Employee one-on-one meetings for increased engagement

One-on-one meetings help managers to understand what drives their direct reports and how they want to grow professionally.

When held consistently, such meetings help build trust and allow teams to benefit from shared context. This boosts employee engagement as well as productivity.

Experts recommend that managers hold these meetings every week or at least every two weeks depending on the size of teams, their schedules and so on.Every quarter, however, it is a good idea to hold a longer, more in-depth meeting with your direct reports that focuses on supporting their personal and professional development. This playbook is intended to be a guide for that meeting.

MuchSkills- employee one-on-one meetings for increased engagement

1. Use this playbook to...

Prepare for quarterly one-on-one meetings that are engaging, valuable, and help you get a deeper understanding of each team member’s unique strengths and skill sets, what motivates them and what demotivates them.

The playbook is designed to:

  1. Help managers increase employee engagement and productivity by encouraging their direct reports to self-reflect in order to achieve personal and professional growth.
  2. Help managers establish an open and inclusive work environment.

2. The science of employee engagement

MuchSkills’ perspective on employee engagement is guided by the findings of global analytics company Gallup that has 80+ years of data collection experience as well as 35 million global respondents in its employee engagement database, making it a global leader in the employee engagement movement.

Gallup’s research has consistently found that organizations that enable employees to do what they do best, will increase employee engagement, productivity, and profitability. On the other hand, when employees find their skills or interests do not match their roles, they struggle to succeed and stay motivated.

60% of employees say the ability to do what they do best in a role is ‘very important’ to them. This was ranked higher than ‘significant increase in income’ and stability and job security. 

Source: Gallup's State of the American Workplace report 2017

70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units can be attributed to managers.

Source: Gallup State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders

3. Regular one-on-ones improve employee engagement, says research

Prepare for quarterly one-on-one meetings that are engaging, valuable, and help you get a deeper understanding of each team member’s unique strengths, what motivates them and what demotivates them.

  1. Employees who got little to no one-on-one time with their manager are more likely to be disengaged. Employees who get twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager relative to their peers are 67% less likely to be disengaged.
    (Source: Harvard Business Review.)
  1. When a manager doesn’t meet with employees one-on-one at all or neglects to provide on-the-job training employees are four times as likely to be disengaged as individual contributors as a whole, and are two times as likely to view leadership more unfavourably compared to those who meet with their managers regularly.(Source: Harvard Business Review.)
  1. On average, only 15% of employees who work for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged; managers who regularly meet with their employees almost tripled that level of engagement.
    (Source:  Gallup.)
  1. Millennials became the largest generation in the US workforce in 2016. They are also the least engaged generation with only 29% of millennials engaged at the workplace as compared to baby boomers (33%) and Gen X (32%). But their engagement levels rise if their manager holds regular meetings with them.
    (Source:  Gallup.)

Food for thought

Employees who got little to no one-on-one time with their manager are more likely to be disengaged.

4. Definition of a one-on-one

Fellow.app has a pretty good definition of a one-on-one meeting:

“A one-on-one (a.k.a. 1-on-1) is a dedicated space in your calendar for you to connect with each person reporting to you and stay in the loop about priorities, team issues, and potential roadblocks. Most importantly, it’s an anticipated moment where employees can ask in-depth questions, receive coaching on their strengths and weaknesses, and provide feedback – three things they wouldn’t be able to do in a public space or at a team meeting.”

To this, we’d like to add that it is recommended that one-on-one meetings are held every week or every two weeks for efficient performance management. But every quarter, one of these meetings should be more in-depth and focus on supporting an employee’s personal and professional growth. This will go a long way to increase employee engagement and productivity.

5. How are one-on-one meetings different from check-ins?

This is a common question. Let’s talk about the similarities first. Both one-on-one meetings and check-ins are forms of continuous performance management, which several global companies are adopting while phasing out annual performance appraisals that have been accused of focusing on the past rather than the future.One-on-one meetings can be confused with check-ins because they seem similar. After all, both are scheduled meetings between manager and direct report for the purpose of feedback. There is, however, a crucial difference.

One-on-one meetings are focused on the direct report

It gives them the opportunity to talk to their managers about their ideas, problems and their career trajectory. It is aimed at helping build trust between the manager and the direct report in order to improve employee engagement and productivity.

A check-in, however, is more business-like.

It’s a quick weekly meeting where the manager or team leader checks in with team members about progress made on a given task or project – a kind of a status report on how things are going. It’s less about the worker and more about the work.

6. One week before the quarterly one-on-one

To ensure that the quarterly one-on-one meeting is valuable for both manager and employee, at least a week before the meeting is scheduled, managers must:

  • Send the employee a questionnaire that encourages them to self-reflect on their personal and professional growth.
  • Ask the employee to update their MuchSkills profile - which works as a skills matrix software that gives you a complete overview of their skill sets.

We have created a questionnaire that managers can send team members to help them with the self-reflection exercise. Make sure you review it and adjust it to your specific situation.

Do remember that:

  • The main purpose of this questionnaire is to encourage self-reflection. It is therefore not necessary for the employee to send the answers back to you.
  • The template should not be in the form of a web document either because the employee is meant to work on it privately.
  • Employees should be given at least a week to reflect on the questionnaire because it is important that they have the time to work on it when they feel up to it.

