1-on-1 Employee Communications

The Do’s and Don’ts of 1-on-1 Employee Communications

Communications in the workplace is arguably the most critical component of productivity. When employees understand the company’s vision and mission and their essential role in helping to fulfill it, productivity stands a far better chance of gaining ground than in an environment where employees are left in the dark due to a lack of communication or bad information.

How to best communicate among employees varies widely among organizations, individuals, and situations. For instance, if the CEO of an enterprise-level company resigns, mass media methodologies will be necessary to get the word out to everyone at the same time. However, if the same situation occurs at a small business with 25 employees, it may be best to gather everyone together in a room to share the news. 

At other times, a more personal touch is required. Typically, 1-on-1 communications in the workplace refers to an exchange between managers and their direct subordinates. As common as 1-to-1communications is in the workplace, it shouldn’t be regarded casually. Not engaging in these important meetings can quickly lead to unnecessary business disruptions and disengaged employees. 

I was recently asked to provide commentary on 1-on-1 workplace communications for a national publication. I’ve posted the Q&A here to help managers understand when and how to properly execute 1-on-1 communications with their subordinates. 

Q: Share two reasons managers should lead ongoing 1-on-1s and how they benefit employees.

A: Reason #1: Maintaining open communication with employees is critical to ensuring managers stay informed of employee work progress. It also helps better ensure they stay informed of things that happen outside of their sphere of influence in the workplace.

Often employees don’t recognize or realize bigger picture information because they are so focused on their own work. One-on-one communication allows this important exchange of information to occur. When leading people in today’s business environment, open, two-way dialogue should never be considered a nice policy to have, but rather the “price of admission.”

Reason #2: It is the best time to stay connected with employees on a more personal level. I’m not talking about digging deep into personal matters outside the office, but really understanding what motivates an employee and makes him or her tick. For example, if an employee needs praise to feel more comfortable and engaged in their job, conducting regular, 1:1 meetings provides the leader opportunities to dole out warranted praise and other specific feedback to help the employee maximize performance. 

Another employee may want more autonomy in their job.  A good leader can use the 1:1 to be the only touchpoint they offer from week to week, allowing that employee a broad playing field for more productive engagement.

A great leader will learn how each employee works differently and use that information to better communicate with each of them individually and increase the overall engagement of their team as a result.  

Q: What are two common mistakes you see managers make when it comes to 1-on-1s and how can these be avoided? 

A: Mistake #1: Rushing the meeting. Not allowing the employee to speak or have time for open Q&A or discussion.  In the same vein, frequently cancelling or postponing the meeting. Naturally, we all find it necessary to make schedule changes from time to time due to unexpected work demands, but not showing up or consistently canceling/rescheduling can quickly erode an employee’s trust, especially if the he or she knows the leader canceled without good cause (e.g., the manager left early to play golf instead of meeting).

Not prioritizing 1:1 employee meetings sends the message that the leader doesn’t care about his or her team. Nothing kills engagement faster than being ignored and de-valued as an employee.  

Mistake #2: The manager thinking the 1:1 is all for or about himself or herself.  If the employee is there simply to feed information to the manager about updates, projects, deadlines, etc., then the meeting will become a status report.  While these updates are necessary, they aren’t the intent of the meeting. The real value of this communication tool is to give the employee what they need to better perform, whether it’s time to talk or time to receive praise or productive critique. 

Meet at Employee Workspace
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Q: Share one best practice you’ve seen top managers incorporate into their 1-on-1 communications strategy.

A: Managers should ideally meet with their employees in the employee’s workspace if possible. So often, employees report to the boss’ office for meetings but if it’s held on the employee’s “turf,” the dynamic of the conversation changes to more of a partnership approach. The comfort level of the employee increases, and the conversation will often become more honest and productive.  

One Final Word

The importance of one-on-one communication in the workplace cannot be overstated or overvalued. An intentional, near constant effort of observing co-worker behaviors is required to eventually learn how to get them to respond in productive ways that benefit the greater good. 

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