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Careers Insight: Because they’re worth it

One-to-one meetings, if done right, help fuel engagement, success and productivity. They require thought, planning and exceptional listening skills on the part of managers

claire jump

In this age of ‘digital everything’ we tend to communicate via email or text, and probably decreasingly so by phone. This is true at work too: electronic equals quick equals efficiency.

However, common sense (as well as extensive research) tells us that nothing quite beats a one-on-one, face-to-face meeting with a colleague. Personal contact cannot and should not ever be underestimated in its power and value.

Author of ‘How to Invest Your Time Like Money’ and founder of RealLifeE Time Coaching & Training Elizabeth Grace Saunders says: “One-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager. They are where you can ask strategic questions such as ‘Are we focused on the right things?’ and, from a rapport point of view, they are how you show employees you value them and care about them.”

I could not agree more. Giving team members the opportunity and time to talk is crucial to their mindset and development.

Additionally, demonstrating your commitment to helping them grow is an expression of your interest in and care for them. Both outcomes fuel engagement, motivation and success.

‘Leading from the middle’

As part of our ‘Leading from the Middle’ programme at Brightstar, I recently asked our middle managers to reflect on their experience of the one-to-ones they had had with their team members.

Sharing positive ideas and outcomes as well as the pitfalls and ‘not for next time’ experiences was beneficial to everyone in the training group, but all agreed they wanted to get more from these meetings in the future.

In reality, purposeful and effective one-to-one meetings are not easy to do well. Such meetings require thought, planning and exceptional listening skills. I recommend some focused training and the opportunity for your one-to-one leaders to share good practice and experiences.

Wellcoaches Corporation chief executive and co-author of ‘Organise Your Emotions, Optimise Your Life’ Margaret Moore says managers should “step back… think about how best you can work side by side with this person to get things done”.

Indeed, one-to-ones are a collaborative process and should not be seen as an opportunity to simply railroad team members, impose your will and tell them how it is done. Greater patience is required to reach desirable outcomes and people, ideally, should leave the meeting feeling lifted, focused and ready to work.

Valuable opportunity

It is sadly the case that one-to-ones often feel rushed and disorganised. Rather than a valuable opportunity, they can sometimes be regarded as an annoyance on the manager’s to-do list, squeezed in to fit between ‘more pressing’ issues.

But I would argue that, if your people are motivated, feel cared for and have focus and direction, other aspects of your business will function more effectively.

People should be at the heart of your business strategy and, if they are, there is a common goal shared by all; systems work properly and objectives are met.

Moore argues about the importance of being “fully present” in one-to-ones. Such a meeting should be regarded as a “precious moment of connection” during which the manager should be thinking: “I’m here to make a difference in the life of this person.”

I am in total agreement here. Phones should be off, and full attention is both required and deserved. One-to-ones present a precious opportunity for connection. Do not waste them.


Holding one-to-ones is a crucial part of a manager’s role and it has never been more important to get these meetings right.

Advisers not only need to be motivated and engaged but, as they are operating in a carefully regulated world, they must also be properly supervised.

Among other things, the one-to-one provides an invaluable opportunity to discuss and improve practice in order to ensure that things are being done in accordance with the wishes of the regulator. 

Top tips for getting the most out of one-to-ones

  • Block a regular time in your diary and make these meetings a repeating event
  • Be on time
  • Do not cancel at short notice
  • Both parties prepare discussion points
  • Compare notes, set priorities and agree loose ‘time boxes’
  • Have an agenda but be prepared to be flexible
  • Be fully present: active listening, no phones, fully engaged
  • Start positive: share a win
  • Problem solve together
  • Talk about career goals
  • Ask direct but open-ended questions
  • Have a positive end and express gratitude

Clare Jupp is director, people development, at Brightstar 



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