Bryan Smith
Talent Director, New York

Eighty-seven percent of millennials value growth and professional development in a job and 1-on-1 meetings are the perfect time to discuss personal and professional growth.


75% of companies use one-on-one meetings as a tool to give and receive employee feedback.


1:1 Meetings: Their Purpose & Benefits

I once heard that people leadership is both an art and a science…and I don’t think that could be more true when it comes to how leaders should conduct one-on-ones. There are, of course, tangible metrics we drive, such as outreach response rates, interview stage conversion percentages, days to hire, and acceptance rate. However, a far more important piece to driving high-performing teams lies in building strong relationships that encourage professional curiosity and a culture of growth and development. 

In the past, I viewed the one-on-one as a progress update where my team notified me of specific work items. Now, I view it as a critical touchpoint to the success of an organization. Yes, it is important for me to understand my team’s performance against their targets, but it is SO much more than that.

I’ve come to find that the one-on-one is an opportunity for a leader to build a strong foundation with their team. This leads to a strong professional bond and enables them to understand their team’s professional (and oftentimes personal) goals. Really diving deep into what drives them and what they want to accomplish enables managers to more effectively push their team to hit their goals. This then leads to overall organizational success. The one-on-one should NEVER feel like an item on your to-do list, but look at it as a crucial moment in time and an opportunity to impact the trajectory of someone’s career.

As I’ve grown, I’ve come to center my one-on-ones around the employee and his or her goals instead of what I need and want. Understanding that the one-on-one is THEIR time and not mine was a big mental shift I had to make early on. If I always made it about me then the employee would grow to hate them (which I’ve first-hand experienced the effects of). It is imperative to focus the meeting around their successes and challenges, and how you, as their leader, can remove obstacles. This will drive further engagement and empower them to become an active participant in their (and, in turn, the company’s) growth. I’ve seen increased productivity as a direct result of this, as my team feels heard and valued.

The One-On-One Meeting Checklist

I boil successful one-on-ones down to three things: clear expectations, problem-solving, and positivity. 

Clear Expectations

One of the most important aspects of any stakeholder interaction is expectation setting. Typically, when one’s expectation meets reality you have happy campers and when something is over or under-promised you have frustration. In business, we all know how quickly priorities can change by the day (or sometimes by the hour!) and this always presents a key opportunity to reset expectations. The leader’s job is to always ensure that their employee knows where they stand and what is expected of them. The one-on-one is the perfect opportunity to do this.


Next, the strong leader should always have a consistent focus on solving their employee’s problems through their employee’s growth and development. I always view the one-on-one as 100% the EMPLOYEE’S TIME, so the focus is on how to remove blockers and solve challenges so that they can better deliver in their role. Any challenges (or even performance issues) should always be approached from a TEAM perspective. I always seek to bring the employee in to become part of the solution and I’ve seen first-hand how this strengthens our relationship and empowers them to take their development into their own hands.


In my early days, I used to view the role of a manager as someone who ‘cracks the whip’ to drive performance. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. At no point should the employee be made to feel bad about their performance or what they’re (not) doing. Rather, it is about going along on a journey with them to help them elevate themselves personally and professionally. Thus, the one-on-one should start and end with positivity! The employee should ALWAYS leave feeling positive about their path forward. Even if they are off-target they should feel they have my full support to get back on track. I personally start by asking how they genuinely are? (“but how are you REALLY?”). This shows them that I care and gives them the opportunity to set the course. Another good question is “what would you like to cover today?”

Tips On Leading Effective One-On-Ones

If you’re reading between the lines, then you’ve probably seen the importance of CONSISTENCY in leadership. CIO.Com says that “a consistent leader maintains the same demeanor whether things are going well or everything around them is crumbling.” As leaders, we are on stage every moment, and everything we do and say is scrutinized. Leaders who are able to demonstrate consistency in how they act and treat others inspire far more confidence than those who do not.

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to lead effective one-on-ones.

Create a safe place:

Create a safe place for your employees to open up and share their challenges. When employees feel safe they are more likely to be open about their struggles and what they need from you in order to hit their goals.

Stay present:

Give them 100% and DON’T MULTITASK. Doing so will encourage them to give you 100% back to you.

Make an effort to get to know your team members:

Get to know your people. A strong foundation starts with a good relationship, so this time should be used not only for progress updates but for getting to know your team members.

Actively listen to employees:

LISTEN and let individuals speak more than you do by asking OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS. A good acronym for this is T.E.D.W. (Tell me, Explain to me, Describe to me, Why?).

Constructively provide feedback:

Learn how to provide feedback in a constructive way. Everyone craves feedback because it’s how we grow! Plus, your team will come to respect you more. It is also an opportunity to open the door for them to provide feedback to you or the organization.

Understand their goals and priorities:

Their career progression is in their hands, but it is your job to LEAD them, so spend time discussing their career path and goals. (Always give a heads up that you want to discuss this as it requires thought).

Collaborate on what should be discussed:

Set structure around what the one-on-one should accomplish, but have some flexibility…this is the ‘art’ part to it…as we are all human beings and things come up.

Get buy-in from your people:

Get buy-in from individuals and decide what should be accomplished weekly, but give them the flexibility to come up with an agenda. Ensure action items are clear and hold each other accountable (a shared doc is great for this.)

Lastly, end with gratitude! A simple “thank you for your hard work” goes a long way and fosters engagement. Best of luck on your growth journey to become an empowering and positive leader through your one-on-ones. 


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