerge
  • When you experience resistance, and you will, deal with it calmly and resolutely, and stay focused
  • Seek feedback from your staff on how useful these meetings are and how they can be improved

The best 1-on-1's are informal, relaxed and inspiring for both your staff and you. The key, as I said earlier is to get going.

But what about performance issues?

One of the more important questions I get is "how can I deal with poor performance and still keep these 1-on-1 meetings productive and positive?" That's simple - keep the 1-on-1 meetings separate from performance meetings. Here's how to handle performance issues:

When you observe an employee engaging in a behaviour that you recognize as undesirable or in contravention of established team values, then you need to take action. Here are some tips on how to give constructive feedback in the workplace:

  • Make sure that you are constantly giving feedback, especially the positive type. Try to keep a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative.
  • Give feedback in a way that fits with the persons personality type. For example, dominant and conscientious styles probably prefer praise one-on-one, whereas the steady and influencer styles prefer public praise. ALWAYS give negative feedback one-on-one in private.
  • Make certain that the feedback reinforces team values.

Situations requiring feedback include:

  • Regular, scheduled performance feedback
  • Coaching for development of specific competencies
  • Following up on goal setting
  • Correcting undesirable behaviours and poor performance
  • Praising desirable behaviours and performance

Steps for giving Constructive Feedback on Negative Behaviours or Poor Performance

Here are some steps you can follow -  modify to suit your circumstances:

  1. Arrange for the feedback as soon as possible after the observed event.
  2. Set the scene: corrective feedback should be performed in your office or in an office where there is complete privacy.
  3. Be specific: describe what you observed, and the effect the behaviour or poor performance is having on individuals and the team. Remind the staff member of their good qualities, and your disappointment with their behaviours/performance.
  4. Ask for their response: Give the staff member an opportunity to respond. Don't get into an argument on rights or wrongs, don't get personal, focus on the observed behaviours.
  5. Offer suggestions for improvement.
  6. Ask the staff member to make a commitment to improve.
  7. Tell them what will happen next.
  8. Follow up with a written confirmation of what was agreed to, if appropriate. Always maintain a written record for yourself.
  9. Keep observing behaviour of all team members.
  10. Reinforce team values, e.g. "Respect each other", whenever and wherever you can.

Remember, setting a positive, supportive tone through 1-on-1 meetings will go a long way towards minimizing disruptive and unwanted behaviours.

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