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Thoughts, trends, and research for designing
high-performance cultures


Ask These 5 Questions to Get the Most Out of Your One-on-Ones

Posted by Melissa Suzuno

on Dec 8, 2017 1:15:00 PM

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Just like the eternal debate over the ideal office temperature and the comical technical difficulties you experience when holding virtual meetings (Brad’s been frozen for five minutes and Steve’s voice sounds like a robot… again!), the one-on-one meeting has become a staple of the modern working environment. Yet despite the frequency of these interactions, many managers struggle to conduct effective one-on-ones. How do you make sure that this meeting is actually beneficial to your direct report?

Luckily, there’s been quite a lot of research into what makes managers effective, and we can learn from it and apply it during these regular get-togethers. Here are five questions that will help you and your direct report get the most out of your one-on-one meetings.


1. How can I be a better coach to you? / Is there an area where you would like to receive more coaching from me?

Harvard Business Review reports that as part of Project Oxygen, Google has done extensive research into what separates high-performing and low-performing managers. And they found that the single most important competency was coaching. Employees feel most fulfilled when managers offer support and guidance (and maybe occasionally push them to go that extra mile to achieve a stretch goal, just like your high school track coach might have done). Even if you’ve never worn a tracksuit or carried a whistle in your life, you can embody a coach’s mentality by asking these questions. You’ll show your direct reports that coaching is a priority to you and give them the opportunity to ask for guidance where they need it.

2. What are you least clear about in terms of strategy & goals?

You might feel like your company is constantly hammering down on strategy and goals, but chances are that your direct reports don’t feel the same. Whether it gets lost among the sea of their everyday responsibilities or comes up once during an all hands and never resurfaces, company-wide strategy is often murky or vague from the average employee’s perspective. In fact, one study found that only 29% of employees were able to correctly identify their company’s strategy from a lineup.

Similarly, based on their research into manager performance
, Gallup recommends that by clearly and consistently communicating where an organization has been and where it’s going, managers can create a positive effect on their direct reports.

So even though you feel like you’ve covered company strategy in excruciating detail, don’t be afraid to ask your direct reports about it in your one-on-ones. This is a low-risk, high-reward way to help them address any areas where they’re feeling unsure—and an easy win for company alignment.

3. How can I help with your career development or learning goals?

We’ve all heard the adage, “employees don’t leave jobs; they leave managers,” and while there is a certain degree of truth to that statement, it’s a bit more subtle than that. There are a few manager traits that strongly correlate with employee unhappiness, and a lack of support around career development and learning goals is one of them. By regularly checking in with your direct reports on this topic, you show them that you’re invested in them and their futures.

Keep in mind that asking employees about their career development/learning goals is not the same as creating an elaborate development plan. (There are a number of tools out there that can do that for you.) But by making this a topic of conversation, you’re setting your employees on the right path toward designing their own development.

4. What can I help you with?/Are you experiencing any roadblocks or issues?

It’s a fact of the modern-day workforce: A significant number of managers are disengaged. And disengaged managers lead to disengaged employees. Gallup reports that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers. One easy way to show you’re engaged is by having regular one-on-ones (and go ahead and high-five yourself since it sounds like you’re already doing that!), and another is to genuinely care about how your direct reports are faring. By asking this question, you can find out what they’re struggling with and look for ways to offer assistance or remove roadblocks.

5. How are you progressing towards your goals?

Many managers struggle to hold their direct reports accountable. In fact, one study found that 46% of upper level managers were rated “too little” on the item, “Holds people accountable—firm when they don’t deliver.” If you check in with your direct reports on a weekly basis, you can help hold them more accountable to their commitments, and also ensure that they’re prioritizing the tasks that are most aligned with company strategy (see question 2). And if you happen to work in a fast-paced company where goals often shift, this gives you and your direct report the ability to make adjustments to their goals. This question doesn’t only apply to work-related goals. If your direct report has shared their professional development goals (as you prompted them to with question 3), you can use this opportunity to see how they’re progressing and offer assistance or feedback.

A few final thoughts

We’ve seen here that one-on-one meetings are so much more than just a box to tick off on your weekly to-do list. They can have a real impact on your team’s engagement, retention, and performance. And unlike the ideal office temperature, those are things that everyone can agree on!

Discover how high-performing cultures are embracing one-on-ones that make an impact in our free eBook. ebook5_blog_cta.jpgHave any other essential one-on-one questions you recommend? Drop us a line in the comments section to let us know!

Topics: Employee Development