The manager-employee relationship is central to all things work. As in any relationship, communication is essential.
Weekly one-on-ones give managers and direct reports the chance to share feedback, address challenges, and check in on mental health. While discussion topics might include tactical, short-term items (like project updates), one-on-one meetings are also an opportunity to talk about the big picture.
When it comes time to set the meeting agenda, it’s natural to feel at a loss for words. That’s why we asked business leaders to share their favorite weekly one-on-one questions.
While some put the onus on direct reports to set the agenda, HR leaders say managers share that responsibility. Not every employee will be forthcoming about personal or team challenges, let alone career goals, without being asked. By giving the agenda thought ahead of time, both parties will get more out of the meeting.
“It’s critical for managers to ask the right questions and stick to the agenda. Otherwise, the conversation can go off track, and the meeting’s effectiveness will likely go to waste,” said Jagoda Wieczorek, HR Manager at ResumeLab. “To counterbalance it, you need to prep your one-on-one questions to help you kickstart the conversation, steer the discussion, and ultimately provide you with enough information to gauge the employee’s emotional, mental, and professional state.”
Others stressed the importance of managers regularly bringing up development. Surveys show that “lack of growth opportunities” ranks among employees’ top reasons for leaving. Given the power dynamics involved, some reports might be wary of bringing up career goals. That’s why managers should add growth to their one-on-one agendas on a monthly or quarterly basis.
“If we want our employees to be happy at work, we need to make sure that we offer them opportunities for continuous growth. In my questions, I try to get them to go a bit further beyond their comfort zones,” said Susan Norton, Senior Director of HR at LiveCareer. “The goal for my team is to be challenged but not overwhelmed. I want to push them to take up new challenges but also offer support when needed,” Norton said.
Among the HR and business leaders we surveyed, the top manager one-on-one questions were:
It’s easy to assume your manager knows what you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis. That’s doubly true if you’re remote. But managers have to juggle jam-packed calendars, reports’ questions, and their own work — meaning they need your perspective on what’s working and what isn’t.
“Employees should ask about things that prevent them from realizing their objectives or slow them down. Whether you’re a manager or in HR, you don't want bottlenecks to stand in their way,” Norton said. Though managers should try to identify some of those obstacles through questioning, it’s a two-way street. Playing the part of “squeaky wheel” is one of the keys to managing up well. “If employees don't communicate their problems, we might not be aware of their struggles,” she said.
Similarly, while there’s a time and a place for open-ended questions, be specific when asking your manager for feedback. Giving constructive feedback is easier when you’re able to tie it to a particular topic or assignment.
“Put yourself in your manager's shoes. The obligation of having regular meetings where you’re expected to give feedback can make you run for the hills,” said Paula McLeod, an executive coach and CEO of Success by Design. “Don't just ask, ‘How am I doing?’ Instead, ask, ‘What's one thing I could do a little differently that would make me develop faster? Or make things easier for you? Or would get me promoted faster?’”
Among the HR and business leaders we surveyed, the top employee one-on-one questions were:
Though they can feel routine, weekly one-on-ones are the most important meetings on your calendar. For managers, they’re a way to ensure everyone feels engaged and productive. For everyone else, they’re a chance to check in with the boss, build rapport, and maybe even set the stage for that next big promotion.
“If you think these meetings are all about you, you’re wrong. These meetings are a chance to build your relationship with one of the most important people in your life,” McLeod said. “Whatever you do, don’t cancel it.”
To see how Lattice’s software empowers teams to get more out of their one-on-ones, schedule a product tour.