One-on-One Meetings Are a Manager’s Most Powerful Engagement Tool

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One-on-One Meetings Are a Manager’s Most Powerful Engagement Tool

By CEDR HR Solutions

This article is one of a series in which we make the argument that small-to-medium-sized employers need to adapt and adopt some of the HR habits of their larger competitors.

When we say “larger competitors,” we don’t necessarily mean big companies that are vying for the same customers as your business. Instead, we’re using the term to point out that all employers, big and small, are competing for the best minds and most skilled employees in the applicant pool.

One tool that is becoming increasingly common at larger companies as both a time-saving and retention-increasing mechanism that you can use effectively for your business is the “one-on-one meeting.” Now, let’s talk about one-on-ones, why they work, and how to make them your own!

According to a recent CEDR survey of nearly 600 managers and business owners, 4 in 10 people managers (221 of 587) said they currently hold regular one-on-ones with their direct reports.


The Data Supports One-on-Ones

We get it. There’s a lot on your plate when you are responsible for managing a team and/or running a business. Some of you reading this are the owner/manager of your own practice and that means you are also a clinical provider. Any time you dedicate to managing your team outside of treatment is precious. And the never-ending list of tasks that require your attention at any given time can mean that providing your employees with feedback about their performance or giving them one-on-one facetime with you can easily find its way to the back burner.

But data shows that time invested in interfacing with your employees is time well spent. Here are a few facts:

  • Employees who get twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager are 67 percent less likely to be disengaged compared to peers who get less facetime with managers.
  • Employees who don’t get one-on-one time with managers are twice as likely to view leadership unfavorably compared to those who meet with their managers regularly.
  • Employees who have regular one-on-ones with managers are 3 times more likely to be engaged than those that don’t have regular one-on-ones.
  • By switching from annual performance reviews to regular one-on-ones, Adobe was able to reduce voluntary turnover by 30 percent and GE saw a fivefold productivity increase in 12 months.

These figures demonstrate a direct connection between holding one-on-one meetings and higher employee engagement and performance. And, since employee engagement is directly linked to employee performance and retention, it holds that establishing a program of regular one-on-one meetings with your team can help you keep great people and keep them on task.

Free Form: Download a Free One-on-One Form from CEDR’s HR Experts

What Are One-on-One Meetings?

One-on-ones, also referred to as 1:1s or 1-2-1s, are regular, brief meetings held between a manager and each of their employees.

Where informal “check ins” are a chance for employers to discuss the specific progress and roadblocks related to a certain project or task, one-on-ones are intentional, they build on each other, and they give managers a chance to discuss actionable goals, revisit challenges that were discussed in previous meetings, and provide opportunities to celebrate successes. Think of it as a natural ongoing progression of discussions.

One-on-ones are a great time for employers to see if they can find ways to remove obstacles to an employee’s success in a given area. If kept up regularly, they also give managers a glimpse into the motivations and challenges specific to each employee and create space for relationship building between managers and employees, which can allow the manager-employee dynamic to develop into one that is more collaborative and goal-driven over time.

Where a one-size-fits-all “managing style” often breaks down, one-on-ones offer employers a regular time and place to both check in with their employees as individuals and to deliver positive or redirective feedback on an employee’s job performance, as appropriate.

Why One-on-One Meetings Work

All of your employees are individuals. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and preferences for how they best receive feedback and coaching.

Where some members of your team will be perfectly happy accepting direct feedback about their performance on the fly, others will need time to open up or will feel more comfortable in a private setting when sharing the challenges they are facing, hearing what they need to improve, or even when celebrating their individual successes.

Not only can one-on-ones provide a convenient, comfortable way for managers and their employees to both give and receive important redirective feedback that can help your business run better, but they can also be a great place to balance positive feedback into the conversation to keep meetings constructive and to avoid employees getting defensive in the face of corrective coaching.

With that in mind, if your goal is to get the same high level of performance from everyone on your team, and it should be, the best managers are learning that it takes a bit of finesse to be able to talk to different employees in a manner that helps both them and you create a work environment where feedback is welcomed and progress is made. That’s why scheduling and holding regular one-on-one meetings with your team members could be your most effective method yet when it comes to keeping your employees engaged and checked-in at work.

What if your employees could be celebrating successes and openly accepting feedback that requires them to think critically and improve, while at the same time feeling challenged in a good way to meet the needs of your practice and patients? With a little bit of practice and consistency, one-on-ones can help make this possibility a reality.

When an employee is given feedback in a way that they are not comfortable with, they can be triggered. And, when an employee is triggered, they spend their time upset and often fail to engage in a meaningful way. Disengaged or checked-out behavior, as every manager knows, is one of the most frustrating things that you can face. And one-on-ones help in that area too.

