After implementing one-on-one meetings across the board, Adobe saw a 30% decrease in voluntary employee turnover, while General Electric experienced a fivefold increase in productivity 12 months after implementing company-wide one-on-one meetings.
If there were one word to explain why humanity has failed and will always fail to reach its full potential, that word would be meetings.
- Economist John Kenneth Galbraith.
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01-Longing And Apprehension At The Same Time.
A recent report by Hypercontext, a globally renowned conference management and efficiency improvement organization, shows that 70% of leaders and 53% of employees are very afraid of and avoid entering into a one-on-one meeting.
Another set of data comes from a productivity research team at Google. After surveying 1,182 leaders and 838 employees, the conclusion was reached that 89% of leaders and 73% of employees believe that one-on-one meetings have a very positive impact on team efficiency.
I share these two sets of data because I find them interesting. Our emotions when facing one-on-one meetings are similar to the scene of timidly pursuing a beautiful woman (man) while being both enamored and afraid.
“I feel like my boss and I both understand the importance of one-on-one meetings, and HR even requires them. But every time we schedule a meeting, after exchanging pleasantries, we just stare at each other and ask, ‘So, what do we talk about now?’ Besides discussing projects, products, and football games, we really don’t know what other topics to cover.” A 95s employee from the internet industry shared this with me.
Looking back on my early career, I still remember the one-on-one meetings with my supervisor and mentor vividly. I even remember the cup of coffee and the weather outside the window on a certain day. These moments often came when I faced significant challenges at work, felt lost and down, or was blinded by arrogance and narrow-mindedness. Undoubtedly, I was lucky to have good role models to guide me, and the organization I was in had a mature one-on-one meeting mechanism in place.
02-Why Does An Organization Need One-On-One Meetings?
One-on-one meetings (also known as 1:1, 1-on-1, 121s, check-ins, leader-employee periodic dialogues) refer to periodic face-to-face communication between leaders and employees regarding employees’ daily work, goal performance, career development, professional growth, and other aspects. 1-on-1 meetings are an important leadership tool for motivating and retaining employees.Huddles.app has many One-on-one meeting templates for you to choose.
Efficient 1-on-1 meetings bring significant value to teams. From a daily collaboration perspective, 1-on-1 meetings can:
- Understand employees’ current work progress and clear obstacles
- Keep information in sync in a timely manner and ensure that employees have a comprehensive and consistent understanding of key events and decisions
- Understand employees’ work status, mood, and energy level
Moreover, I believe that one-on-on meetings have deeper implications for organizational capabilities and culture：
- Improving team efficiency and effectiveness
- fostering trust and close relationships among team members
- practicing leadership in the most enduring training ground
- building a culture of feedback and growth are all key elements for success.
A study conducted by the Microsoft Work Efficiency Analysis team found significant differences between teams that have one-on-one meetings and those that do not.
Two companies’ data were particularly noteworthy. After Adobe implemented one-on-one meetings across the board, employee voluntary turnover rates decreased by 30%, while General Electric’s productivity increased fivefold 12 months after implementing company-wide one-on-one meetings.
03-One To One Meetings Are Leaders’ Mirror
Conducting effective one-on-one meetings is a training ground for organizational leadership and also serves as a “magic mirror”.
Andrew Grove, one of the founders of Intel and the most influential CEO and business leader, once said, “A one-hour talk with a subordinate is enough to motivate them to work with high enthusiasm and quality for the next two weeks.” For leaders, the high-value output of a one-on-one meeting presents 9 out of 10 challenges in leadership, with only 1 out of 10 challenges in meeting organization design.
As a leader, I have led countless chaotic one-on-one meetings, where I saw myself as a savior for employees, an esteemed mentor, a life coach, and a superhero. I used these meetings as a platform to showcase myself, but all I got in return was disappointment, indifference, and avoidance from my team members. We must understand that the core of a one-on-one meeting is 100% about the employee, and 100% support for them.
This means that leaders must use one-on-one meetings as an opportunity to practice their listening, questioning, coaching, and empathy skills. More importantly, leaders need to switch their mindset from focusing on efficiency to focusing on people. This is not easy, as in other meeting scenarios, we may discuss efficiency, sales figures, and how to win in competition. But in a one-on-one meeting, a leader needs to focus on the employee sitting across from them for the meeting to be effective.
One-on-one meetings can also effectively avoid the feeling of a post-evaluation of performance. Most companies evaluate their employees’ performance on a yearly or six-month basis, which means that employees have to go through a relatively long period before receiving serious feedback from their leaders. Sometimes, a leader’s well-intentioned criticism and guidance may lead to misunderstandings for employees, causing them to mutter, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” In this case, periodic one-on-one meetings are an excellent opportunity to provide feedback.
04-How Do I Set The Duration And Length Of A One-To-One Conference?
The 2019 Leadership Report by Soapbox revealed that 94% of leaders hold regular one-on-one meetings, with approximately half of leaders choosing to meet with their subordinates on a weekly basis, with over half of these meetings lasting for 30 minutes.
ZOOM’s related data also shows that during the pandemic, the frequency of short and quick communication between leaders and employees has increased. After shifting to remote work, leaders now need to find new ways to maintain a sense of closeness and presence with their employees.
