Inclusion Guideline: Manager 1-on-1s

Hold inclusive employee 1-on-1s to build more productive teams

1-on-1 meetings may be the most important time spent in a company. Not only are they times to share experiences and deliver critical feedback, they are a key driver in reduced turnover and higher employee engagement. Managers also become better leaders because they learn about different employee work styles and how to motivate different types of people. Combine that with the revenue jump that inclusive organizations enjoy and the case is clear: inclusive 1-on-1’s need to be a business priority.

The 1-on-1 meeting is unique because it’s the one kind of meeting where it’s solely focused on employee needs, not overall business objectives. But this also means it can be the most intimate, personal, and potentially discomforting meeting held in the organization. Whether manager or employee discomfort, the net result is a poor experience. If inclusive principles aren’t followed, even well-intentioned managers can limit the productivity gain that 1-on-1 meetings offer.

This article includes a checklist of ways to make employee 1-on-1s more inclusive in the following categories:

  • Setting expectations

  • Preparing for the meeting

  • During the meeting

  • After the meeting

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Setting Expectations

  • Set 1-on-1 expectations with the whole team at the same time. This way, there’s no concern some people are told different things or given priority.

  • Set the goal of 1-on-1s to be making the employee in question successful at the company. This starts the process of centering the meeting on the employee.

  • Be clear about what 1-on-1s are: A place to talk about goals inside and outside work, a place to be up front with what employees want and need at work, and a place for feedback in both directions.

  • Be clear about what 1-on-1s are not: Therapy, a place to trash coworkers, compare work to other coworkers or only status update conversations.

  • Share what employees can expect from you as a manager. Aim to be: a listener, provider of advice where possible, and an honest feedback giver (in the spirit of wanting employees to be successful).

  • Work with the same structure for all 1-on-1s. A suggested structure is: employee comments, manager comments (if needed), and action/next steps planning.

  • Make clear that employees need to set the agenda for their comments and actions they believe they need to take. Managers are responsible for their comments and also coming with actions or next steps they believe the employee needs to take. The meeting itself will then run through both employee and manager comments, with next steps/action items getting solidified through conversation and mutual commitment.

  • Manage your own expectations. You likely won’t get total honesty and a deep connection after only 1-2 meetings.

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Preparing for the Meeting

  • Book 1-on-1s as recurring, consistent meetings and stick to them. Reschedule within the week if needed.

  • Set meetings for 30 minutes. Shorter may not offer enough time to cover all agenda items while longer may be too long to commit to on a regular basis.

  • Hold 1-on-1s weekly. It’s frequent enough to offer time to chat but infrequent enough that things can take place between meetings.

  • Ask employees to send their agenda ahead of time, preferably a couple hours in advance. Note that this is just for their comments and some actions/next steps they’d like to see. You as the manager are still responsible for your comments and any actions/next steps you need from employees.

  • Come prepared with questions to ask employees, aimed at getting them to open up beyond check-in style comments.


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During the Meeting

  • Go offsite if possible. Getting out of the office environment can help people open up and feel like they can be more honest.

  • Be open to talking about non-work items that matter to employees. These can include life goals or cool personal stories.

  • Keep 1-on-1s informal - no HR presence.

  • Give credit where it’s due: A recent success, hard work, kindness, or something else. A survey found 59% of employees view receiving credit as a crucial element of feeling included at work.

  • Call out detachment and disengagement kindly. If employees aren’t engaged during the conversation, the meeting time is wasted. When you call them out, focus on understanding the problem causing detachment and disengagement, not the disengagement itself.

  • If employees bring up frustrations, empathize and acknowledge but keep your own emotions in check.

  • “Listen twice.” Verbalize your understanding of crucial agenda items and employee comments, giving them the chance to correct themselves or confirm your knowledge.

  • Make 1-on-1s tech-free zones. If technology becomes necessary, only bring it out for the specific need and don’t use it for anything else.

  • When giving feedback, focus on the actions taken or not taken and how the employee can gain the skills or disposition necessary to do those actions. Don’t make it about the person.

  • Take brief notes in the meeting for easy reference on key items.

  • Clarify mutual understanding of any next steps or action items to be completed before the next 1-on-1.

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After the Meeting

  • Thank employees for their time after each meeting. Add in specific thanks as appropriate for their candor, honesty, or vulnerability.

  • Ask employees for feedback on the 1-on-1 structure. Consider doing this after both of the first two 1-on-1’s, but continue asking for feedback after 3-4 consecutive 1-on-1s.

Remember, 1-on-1s are a two-way street.

  • Get more out of employees by giving more during 1-on-1 meetings. Treating these meetings as sacred will not only help you get a deeper understanding of employees but also build trust and mutual accountability. Creating inclusive 1-on-1 meetings ensures that employees have the best opportunity to do their best work.

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