How One-on-Ones Can Make the Difference Between Loving and Leaving

It’s a well-known cliché in HR circles that employees quit their bosses, not their jobs. However, having run many employee surveys and regularly studying analytics on employee engagement, I’ve found that the root of the problem goes much deeper than that. It’s not just about whether the manager is bad, but more importantly, it’s about whether the employee experience includes these four critical tenets:

  1. I receive periodic recognition
  2. I am valued
  3. I understand the impact of my contributions, and
  4. I am progressing and growing.

Particularly in larger organizations, each employees’ immediate supervisor is a vital connection to the company at large. Like it or not, a manager is an extension of the company and how a manager values and treats employees is perceived as how the company itself values and treats employees. In other words: one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.

One of the best ways to improve these relationships — along with engagement and retention as a result – -is through more frequent and more effective communication. In fact, according to the Growth Divide study, more than half of office professionals want more frequent check-ins with their supervisor. Simply taking time, on a regular basis — weekly (ideally) or biweekly (at the very least) — to have a focused, one-on-one conversation about issues, challenges, opportunities and strategy can dramatically improve the employee-manager relationship and make employees feel more engaged, valued and loyal.

More than just a passing conversation, these one-on-ones must be structured and scheduled, but also brief and focused. And, they must weave these four pillars into the conversation. Here some tips for implementing effective 1:1s to maximize employee engagement, productivity and retention.

Incorporate periodic recognition

The Growth Divide study revealed that the number of employees who are motivated by recognition and acknowledgement of their achievements nearly equals that who say they’d prefer tangible awards (like a bonus or gift card). And, nearly 70% say more regular performance and development check-ins would improve their relationship with their manager. This represents a tremendous opportunity to motivate employees and improve their overall employee experience at virtually no cost. Simply taking the time to recognize and congratulate an individual for a job well done is the one of the best investments managers can make in the growth and development of their employees.

Demonstrate that employees are valued

Employees need to know that their manager and the company values both their work and their insight, knowledge and experience. When one-on-ones are not part of the employee experience, employees tend to feel neglected. Nearly half don’t feel comfortable raising issues or concerns with their manager between performance reviews and almost 75% say they would be more proactive in doing so if they received more frequent feedback. By recognizing success as well as asking for employees’ input on how to improve processes and performance, bosses can make it clear that they value employees not only for their output, but also for their contributions to the company’s success.

Explain the impact of their contribution

Don’t waste time in one-on-ones focusing on status reports. A rundown of what’s happening should be a lower priority, especially if everything is smooth sailing. With the right kind of systems in place, it should be easy for managers to check in on project status at any given time on their own. Instead, use this time to deal with issues, challenges or concerns, to discuss problem-solving solutions or to strategize about new ideas and opportunities and how employees’ individual work contributes toward the company’s overall success. Map employee goals to company objectives and discuss openly how and why individual achievements move the needle on company growth goals.

Take steps to ensure employees are progressing and growing

Ask about skills gaps or professional needs. The Growth Divide study indicates that 90% of employees want their manager to address performance mistakes and development opportunities in real time, yet 68% of executives say they learn about issues for the first time during an annual performance review. One-on-ones are the perfect opportunity for that real-time discussion that facilitates employee growth. When gaps in training or resources go unaddressed, employees may give up and quit by the time their annual review rolls around. In fact, some managers admit that they leave out mentions of issues during performance reviews because too much time has passed. That means employees could already have one foot out the door, and the manager wouldn’t even know until it was too late. Frequent check-ins allow managers to address these issues when the opportunity is fresh and be proactive about retaining high-performing talent.

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In fact, one-on-ones not only help employees to feel more engaged and reduce the likelihood that they’ll leave, but they also give managers an opportunity to spot any issues that might lead to an employee’s early departure. When a good employee quits, managers who are out of touch can feel blindsided, and especially when retaining talent is a major priority, they’ll likely have to answer to executives about what caused the problem and whether anything could have been done to prevent it. That puts managers in the hot-seat.

By maintaining frequent and quality communication, employees will feel like they are progressing, understand how they add value to an organization, and feel recognized.

Rachel Ernst is director of employee success at Reflektive, focusing both on internal employee development, as well as building knowledge for Reflektive’s customers on change management, goal management, check-ins, real-time feedback and employee engagement polling. 

Her decade-plus background in HR spans compensation, learning and development, leadership coaching, people analytics and organizational design. She is passionate about evolving the performance management ecosystem to fulfill its ultimate goal of inspiring high performance through ongoing, real-time feedback. 

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