Three Ways New Managers Can Supercharge 1-To-1s With Direct Reports

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Kuba is the founder of Zety — a career advice site visited by over 40 million readers a year.

Regardless of whether they were hired from the outside or promoted from within, first-time managers need to know how to build teamwide rapport and keep direct reports engaged.

In this case, 1-to-1 meetings are the ultimate tool that can not only help new managers achieve just that, but also keep turnover rates at bay, drive a fivefold productivity increase and generally maintain a pulse on how each employee is doing.

That said, 1-to-1 meetings aren’t easy to get right, particularly when held remotely. After all, new managers need to know how to prevent these meetups from turning into an exchange of status updates and meaningless small talk, among other things. So, here’s how to get started:

Establish a cadence through consistency.

As someone who just transitioned into a supervisory role and assumed a host of new responsibilities, most new managers have a lot of plates to spin and many hats to wear. As a result, they might be tempted to reschedule 1-to-1s or, worse, cancel them altogether, which could lead to drastic repercussions, including:

• Direct reports will be more prone to bombard novice managers’ inboxes during the week in an effort to connect and clear roadblocks.

• It sends a clear message to direct reports they aren’t a priority. 

• Without ongoing managerial feedback, it becomes difficult for employees to improve performance.

To address it, it’s critical for organizations to educate first-time managers on the importance of cementing 1-to-1s into their workplace routines and never canceling such meetings with the exception of emergencies or when there’s nothing to discuss. But, try as one might, sometimes things “come up.” In which case, it’s still better to reschedule a meeting than cancel it for good.

Consider team composition to get the frequency right.

In an ideal case scenario, newly minted managers should meet with each direct report at least once a week for 30 to 60 minutes. 

And while it might be feasible if they only have two or three people under their wing, things can get hectic if there are five or more direct reports to manage. After all, managers will need to put in the legwork to prepare the scene and block lots of time in the calendar to go through the agenda.

To counterbalance it, organizations can encourage new managers to run 1-to-1s based on employees’ performance and comfort levels within their roles:

• Top-performing employees: This group is generally autonomous and doesn’t require frequent check-ins. Thus, it’s best to meet with them every three weeks.

• Mid-range performers: Unless something significant comes up, it’ll suffice to have a Zoom call every two weeks or so.

• Struggling staffers and new hires: With staffers who have trouble pulling their weight or with new hires who typically need a lot of help and support, it’s best to have 1-to-1s every week to help them get up to speed faster.

Ensure things won’t slip through the cracks.

While it might be tempting for new managers to hold a meeting with a direct report and leave without action items to complete for both parties, it could make the meeting’s effectiveness go to waste. After all, it’s all talk and no walk.

To counteract it, newly minted managers could create a document, share it with the respective employee and fill it out as the conversation develops. Having shared notes with each direct report will help new managers:

• Capture action points to complete before the next meeting.

• Ease subsequent meeting preparation.

• Keep an ongoing history of 1-to-1s with each employee to see what’s been done and what hasn’t.

As a result, new managers will be able to stay on top of employees’ workplace issues and demonstrate they take actionable steps to address them.


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