As the COVID-19 pandemic continues
to affect every aspect of life, its impact on work is no less cataclysmic. No
wonder, then, that one of our COVID-19 weekly pulse surveys in May revealed 13%
of employees have, week over week, an increased fearfulness about their job.
It’s now vital for leaders to connect with their team members with more
frequent one-to-one discussions. Unfortunately, for many employees, the fear of
one-to-ones may get in the way of this needed communication and interaction.
O.C. Tanner’s 2020 Global Culture
Report, which is based
on data gathered from more than 20,000 employees and leaders in 15 countries,
found that 1 in 3 employees dread meeting with their leader. That’s concerning,
considering that communication is especially important during a crisis, and
one-to-one meetings can be a powerful tool if conducted correctly.
Knowing the power of great
one-to-ones makes me especially passionate about maximizing their impact. Here
are my tips for making sure your one-to-ones are productive tools that build
relationships, strengthen cultures and deliver business results:
Increase the frequency
conducted last year for our 2020 Global Culture Report indicated that an annual
review isn’t nearly as effective as micro-touchpoints throughout the year.
Further, we discovered that employees should, at the bare minimum, have a
one-to-one meeting with their leader at least every month.
However, new research
conducted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic shows that a single one-to-one each
month is not enough to yield any positive measurement and that weekly
conversations should be the new goal. When compared to monthly one-to-ones,
we’ve found that weekly conversations over the last couple of months during the
pandemic resulted in the following:
●79% increase in engagement
●67% increase in perceived
●22% increase in feelings of purpose
●31% increase in feelings of appreciation
●33% decrease in burnout
●53% decrease in fearfulness
●21% decrease in depression
Keep it informal
Just as attending a
black-tie event garners much more anxiety than a casual get-together, so too do
informal one-to-ones lessen anxiety. Consider meeting over coffee or somewhere
less formal than a meeting room. And if in-person options aren’t possible as
the pandemic continues, keep it casual virtually.
Honor your employee
distressing to me that 1 in every 5 one-to-ones are canceled. That tells me
that leaders see them as negotiable entries in their calendar. Canceling a
one-to-one signals to your employee that you simply don’t value hearing from
them. If a valid need to reschedule does arise, be sure to reach out to your
employee directly and apologize. Communicate how seriously you take the meeting
and get another time on the calendar right away.
Kill the awkward silence
one-to-one meeting that’s full of awkward silences or rambling off-topic
conversations isn’t productive for either party. Employees and leaders should both prepare
ahead of time by co-creating the agenda. This is a vital step that shouldn’t be
overlooked: there’s a 127% increase in an employee’s perception of their leader
when the employee is encouraged to prepare. And, when leaders prepare, there is
a 219% increased probability of favorable leadership perception by employees.
When you don’t allow your employee space and time to talk
about issues, you’re not gathering vital information. And you can’t assume to
know what your employee’s needs are; hence the reason for the one-to-one
meetings in the first place.
Agendas are valuable tools; they
ensure each topic receives its due time, and they also act as a roadmap for
guiding the conversation. Make sure your agenda consists of four parts:
constructive feedback, recognition, time to brainstorm new ideas and approaches
and opportunities for development.
Following this outline, one-to-ones
can transform from dreaded perfunctory meetings to structured, collaborative
relationship builders. Currently, just less than one-half of employees and
leaders prepare for one-to-ones with each other, and one in three employees
have no say in their agenda. There’s some
significant room for improvement here.
Ditch the cell phone
tempting to stay connected during a one-to-one, but even just a quick glance at
your cell phone communicates to your employee that you’re not present, in a
hurry and don’t place a premium on the importance of the meeting. Leave the
cell phone in another room, and don’t bring a laptop into the meeting if the
meeting is in person, either. Instead, take notes using old fashioned pen and
paper, but spend the majority of the time actively listening and engaging in
Be a mentor
I believe the
majority of the reason one-to-one meetings have been so dreaded in the past is
that they have traditionally leaned on an evaluative/directive relationship. In
other words, every time an employee has a scheduled one-to-one, they believe
they’re going to end up with a laundry list of things they need to improve. No
wonder so many dread one-to-ones. Upend this approach by shifting to a
coaching/mentoring relationship. A one-to-one meeting is a chance to build a
meaningful, collaborative connection. It’s your chance to show your employee
how much you appreciate them while providing opportunities for growth and
Employ these techniques to perform
weekly, more collaborative one-on-ones to increase employee engagement, reduce
burnout and boost productivity.
Gary Beckstrand is vice president at employee recognition company O.C.