There’s a range of duties a person acquires when they become a people manager, and among the most important are the one-on-one meetings they schedule with their direct reports. For the employee, a regular check-in allows them the opportunity to seek advice, exchange ideas, and receive feedback. “Research has shown that more frequent, quality feedback is positively related to employees’ job performance, work satisfaction, and satisfaction with the manager,” Maria Kraimer, Ph.D., a professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, tells Thrive. Plus, these meetings help the employee see the bigger picture of their work, adds Steven Blader, Ph.D., a professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, which can motivate them to truly excel in their roles.

But without some planning and intention, they can easily feel like a drag on everyone’s time. To help you keep these meetings productive, impactful, and even something you both look forward to, here are five smart strategies to keep in mind. 

Set a regular cadence

Exactly how often you check-in should depend on the nature of your work, but not scheduling them in advance can lead to lots of missed meetings. “Anywhere from weekly to monthly may be appropriate,” Kraimer says. The cadence should be often enough for you to address challenges before they become major obstacles, but not so frequent that they’re a roadblock to getting work done. More than once a week is likely too often. 

Stay consistent

For a working relationship to be most effective, it needs to be built on trust — and a great way to build trust is to show your direct reports that you are reliable, and will prioritize your one-on-ones. In fact, “consistency and regularity are probably more important than the actual frequency” of the meetings, Blader says. “Employees should feel one-on-one meetings are a systematic and recurring process, not a series of one-shot interactions.” And this is isn’t an opportunity to cherry-pick who you want to spend a half-hour with: “You can’t have one-on-one’s meetings with some employees and not others,” Kraimer says. “Both strong and weak performers should have these types of meetings.”

Another best practice: Don’t cancel your check-in unless you absolutely need to. If you truly need to opt out, Kraimer recommends letting the employee decide if they’d like to reschedule the check-in or wait until the next one-on-one on the calendar. 

Mix up the meeting space

Rather than hold your one-on-one in the same, cramped conference room or on Zoom every week, get creative about where you meet. Maybe you step out for coffee, or on a day that time permits, a working lunch. Leaving the office with your employee sends a signal that you care about them, and that you value their personhood outside of work. The change of scenery can also be good for your working relationship. “Having time out of the office with co-workers was helpful in getting broader pictures of their workload, and ways we can strategize together,” Emily Johnson, Thrive’s Deputy Director of Editorial Strategy, who recently experimented with walking meetings, wrote. As the manager, you may want to suggest a change of scenery yourself. Your employee may be hesitant to make the recommendation out of fear of “bothering you,” or of overstepping boundaries. 

Address minor problems

The one-on-one is a great time to discuss any hiccups that surfaced since the last meeting. “If the manager has any concerns about the employee’s performance that are minor in nature, the manager should bring it up so that it doesn’t become a major problem,” Kraimer says. This is not, on the other hand, a time to address serious problems, like if the employee is consistently late to work, or isn’t meeting any of their quarterly goals. “Instead, a separate meeting should be held for major performance problems — especially if it is part of a disciplinary process or performance improvement plan,” Kraimer suggests. 

Get curious

While this meeting should be an opportunity for your direct report to bring up anything that’s on their mind, “both parties should actively listen, ask questions, and pay attention to each other,” Kraimer says. You can show you care about your employee’s success and well-being by asking empathetic and open-ended questions. For instance, “How are things going?” or “How might I be able to help?” You can also use this time to help direct reports see their own successes — and build on them. “Encourage the employee to share any positive work experiences or accomplishments since you last met,” Kraimer adds. 

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  • Alexandra Hayes

    Content Director, Product & Brand, at Thrive

    Alexandra Hayes is a Content Director, Product & Brand, at Thrive. Prior to joining Thrive, she was a middle school reading teacher in Canarsie, Brooklyn.