Swamped with day-to-day problems, many managers neglect an important people management tool: 1:1 meetings, the periodic meeting between manager and his subordinate. Here we will use the term 1:1. However, you can also talk about one-on-one, one-to-one, 1-on-1, among others.

In this content, you will understand in more detail why they are important, how often to perform them, and how to make the most of them. Enjoy your reading!

Why are 1:1s important?

In his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things the founder of Netscape, Opsware and A16Z Ben Horowitz cites an episode where, as CEO of Opsware, he almost fired a VP for lack of 1:1s with the team, because he believes that meetings are a crucial factor in building solid organizational cultures.

"In the absence of a well-designed communication architecture, information and ideas will stagnate and your company will degenerate into a bad place to work [if there are no 1:1s]," Horowitz says in the book.

Horowitz believes that one of the great advantages of a solid 1:1s habit in a company is a more vigorous flow of information from the bottom up in the organization. He believes that certain information ends up that is only transmitted in a safe and private environment between manager and his subordinate. And when information, especially problems and risks, goes up freely, the company has a chance to be proactive in responding to these problems.

The impact of 1:1s for the employee

But 1:1s don't only bring benefits to companies. 1:1s have a huge impact on an employee's life. First of all, the vast majority of employees feel they are not being listened to enough. They also feel that they receive little direction and little feedback.

In the book First, Break All The Rules by Gallup, a global authority on engagement, the authors cite some themes that are key to an engaged workforce. Among them are:

  • the employee's feeling that someone cares about him/her on a personal level;
  • that someone cares about him in terms of development and career;
  •   that he is heard in the professional environment

All these factors are solved with frequent 1:1s. So, to sum up, the advantages of 1:1s are:

  • better flow of information in the company from bottom to top (bubbling), which enables faster and more preventive reactions and decisions;
  • better employee engagement through feedback, direction, and career development;
  • more trust in the relationship between manager and subordinate.

How often to perform 1:1s

1:1s should be frequent: some kind of 1:1 conversation has to take place at least every two weeks between a manager and each of his or her subordinates. Of course, the same topics won't be treated in every meeting: management and prioritization are much more frequent topics than career prospects and coaching. Manager and subordinate must have the good sense to define this cadence of subjects.

"By conducting frequent meetings with his led, the manager is still able to understand what difficulties he may be facing, define an action plan to help him, and enhance his results with the transfer of experience."

An excellent practice is to avoid as much as possible cancelling the 1:! Manager and subordinate should have this moment in the agenda as "sacred", only cancelled if something very important happens. Even so, if it is necessary to cancel a 1:1, it is important that the new date/time be scheduled immediately upon cancellation.

In addition, Andy Grove recommends that manager and protégé only terminate their 1:! if they have already agreed on a date for the next one (if the date is not fixed in both their schedules).

How to make the most of the 1:1 meeting

How then to make the 1:1 worthwhile and beneficial for employees, managers and companies? This meeting is a flexible tool and can be used to solve different problems. It is necessary, therefore, to understand how to adapt it to the profile of each professional and what issues should be addressed in that meeting.

According to Grove, one of the keys to the process is that the meeting be seen - and practiced - as a meeting of the leader. It is the leader's responsibility to prepare for the moment. If a leader spends an hour to prepare for his 1:1, the manager would spend the same amount for each of his followers if he had to prepare for his 1:1s with each one. This practice can be reinforced, as we will see later, by asking the leader to circulate a suggested meeting agenda beforehand.

For less experienced employees

For employees with less maturity for self-management, the meeting will serve as a way for the manager to follow up more closely, to know in more detail what has been done and to plan the next tasks. Therefore, more time is spent on day-to-day tasks and effort planning. However, it is no less important that the other topics we talked about above are addressed.

For more experienced employees

For those with a senior profile and greater organizational power, the manager should spend much less time planning and following up on deliveries. In these cases, 1-on-1s can be even less frequent and deal more with deeper issues and more structured conversations, such as aspects of personal life, professional ambitions, and career.

In any case, the 1:1 meeting should be understood as a moment for the employee. Therefore, managers should listen much more than they talk. It is advisable that the subordinate speaks at least three times more than his supervisor.

How to help your leader to open up

In order for the employee to feel free to express opinions without the fear of being misinterpreted, the manager can adopt two strategies. The cycle of trust with the employee must never be broken. If he feels sabotaged by opening up, the exchange of information will be compromised and will jeopardize the progress of any future meetings. Therefore, a non-judgmental attitude should be adopted.

Another alternative to put the employee at ease is linked to the leadership using itself as an example with a demonstration of vulnerability. By exposing what their professional pretensions are or talking about their own shortcomings, the manager creates a sense of trust and opens a comfortable space for the exposure of concerns, anxieties, and criticisms.

Understand how Wavy excelled with the practice of 1:1s:

How to structure your 1:1s?

Leader needs to listen to the led

Although the 1:1 meeting presents a wide range of subjects to be discussed, the manager must not lose focus on listening to the employee. If the meeting is dedicated only to address issues that are of interest to the supervisor, an important aspect of these meetings will be neglected: the opportunity for the employee to talk about himself and expose his opinion about work and the company.

Letting the employee take the reins of the 1:1 is an important step in making it even more fruitful.

Prior agenda of the meeting

The manager can request that an agenda be prepared in advance of the meeting. This can make them cancel the meeting if they feel that there is not something useful to be discussed, and thus feel in charge of the process.

However, if this cancellation becomes frequent, it is a sign that the 1:1 is not working. This can happen when the employee feels that his supervisor does not add useful knowledge or information in the meetings.

The suggestion of a previous agenda can also come from the human resources department. This is an alternative for companies with very young leaders, without the necessary tools and experience to successfully conduct a 1:1 meeting. However, it is important to maintain the flexibility for both leaders and managers to suggest topics to be addressed.

Notation of the main points

During the meeting, manager and subordinate should write down the main points of the conversation, produce a follow-up, and set goals to be met for the next 1:1. These tasks should be set for both the manager and the employee. If the supervisor has committed to assist in the career plan, for example, it is necessary that he establishes how he will effectively collaborate with his subordinate. The date of the next meeting must also be established, to avoid misunderstandings.

Frequency of meetings

The frequency of meetings should follow common sense. Some companies adopt weekly group meetings, which lessens the need to have 1:1 meetings with each professional on the team every week. However, these personal meetings between supervisor and employee should take place at least once a month.

How 1:1s form the backbone of management at companies like GE and Suzano

By realizing how periodic meetings between supervisors and subordinates have benefits for the work, large companies have transformed their performance management tools. The 1:1 meetings have influenced the way giants such as GE and Suzano Papel e Celulose have turned their traditional performance management processes upside down.

In both companies the annual performance evaluation is being replaced by a cadence of 1:1 meetings spread throughout the year, with suggested but not mandatory topics such as performance, culture, development, career, and compensation.

At both companies, the process comes supported by the conviction that it is necessary to become more agile, more employee-centric, and more developmentally focused to thrive in the new world of continuous innovation, unpredictable disruptions, and an increasingly young workforce.

Another factor in common between the two companies is the use of continuous feedback tools between employees to support this development, a process where the leader increasingly positions himself as a coach and facilitator, and less of a boss.