In terms of the duration of one-on-one meetings, my suggestion is:
- Weekly progress updates, focusing on actions and overcoming obstacles (30 minutes)
- Monthly goal-setting, focusing on reviewing and learning, and supporting skills improvement (1 hour)
- Quarterly performance evaluation, focusing on cognitive upgrades and supporting career development (no time limit)
There are other important factors to consider as well. For example, if an employee is relatively independent and experienced, it may be appropriate to extend the meeting cycle. However, if the employee is new or has weaker abilities, a higher frequency of meetings may be necessary. Huddles has many one on one meeting templates specifically for newcomers.
In addition, it is important to consider factors such as whether the employee is a core team member, how closely you collaborate with them, and whether they are the key contributor to the team’s most important strategic projects when deciding on the frequency of your 1-on-1 meetings with them.
05-A Leader’s Code Of Conduct In A One-on-One Meeting
I attempted to summarize some healthy behaviors for leaders during a 1-on-1 meeting, but this is just a reference, and it is recommended that each organization has its own list.
- Prepare in advance
One leader once told me that the easiest meeting of all is a one-on-one meeting with employees because there’s no need to prepare anything, just chat, build relationships, and share experiences. I’ve had bosses like that, some even requiring me to prepare a presentation beforehand. All Huddles.app templates clearly contain the actions of each step and what to do next. A leader or manager can be used well to manage his or her employees or to set goals and plans
However, I always remember a leader I had more than ten years ago. I was mostly in Netherland, she was in Hong Kong, and we communicated most of the time by phone and follow-up emails. Until one time, we happened to be in the same city for business, and we had a rare face-to-face conversation. I saw that she had prepared three pages of feedback, and I, having been in the workplace for too long, had not received such attention and care in a while. She set an example for me and showed me how to approach my team.
1-on-1 meetings are a discussion between a leader and an employee regarding the employee’s needs, and can cover the following topics:
- Questions to ask
- Preparing compliments and recognition
- Preparing feedback with specific actions expected
Showing empathy is a process of “treating people as people,” instead of just “treating people as tools.”
“Treating people as tools” means focusing on efficiency, results, utilitarian value, high ROI, and opportunities for improvement. “Treating people as people” means focusing on ideas, emotions, growth, needs, and relationships, recognizing that we are different but equal in a conversation.
This does not mean that we should only talk about people and ignore business matters. My suggestion is to focus on developmental abilities first, then address specific work matters, and to focus on emotional experiences before logical reasoning.
Leaders who embrace this philosophy are likely to actually do some of the tips they share next.
3.Ask first, then provide feedback.
The influence of a leader can be broken down into three levels:
- First, the leader speaks, and the employees remain indifferent;
- Second, the leader speaks, and the employees take action;
- Third, the leader speaks, and the employees change their perception and views on things, and willingly change their behavior and actions.
When we see that employees are not acting in line with our expectations, or when we hear them expressing opinions that differ from ours, I suggest that leaders take a step back and start by being curious. Think about why the employee is behaving or thinking in a certain way. What are the underlying ideas, logic, and motivations, and how are they different from yours? Then, focus your feedback on those thoughts and perceptions, and the effects may be drastically different.
4.Listen 80%, speak 20%
I really like the viewpoint that Fellow (a meeting productivity platform) advocates: 1-on-1 meetings should be entirely employee-led. If employees don’t have the desire to participate, then there is no need to hold the meeting.
In China, while leaders are the core drivers of most 1-on-1 meetings, Fellow believes that in such meetings, employees should be the main characters, and leaders should be supporting roles. If an employee isn’t 100% satisfied and didn’t get what they wanted from the meeting, it’s considered a failure. Note that the leader’s feedback and feelings aren’t even asked for.
Leaders need to listen 80% and speak 20%, as the employees are the center of the meeting. What should they listen to?
- Listen to facts.
- Listen to ideas.
- Listen to intentions.
5.Don’t reschedule or be late without good reason.
When a leader does this, it can make employees feel undervalued. If a leader consistently reschedules or is late, employees may perceive their time management skills to be poor and even consider leaving the team.
I have encountered good leaders who schedule one-on-one meetings with employees twice a week, during the hours of 8:30-9:30am, lunchtime, and 6:30-7:30pm. Employees can choose the time that suits them best. Generally, mornings are when energy and clarity are highest, free from any disruptions. Lunchtime is a more relaxed, informal setting where it is easier to have honest conversations. Evenings can be more delicate, usually with no set end time, both parties assuming it will be the last meeting of the day, which is more advantageous for in-depth discussions.
6.Establish an action plan and agreements.
It is essential to document the action plan for both parties, such as:
- I will improve my skills in XX by doing XX.
- I will solve the difficulties and obstacles in XX by doing XX.
- The leader will do XX to support the employee’s improvement in XX skills or problem-solving.
Avoid turning one-to-one meetings into experience sharing and chicken soup. Let the conversation build momentum. Write down verbal agreements to help each other remind each other in the future.
Author: Fiona Berton
Founder of Huddles, Meeting Effectiveness Expert
Deeply accompanying the organizational evolution of agile transformation in enterprises.