While the “annual employee review” is a staple at many companies, there are important reasons why a small business owner or manager should also have regularly scheduled meetings with individual staff members throughout the year. But planning such one-on-one (1:1) meetings between you and members of your staff requires planning and attention to detail–and so, they often get lost in the shuffle. Harvard Business School lecturer Julia B. Austin shares best practices for getting your 1:1’s a regular part of your calendar.

Why 1:1’s are so important

  • They demonstrate you care about each staff member as a person
  • Often, they are the only forum where you can have an honest, private, conversation with each other about what’s really going on—professionally and personally
  • A leader who makes time for their team members—especially those who are also leaders—is less likely to suffer poor team performance due to ambiguity and mistrust.
  • Each 1:1 is an opportunity to clarify the goals of the organization and your performance expectations
  • They can help build a trusting relationship with your employees by getting to know them as people, not just workers

two men talking
Schedule 1:1’s at regular intervals

  • Constructive 1:1’s throughout the year turn annual reviews into goals-oriented sessions rather than backward-focused feedback.

Prepare for the 1:1

  • Focus on how you want the session to play out
  • Set clear expectations
  • Have a clear agenda
  • The process should include everyone; no one is being singled out
  • Set at regular intervals. It’s ok to skip one every once and awhile, but having it locked into the calendar displays your commitment to being there for your employee.

Types of Topics for the 1:1

Do not use the meeting to re-hash things from a group meeting unless there are specific things you took off-line in that meeting or need to provide/get constructive feedback.

  • Professional growth
  • Personal connection
  • Giving each other feedback


Before the 1:1 meeting

  • 24 hours or so before the meeting, email the employee a list of what you’d like to cover
    • Split the items between strategic, tactical and personal items
  • Ask the employee what they want to cover
  • For efficiency, let them know if they should bring/read/do something before the meeting.

During the 1:1 meeting

  • Review the agenda
    • Ask if there’s anything else to add to the agenda
  • If there is something negative to review, try to bookend it with two positive topics
  • Do not monopolize the conversation; pause often and make sure there is the opportunity for discussion and questions
  • Always end the meeting asking them how things are going overall and if there is anything else you can do to help make them successful

After the 1:1 meeting

  • Follow up with an email that thanks them
    • Include information that was promised during the meeting
    • Reaffirm your willingness to help make them successful

VIA | Harvard Business Review,Master the One-on-One Meeting