At least when someone is late you can point to the clock and quantifiably say, “You are late.” With disengaged behavior, however, it can be much more difficult for a manager to detect and pinpoint a problem, and to figure out how to direct an employee or team back on track. One-on-ones provide a space to identify the issues inside or outside of work that might have an employee feeling disengaged or distracted and make it possible for you to address the issue directly without the employee feeling “called out” in the process.

5 Ways That Regular One-on-One Meetings Support Managers

Putting regular one-on-ones on your calendar isn’t just good for employee engagement – it can also help you reduce turnover and make running your business easier. Here are five ways that regular one-on-ones help support managers:

1. They support relationship building, which supports engagement.

Employees crave facetime with their managers, though many don’t feel comfortable asking for it directly. Scheduling regular one-on-one meetings with your employees and sticking to them sends the signal that your team members are worth your time, and that message can be more valuable to an employee than a 20 percent increase in pay.

Plus, people are motivated by different things. Holding a one-on-one meeting with an employee is a great way to learn what motivates them, as well as how they prefer to receive kudos or coaching for their performance.

2. They offer a structured way to give (and get) employee feedback.

How many times have you intended to give an employee what felt like an important piece of feedback only to be pulled away by something else? If you’re like most employers, this probably happens to you on a near-daily basis.

One great thing about one-on-ones is that they provide a regular opportunity to provide the positive and redirective feedback to employees that they need to feel fulfilled in their work and that can help them improve their performance.

Regularly scheduled one-on-ones are also a great opportunity for you to ask an employee to provide you with potentially valuable information about how your systems and management structure are working, as well as where there might be room for improvement.

3. They are a chance to reinforce your company culture and check in on progress.

A one-on-one meeting is a great time to check in on an employee’s level of engagement, gauge their connection to and understanding of your company’s core values, and discuss their progress on specific goals.

If an employee is struggling for any reason, this is your chance to identify the challenges they might be facing inside or outside of the workplace, which could give you an opportunity to provide needed support that you otherwise might have missed.

4. They help you stay consistent.

From an HR and compliance perspective, consistency in management is key.

This means treating all employees equally and fairly, implementing your policies the same way for your entire team, and documenting all conversations you have with employees. Not only will being consistent help keep your team engaged and productive, but it will also help you build protections for your business should you ever need to let an employee go for performance reasons.

Document your one-on-ones and take notes about what was discussed, including – perhaps especially – conversations related to a need to improve performance or behavior.

5. They free up your time and increase team productivity.

Calendaring regular meetings with each of your employees is going to require a time commitment.

But, by using this time constructively to address employee challenges and empowering your team members to find solutions to those challenges, you’ll be saving time that would otherwise be lost addressing issues or answering employee questions one at a time.

Plus, the increased engagement you will get by dedicating facetime to your employees will result in a more productive team that requires less oversight to get things done. And that means more time for you and more money for your business!

Tips for Holding Highly Effective One-on-Ones
Make them regular and consistent.

Block off a time on your calendar during which employees can expect their one-on-one to occur at a regular interval. How often you have them will depend on the size of your business, whether weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, but be consistent for maximum impact. Even if you don’t have anything specific to go over, try to keep the meeting on the calendar for the sake of engagement and relationship building. If you mutually decide it’s okay to end the meeting early, great! But the more opportunities you take to get to know your team members, the easier it will be to have tough conversations when the time comes.

Focus on the employee.

Try to let your employee do most of the talking during this meeting – think 60/40 here. Start by asking how they are doing and take the opportunity to ask about how things are going in their personal lives to set a positive tone from the start. Practice active listening to ensure your employee feels heard and to let them know that their input is valued.

Prepare in advance.

You don’t need to have a detailed agenda drawn up before you go into a one-on-one meeting with an employee, but you will want to have an idea of the general talking points you want to cover, especially as it relates to any specific feedback or coaching you want to make sure and deliver or revisit from your last one-on-one.

Take notes.

As mentioned before, it’s important that you document all of the conversations you have with your employees in order to protect your practice. These notes can also be helpful to review when your next one-on-one meeting with a particular employee rolls around so you can address challenges or issues the employee brought to your attention, check on the progress of coaching you provided previously, or just to refresh your memory of what was going on in their personal lives the last time you spoke to each other.

Click here to download a One-on-One Form template you can use with your team.


Holding regular one-on-one meetings with your employees is a great way to establish a baseline for consistency as a business owner or manager. Keeping those meetings on the books also makes it easier for you to get a pulse on how your team is feeling at any given time, to identify problems that you might be able to help solve, and to provide individual employees with the feedback and facetime that they crave from you.

Plus, your employees are all individuals with unique wants, needs, and challenges. Getting the best possible engagement and performance out of each of them requires approaching them in a way that takes those personal qualities into account.

Regular one-on-one meetings help business owners and managers understand who their employees are as people, and developing genuine human relationships with your team members is crucial to keeping employees engaged and maximizing retention.

Have questions about how to approach one-on-ones with your team? Reach out to CEDR for assistance or get your questions answered in our private Facebook Group, HR Base Camp.


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