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Glenn Morley

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Retaining Staff Starts with Meaningful One-on-Ones

Retaining Staff Starts with Meaningful One-on-Ones

Years ago, I was working for a manager who noticed only my mistakes and never had a nice thing to say about me or my colleagues, and I asked him why he’s so hard on everyone. His answer: “I’m just trying to make you better.” I was astounded that he thought his avoidance of empathy or authenticity could ever achieve this. I left that job, even though I loved it, because of this manager’s heavy-handed style. Twenty years later I appreciate his desire, if not his method, to help develop his direct reports. 

Since that job, I have been fortunate to work for some truly talented managers who follow a different pathway to help people unleash their potential. Through those interactions, I’ve come to appreciate a vastly different approach to help develop and retain talent— one that focuses on collaboration and camaraderie.  

Forging a Meaningful Connection

When we think of one-on-one meetings, we typically envision a meeting between a manager and a direct report. Having regular one-on-one meetings with employees offers managers a great way to create a meaningful connection with each of their direct reports. These meetings also help managers to gain perspective because they can see all the “puzzle pieces” their team lays out for them. Connecting this way offers a unique opportunity for managers and employees to align on key issues and build trust.

To connect in a meaningful way with direct reports, managers must consider what value they themselves bring to the relationship rather than what they can get out of it. Too often, conversations between managers and employees focus on the opposite. When meetings are approached from a transactional or “what can I get” attitude, managers create an off-putting environment for the person on the receiving end. Instead, if the stated intent of the meeting is to bring value and mutual understanding, the dynamic is changed for the better. When done well, one-on-one meetings allow for a mentoring relationship to flourish and direct reports to communicate with trust and candor.

Such an open forum offers employees a chance to be vulnerable, seek reassurance, and ask for support when needed. Rather than allowing a situation to overwhelm or escalate, employees who meet regularly with their managers can tap into their supervisor’s valuable experience and wisdom. Meanwhile, managers who counsel employees through challenging situations can help build staff confidence, instill a sense of fulfillment, and encourage development. Further, that investment affirms the employee’s self-worth and positively impacts personal accountability.

Setting Meeting Goals

To keep one-on-one meetings productive, it’s helpful for both managers and employees to have a goal in mind ahead of time. That goal could be:

  • Creating personal accountability and staying on track with project goals. Managers can use one-on-one meetings to check-in on the progress of projects. Experienced employees will often take the lead in these meetings, letting their manager know what they would like to focus on. For instance, if the employee feels overwhelmed by a particular project, then the meeting can focus on breaking down the project into more manageable steps or milestones that can be accomplished.
  • Increasing productivity. Managers who regularly connect with employees encourage higher productivity because priorities and next steps are clearly articulated, giving employees a clear path to follow.  
  • Providing recognition. It is always appropriate for managers to praise employees on their accomplishments. Doing so affirms staff's feelings of self-worth and elevates the manager in their eyes.
  • Fostering team collaboration and alignment. Regular meetings help managers to understand what everyone on the team is working on and connect individuals who might be trying to solve similar problems. Aligning people and projects accomplishes many things such as efficiency and strategic use of resources, which can benefit the organization. Also, on a professional development level, it provides managers with an opportunity to showcase an individual’s talents and foster further team connectedness and relationship building.
Getting Started

Managers who are new to conducting one-on-one meetings can prepare themselves by going into them with a few simple questions for employees:

  • What are you working on? What’s going well? Where can I help you?
  • What projects excite you and bring fulfillment? Which projects drain you or leave you feeling overwhelmed?
  • How are you feeling about your work-life balance?
  • Are there any skills or development areas you would like to explore?
  • What can I do to support you?

Many managers plan monthly one-on-one meetings with each of their direct reports to discuss ongoing projects, and these typically last 30 – 60 minutes. Given that time frame, broader career development discussions may need to be scheduled separately. Depending on the size of your organization, consider the best frequency for one-on-one meetings and whether sending an engagement survey to team members might be helpful.

Enhancing Retention

Conducting one-on-one meetings has never been more important to help retain talent. We have all heard the story of employees leaving their jobs in droves. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 47 million Americans left their jobs last year, a movement that has been labeled “the Great Resignation.” When the opportunity cost of an employee vacancy is weighed, it clearly underscores the need for employee retention strategies. Investing time in the professional growth, development, and satisfaction of each employee can be part of that retention effort. It is essential because the relationship people have with their managers can make or break their job satisfaction and their decision to stay (as my opening example illustrates).

LOOKING FOR MORE STAFF RETENTION ASSISTANCE? Contact Glenn Morley to schedule a complimentary consulting call, or log in to your BSM Connection account to access our relevant webinars, staff surveys, and eLearning courses. If you’re not a Connection member, you can register for it through our BSM Connection page.


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