DON'T depend on an "open door policy"
One-on-one meetings can be an incredibly effective way to help build rapport with your employees and accomplish most of the "Top 15 Management Skills" (see article in "tips"). In fact, when I go back and check in with the agencies I've worked with in the past, I so often find that those agencies that have experienced positive culture change attribute a large part of their success to the fact that every employe is are regularly meeting with his/her direct supervisor. This is much more effective than relying on an "open door policy," which tends to be reactive instead of proactive and emphasizes the employee needing to pursue you instead of you pursuing the employee. Believe me - these differences make a big difference, in terms of the employee feeling valued and respected.
Regularly scheduled (let me say it again: regularly scheduled) one-on-one meetings are an important way to:
- Offer caring and support. Though you shouldn't pry into employees’ personal lives, a one-on-one meeting gives them an opportunity to tell you anything that might shed light on their workplace performance.
- Provide accountability. This is a good way to follow up on action plans, set goals and monitor performance.
- Give employees a voice. Employees can ask questions, offer suggestions and give feedback and concerns during one-on-one meetings. These meetings will open the door for more introverted individuals who don’t take advantage of your “open door" policy. Some people will wait until things are at a crisis point before they knock on your door...and some won’t knock at all. An "open door" policy is not proactive. Regular meetings are.
- Train, mentor and orient. These meetings can provide a consistent time for new and longer term employees to continue their training and orientation.
- Thanks, recognition and praise. These meetings can help you avoid the “Honey, I told you I loved you when I married you – I’ll let you know if I change my mind” syndrome by providing consistent encouragement and motivation to employees.
- Establish your working relationship. These regular conversations will cement supervisory relationships and support clear lines of reporting/accountability.
- Give you important information. This is a wonderful way for managers to gain insights into the health and functioning of the organization (and serves as a a more helpful alternative to "water-cooler talk" that isn't necessarily productive or results in positive action).
- Allow you to give advice. You can provide coaching opportunities for employees who have complaints about other employees.
Just as important as knowing why one-on-one meetings are important is knowing how to conduct them. Here are a few logistical tips to help you out:
- If you have 8 or fewer employees, it's generally best to have monthly meetings lasting between 20-30 minutes. If you have more than 8 people you need to deal directly with, aim for every other month.
- Meetings should take place in a quiet, comfortable place. If there isn't a spot on-site, consider scouting out a nearby coffee shop or similar location.
- Meetings should only be cancelled because of unavoidable circumstances. Strive to have the meeting even if the employee asks to cancel because s/he has nothing to talk about. Once the two of you are seated, it's often surprising what comes up.
- Document (in the employee's informal file) anything of note that is discussed so you can refer to it in subsequent meetings if needed–action plans, changes of schedule, employee requests or needs, results of brainstorming, etc.
- If any to-do's come up for you as the supervisor, be sure to make note of these as well and follow up with your employee in a timely manner. If, at the next meeting, you haven't accomplished our action items, it's helpful to acknowledge this and set a new "by-when" date.