How do you run a 1-on-1 meeting? (and why are 1-on-1s so important?)

how do I have a one to one meeting?

For decades, General Electric delivered feedback to their employees on only an annual basis. This theory was based on Jack Welch’s brutal philosophy coined the ‘rank and yank’ where he insisted on boiling employee annual reviews down to 1 number and those who performed in the bottom 10% were fired.

Luckily, the art and science of people management has come a long way since the rank and yank practices of the 80s and one on one meetings are one tool that can help. 

1:1s have been shown to lead to higher productivity, retention rates, error avoidance and more. 

It’s a place to check in, get to know each other, build and maintain rapport, to get and give 

coaching, mentorship, quick status updates and even to let someone vent. 

In short, the goal of a one on one meeting is to have a consistent open-ended conversation between a manager and direct report / employee.

As a result, productivity, engagement, retention, error avoidance, absenteeism and more are improve when we do 1 on 1 meetings. 

So, let’s dive deeper into what 1:1s are and how to run an effective 1:1, without looking like you are micromanaging?

Why are 1 to 1 meetings the best secret weapon companies have?

1:1s were so often treated as strictly business. “Here are your objectives, see you in a month.” However, that was until person-centered 1:1s entered the fray and changed the entire relationship. The mindset shifted from a transactional meeting to synergistic growth. They allow a relationship to blossom not just between the employee and manager but between the employee and company goals also. 

You don’t need to take our word for it however, just look at the example of Adobe and GE. Both abandoned annual performance reviews and, in hindsight, it changed their entire businesses.

Adobe’s Bi-Weekly Check-Ins

Adobe had struggled with employee retention for longer than should have been the case. To fix the issue, they scrapped the annual review meeting and instituted bi-weekly check-ins

They wanted open communication and regular conversations between management and staff. They wanted to help employees in a timely fashion and acknowledge good performance. 

In 12 months, voluntary staff turnover dropped by 30%. Given that we know it costs 20% of an individual’s salary to replace employees, just imagine how much they have saved. 

GE Reengineering Employee Management

After going through a major slump in the recession, GE decided something needed to change. They ditched the rank and yank practices and replaced their entire Employee Management System with regular manager-employee “touchpoints” at the core. 

Their IT team developed an app where employees and management exchanged voice or written messages and meetings frequently. The idea was to update and reset goals and offer feedback. In 12 months, they saw a five-fold productivity increase. Even Jack Welch would have been impressed. 

GE and Adobe are joined by the likes of Microsoft, Accenture, and Juniper in shifting to holistic 1:1s. So, how do you run an effective 1:1, without looking like you are micromanaging?

How to run an effective 1 to 1 meeting?

1. Mindset: Remember why 1-on-1s are important 

“Relationships are core to your job. If you think that you can manage without strong relationships, you are kidding yourself. “ Kim Scott, Radical Candor

Before you step foot in the room (or Zoom), keep in mind why you are doing these meetings. It’s more than an appraisal, a disciplinary interaction, or a transactional exchange. This is about two colleagues talking and taking the opportunity to build a relationship and rapport. 

Approach the meeting with a growth mindset. Think about how you can help that employee achieve more and move closer to their goals? How can you both align to the common objective? Are you asking or are you telling?

Remember that it’s a two-way street, this is the perfect place to ask employees how they think YOU are doing. 

Avoid the cold tone of corporate speak. You can still discuss work topics but make it a conversation rather than a transaction. 

If it helps to have a meeting walking, over lunch or over a call, do it. Be unconventional to the corporate world because the more natural it feels to the employee, the more productive it will be. 

2. Be Prepared

Being prepared is a necessity when it comes to building the relationship. It shows your respect and value for your colleagues’ time.

Keep a running document, like a Google Doc with notes from each previous meeting and items you can follow up on in future meetings. 

During your meeting, take notes. If it is appropriate, share them with the direct report. 

3. Connect & Listen Intently

“Nature gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak” – Epictetus

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Stephen Covey

Begin your 1:1 with a quick check-in. How are they personally? Quite often check-ins unearth what is going good and bad in the person’s life (no need to pry.)

Ask open-ended questions so you can get a window into what they experience in their daily working life. Discover what obstacles they face and how you can make changes to support your people better. 

Ask them for feedback on your own management. It takes a little extra courage but if you want to excel, this question builds trust and engagement like none other. 
Managers who take time to understand their team members see far greater productivity and retention rates.

As mentioned above, take notes so you can follow up at the next meeting.

4. This isn’t a performance review, it’s a safe space 

While performance items might come up in these meetings, they are meant to be a safe space and not a performance review meeting.

Google commissioned a study called Project Aristotle to find what makes teams tick. They surveyed over 180 teams and found the best shared 5 traits with the most impactful being psychological safety. 

What is it? Psychological safety is the safety from embarrassment or reprimands for employees who admit mistakes, highlight concerns, share ideas and contribute. The team isn’t afraid to take social risks in front of each other.

Stay open-minded and receptive to ideas that an employee might have. Support and trust them even if it means going against your own bias and beliefs on occasion. Enacting their solutions gives the team further autonomy and motivation enhancing engagement in the long run.

5. Set Short & Recurring Meetings 

In a previous article, we advocated for the introduction of weekly meetings because they drive business performance. The annual review is a complete waste of time if it is not surrounded in regular check-in meetings. The less 1:1 time you offer the team, the less effective they become.

A tight team has open communication lines and are not kept at a distance from their managers. Managers should be actively involved in their day-to-day and free to offer advice and approvals quickly.

1 on 1 meetings need only be 10 – 30 mins in length. If you have wider topics to cover, save those for a specific deep dive meeting on that topic. 

The comfort of having a 1 to 1 builds confidence and trust. It is the oil in the chain. 

6. Talking Points 

If you’re thinking you and your employees don’t have enough to talk about to meet regularly, think again.

It’s good to keep a consistent format for your 1 on 1 meeting and not let the agenda get too wide.

Any personal news? 
What you are working on?
Status updates?
Any roadblocks?
Celebrate any wins? 
What’s going wrong/drifting?
Discuss employee plans and career goals
Where can you, the manager, help the most.
Ask for advice on your own management
Ask where you can help the most
Ask for their advice, suggestions, and input


Did you know that 65% of employees would take a new boss over a pay rise? That is a staggering figure and it is largely down to the lack of rapport between managers and employees.

As much as 70% of an employee’s commitment to success depends on management because few things matter more than being valued. 

Rapport building used to seem like it was just about being sociable but that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Having 1 to 1s engenders trust, sparks ideas, reduces mistakes, removes obstacles, and offers support. It improves every facet of employee engagement and we know what that means. Better safety records, 21% higher profitability, increased sales, and more. 

Running effective 1:1s are a business-critical matter and every manager needs to make time for them.