Here is a suggestion about what you can say in your email to the employee before the one-one-one session with them: 

Dear _____ 

I look forward to our quarterly one-on-one meeting about you and your professional development. Before we meet, I’d like to ask you to reflect on your journey and growth so far. Here are some suggestions about the steps you can take to prepare for the meeting so that you can gain the maximum benefit from this interaction. 

Step 1 - Ensure your skills profile is updated 
Log in to www.muchskills.com and create or update your personal profile. Make sure that your Job Focus shows what you feel you are good at, what gives you energy, and that you have adjusted the size of the circles by tapping on them to indicate what is higher in priority. Once you are done, change the date to six months forward and outline how you want your future to look like. What skills do you want to develop and grow, how do you want your job focus to look? We will review these goals in the second quarterly meeting. 

Step 2 - Self reflect on your personal and professional growth so far
I have attached a document with questions that will help you to self-reflect. Only answer questions you feel are relevant to you and your situation. 

You can share this reflection with me if you want to, but it is not necessary. The main purpose of the questionnaire is to help you reflect on your personal and professional growth with us. You can use notes from this exercise to guide you during our one-on-one. 

Step 3 - Send me your MuchSkills profile (and reflections if you want to). 
When you update your MuchSkills profile, please let me know so that I can have a look. If you plan on sharing your reflections with me, please send it across at least five days before we are scheduled to meet so that I have enough time to read it. Thank you. I look forward to meeting you for this one-on-one session.

Questionnaire Template

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7. During the employee one-on-one

Remember, this meeting is all about the employee and how that person can develop professionally. Avoid doing most of the talking and ensure that you direct any digressions back to the main subject: the employee. Your aim is to understand the employee’s strengths and the direction they hope to grow in so that you can enable them to experience personal and professional growth in the coming period. 

As Ben Horowitz, former CEO of Opsware and co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, argues:

“The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting. This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.”

To be able to understand and identify the growth opportunities, you need to be an active listener where the employee does most of the talking and where you ask open questions. The meeting is about the employee to self-discover and self-reflect as well as a way for you to get to know your direct report better.

8. Agenda suggestion

Ask your direct report:

  1. If there are points in the self-reflection they would like to discuss with you.
  2. To reflect on their journey or growth within the organization so far.
  3. About their current job focus and interests. 
  4. About challenges they have faced so far or any concerns they may have.
  5. About team dynamics.
  6. How they would like to grow.
  7. To set a personal growth plan after discussing it with you.

Tip:

Open and close the meeting with positive remarks. Perhaps when you start, you can acknowledge the employee for something they have done well. Before wrapping up the meeting, don't forget to reaffirm the value they bring to the organisation. Of course, don’t say anything you don’t mean. Your interactions must be honest and respectful.

9. After the quarterly one-on-one

During your one-to-ones, you will learn valuable information about your team members that will help you to build a stronger and better team. Make sure you create a plan for each employee and that you follow up by activating the plan, enabling the employee to grow. 

Once you have met all your team members this way, you can send them a follow-up email. Here is a suggestion about what it could say: 

Dear ______

 Thank you for your time on our one-on-one. I really appreciate getting to know you more. If you have any feedback on how I can improve these interactions further, I would appreciate it if you would let me know by sending me an email or booking a meeting with me. 

During our meeting, we discussed your professional growth. Below is a summary of the key points we agreed upon:

  • You will sign up for the Zendesk advanced course. 
  • You will increase your knowledge of design and Figma by moving from beginner to intermediate levels as indicated on MuchSkills. 
  • I will ensure that I give you more feedback on how you can improve your client deliverables. 
  • You will coach at least two colleagues and help them grow. 

 If I have forgotten anything do let me know. I look forward to helping you work on your strengths and what energizes you at work.

10. What managers should not do

Here are things you should not do before, after and during the quarterly one-on-one meeting:

  1. Have more than two people present: The entire idea of one-on-one is that it’s a private discussion. There should not be more people present at the meeting. 
  2. Be in a location where you can be disturbed: This is an important meeting for the employee and it should be done in a safe, respectful, relaxing environment where you will not be disturbed. 
  3. Cancel a one-on-one: Cancelling this interaction – be it a weekly or quarterly one –sends a wrong message that you do not take employee engagement and growth seriously. You must rebook the meeting if you find that you cannot attend the one scheduled earlier.
  4. Talk a lot: This interaction is being held for the employee’s benefit. For that, they need to talk to you about work, the challenges they face and any other professional issues. Make sure you are actively listening and ask questions to better understand what they are trying to say. 
  5. Make employee defensive or feel cornered: Always make sure that the one-on-one is a positive experience where the employee feels comfortable.

11. A quick primer on employee engagement for managers

To get a deeper understanding of what employee engagement is really about, managers may also find it worthwhile to reflect on Gallup’s Q12. These are the 12 core questions Gallup developed to measure the most important elements of employee engagement in organizations. Gallup picked these specific questions after decades of writing, testing and refining hundreds of questions because they helped measure employee engagement most effectively.

One way managers can use these questions is to ask themselves: ‘If members of my team took this survey today how would they fare?’

  • Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  • At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  • Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

The questions have been divided into four types — or levels — of employees’ performance development needs:

  • Basic needs
  • Individual needs
  • Teamwork needs
  • Personal growth needs


When managers hold regular weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings along with in-depth quarterly meetings, they will gain insights about the whole gamut of needs in the engagement hierarchy illustrated above – from individual needs to teamwork needs – which will help them build stronger and more engaged teams.

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