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One-on-Ones – Purpose, frequency, length, agenda & template

excerpt from Bee Squared’s Operational Leadership Handbook

Recurring catch ups with staff members; prepared with performance feedback & other key topics.

Purpose:  Meet with individual staff members regularly to:

  • Build the foundation of a strong working relationship. A fostering of trust, openness and communication enables many of the outcomes below.  Your staff see you more as their leader than their ‘boss’. It means you “see them” and have an interest in them as a person, not just as a worker
  • Provide guidance on topics the staff member raises or that you draw out
  • Provide the foundation to provide performance feedback, coaching and more formal performance management
  • Draw out issues. There are many staff members who won’t call out issues, especially when others are around
  • Continue with staff member development including cross skilling
  • Continue to draw out continuous improvement ideas and empower staff to make changes (within defined limits and with your approval)
  • Reduce negative attrition.  Numerous studies indicate the direct relationship with the manager is a major driver of staff engagement and many staff members will leave an organisation when that relationship is poor (or perform at lower levels).

All of the above will contribute significantly to your individual staff members and team producing higher quality work in a more efficient way.

Frequency:  The frequency of the meetings is your decision as leader.  Monthly seems to be the minimum we need to provide meaningful performance information and build the relationship.  Fortnightly is typically optimal, but with a high performing staff member it might be too much.  Weekly is generally too much, unless it is the start of your relationship with them, or there are specific issues to address requiring a faster feedback loop.  At times you might consider daily or twice weekly catch ups in cases of remedial training or coaching.  Remember, this is the recurring meeting and doesn’t mean this is your only contact with the staff member.  It is advisable to do brief check ins daily, or at least three times a week if they are working remotely.

Don’t wait until you have perfect and complete information.  Meeting with your team member with imperfect information is better than not meeting with them at all.  These meetings are too important to miss or delay. 

Length:  30 mins is a reasonable investment of time each month or fortnight, but it is dependent on the context and the amount of information you need to work through.  It is often better to finish the meeting slightly early to give the staff member and yourself time to reflect afterwards.  For example, book 30 mins and take 25 mins in the meeting and allow 5 mins for finishing off notes or a task you’ve agreed to before the next meeting.

Frequency of catch up is generally more important than length.  A fortnightly 30 mins is better than 1 hour once per month.

Agenda / common topics:  An effective one-on-one will have a set of recurring items.  This will create consistency and fairness.  An effective one-on-one will also be flexible and allow time for additional topics for discussion that arrive within the period or during the catch up.

But most of all, an effective one-on-one will be balanced across performance goals of Effectiveness, Experience, Efficiency.  Whilst output data is generally more easily and readily available, it needs to be presented along with feedback on performance quality, and the customer experience created, along with other important aspects, discussed below.  If not, your staff member is likely to think that you don’t care about their performance, and are only worried about output, not quality and experience.

Prior to diving into the agenda items, take a minute or two check in.  Lighter topics such as how they are going, or an item of interest to discuss.  Also, provide the opportunity prior to the meeting or at the start of the meeting for them to add agenda items, so you can make enough time for the item.  This creates the tone from the outset that you are willing to listen, and their topics are important too.

When you are ready to move to the agenda, here are the common topics:

Performance agenda items

  • Effectiveness.  The quality of the work produced and its suitability for the customer’s needs.  Examples include:  Error rate, complaints or feedback from customers or other staff, individual errors identified by customer or staff, audit or sampling of processing work, audit or sampling of calls.
  • Experience.  The experience of customers or fellow team members – Examples include: timeliness of the experience, excellent communication (method, frequency, tone and content), and the ability to understand or pre-empt the customers needs.  This feedback can be gathered through methods such as:
    • Sampling of calls – call assessments with templated approach
    • Sampling of correspondence
    • Customer satisfaction surveys
    • Complaints or negative feedback raised
    • Feedback from any project managers if they have been contributing to projects
  • Efficiency.  The amount of work a staff member completes in a given period compared to peers and/or target and/or the previous period.  This can be described as the output per week or similar phrases depending on your work type.  Ideally there is reporting that provides performance data individually and that can compare with peers doing similar work.

Other recurring agenda items

  • Development – demonstrate care for their continued learning & growth.  This occurs across several aspects:
    • Cross skilling within the team and across teams gives greater job variety and knowledge of the organisation.  Also improves team and service resilience too.
    • Career pathway. Specialisation into other roles within the organisation or towards leadership
    • External.  A leader creates space or assists staff grow in the direction they desire.  If they have external career goals, they may not share it in fear of less opportunity or support. If you build enough trust, and they do share, show your support (within commercial limits) to assist them.  For example, if they are studying, ask them about it and show enthusiasm for their progress.  Provide flexibility in work hours if possible.  Be creative in how you can support them, and it will pay off in engagement and performance.
    • Minimal development. Staff members are at different stages in their life and career and an ambitious development plan might not be appropriate for everyone in your team.  If they aren’t currently interested in further development, do not labour the point.  If you over focus on this aspect it will likely have a negative effect – they’ll feel like they are letting you down or themselves.  Circumstances may change over time, so continue to invite them to discuss development and be open to them changing their mind.
  • Actions from last meeting – discuss the actions either of you took away from last meeting. 
  • Reward and recognition
    • Recognition:  share positive feedback for the staff member.  Something specific and individual to them that you’ve noticed in the period.  It could be anything that adds value to you, the team, the customer or the organisation.  It is likely you will need to observe and note these during the period or spend some of your preparation time finding them.  Genuine appreciation and recognition is one of the most underutilised tools a leader has.
    • Reward. Within the organisational boundaries, have a selection of rewards you can provide to staff members doing excellent work.  Examples can be a simple as giving some extra time off work such as finishing early one day, or movie tickets, or could be as large as a holiday voucher for target related rewards.  For one-on-one rewards, they should be towards the simpler low-cost end, and should be tailored to the individual. 
  • Focus areas for the next period / Actions from this meeting.  Document actions either of you are going to complete.  Take care not to over promise and not to take on work that is not yours to complete.  Remember, you have multiple one-on-ones and if you get in the habit of taking on multiple actions from each meeting you won’t have time to complete them all.  A manager who doesn’t stick to their promises can’t expect their staff to do the same. 

    Similarly, it’s important the staff member is held to account.  If you don’t follow up on actions the staff member agrees too, they will establish the habit that the actions from these meetings aren’t important. 

Other common agenda item topics

  • Team related items. There might be items that arise where it is best to handle them for each team member in their one-on-ones.  For example, scheduling annual leave for the coming 3 months if has fallen below target
  • Key messages from the organisation.  You might choose to reinforce key messages from an email, your manager, leadership forum or a meeting with Executive leadership
  • Engagement activities. You might choose to remind them of a staff social activity that is coming up to encourage them to attendWell-being check in.  If the staff member has recently returned to work from extended personal leave, or there are known health issues, check in.
  • Create your own list. Many of the topics for discussion will be relevant again in the future, so create a list and refer to it when your low on topics for discussion.

One-on-one Template:   

Some organisations provide templates to help their leaders and should be a starting point if provided.  The template provides a format and a process / checklist to cover.  It also can help with consistency across the organisation across different leaders and may create a sense of fairness for staff members that there is a similar experience for everyone. 

Sometimes organisations mandate aspects of the one-on-one meeting.  Mandated templates are often implemented to be a control mechanism to ensure that the activity is occurring and that it meets a minimum standard.  Ideally, an experienced leader is given the authority to tailor the template and other aspects of the one-on-one process to suit the individual team’s needs.  The new leader should follow templates provided and compare against the topics listed above until they build the experience to tailor the agenda. 

It is advised you maintain well-kept notes during your one-on-one meetings, as they are a good reflection point and items missed or forgotten will create distrust.  Also, these notes may be very helpful in the rare cases where you need to dismiss a staff member for long term unsatisfactory performance.

Click below for further tips for better one-on-one outcomes.