Performance Management

How Employees Can Prepare for a One-on-One Meeting with Their Manager

September 30, 2019
March 8, 2024
Adryan Corcione
Lattice Team

Receiving and providing feedback is critical to keeping a workplace moving. Not only does it maintain overall productivity, but ongoing feedback helps employees and managers alike to improve their skills.

Failure to provide feedback often can prevent us from improving and addressing problematic behaviors. When this happens, as employees, we can be surprised when a manager brings up a negative habit of ours during a yearly performance review— perhaps that’s been ongoing for weeks or even months — without giving us the chance to resolve it sooner.

However, inviting ongoing conversations about our progress prevents these surprises from happening. One-on-one (1:1) meetings provide casual opportunities to exchange feedback between employees and managers far more frequently than the suspenseful, yearly review. While periodic, structured performance reviews are still crucial, 1:1s are equally as important. When conflicts can be addressed and strengths can be acknowledged sooner, the formal review becomes less mysterious and tense — especially when more is at stake for you as an employee.

Although these meetings are more informal, it’s still important to be prepared. Your manager not only holds you accountable for your role’s objectives and key results (OKRs), but can act as a mentor towards your professional development. Here are some tips for employees to get the most out of 1:1s.

Be proactive, even when your manager isn’t.

Not all managers will be as proactive or eager to pursue 1:1s with you. However, getting a consistent schedule of meetings and a meeting agenda can help you two be on the same page.

If your manager isn’t planning ahead, it’s best you take initiative. If your manager doesn’t have 1:1s scheduled, perhaps it’s time to bring it up; if your manager cancels meetings with you without rescheduling, it could be time to be assertive and nail down a date that works for the both of you.

If you are in a situation where your manager isn’t as proactive as you’d like, preparing conversations can help them get engaged and motivated to work towards your growth as an employee. It can help set the tone for what you want your working relationship to be.

When it comes to the structure of the meetings, it’s helpful to let your manager know what you want to get out of them. Are you looking to improve certain skills? Take on more responsibilities? Work towards a higher position within the organization? The Muse recommends that these meetings should actually be run by the employees anyway. Even if your manager prepares topics to discuss, you’re allowed to assert your needs and wants out of these meetings.

Avoid doing simple status check-ins.

Especially if you’re the proactive one in the 1:1 relationship, try avoiding updates and check-ins about pending projects, action items, tasks, and assignments.  Status updates on projects, for example, can be better communicated in an email.

If you want to impress your manager, fill the gap in the conversation with action items you’ve already completed. You should absolutely show your work when it’s completed. Report back on what projects you finished, what deadlines you met. Have glowing feedback from a client? Share it. Don’t be afraid to brag! Other discussion points can include self-improvement, team improvement, development goals, and interpersonal issues, such as with colleagues or clients.

Taking action in this way will also leave a lasting impression—you’ll prove yourself to be forward-thinking. Plus, you might bring up something they planned to talk about, but forgot about. Don’t be shy; use 1:1s as an opportunity to shine, so your successes aren’t left unseen on the sidelines.

Point out if there’s too much negativity.

1:1s shouldn’t be focused exclusively on what’s wrong; they should also be opportunities for praise. Over time, 1:1s will become a way to measure and assess your progress, which also includes recognizing your successes, endeavors, and accomplishments along the way.

According to Marcel Schwantes, Chief Human Officer, Leadership From the Core in Inc., exceptional managers focus on the performance, rather than the person. In other words, they’re able to separate a behavior from a person. While you shouldn’t take their criticism too personally, you should absolutely speak up if you feel your manager is overly critical, especially when it gets personal. 

If you suspect your manager is focusing too much on the negative, bring it up. Express your concern. Ask them about how they have seen you grown since your working relationship started. Remind them of what you’re doing successfully, too. If the behavior continues after confronting it, it’s time to bring a third party in to mediate.

Take time to assess your goals.

 As an employee, you may have certain goals related to your position. Maybe you’re seeking a promotion, bonus, or pay raise. These goals may also be more personal, but still benefit the organization, like learning new software, completing a task faster than expected, or improving your interactions with clients. Harvard Business Review encourages managers to ask their direct reports about future career development, so don’t worry about thinking too far ahead.

 Just like annual performance reviews, 1:1s can be used to assess progress towards your long-term goals or OKRs that set ahead of time, perhaps using tools like Lattice. More technically, they can also be utilized to assess objectives and key results. For instance, how can addressing a specific conflict work towards a larger goal? If you missed a project deadline, you may be able to set a new deadline with more realistic expectations of time and labor required to complete the project. However, if your goal is to complete a project within a smaller period of time, you can break down time more strategically to meet the deadline sooner moving forward.  

 Likewise, the meetings can also simultaneously be used towards monitoring the organization’s objectives and key results. By investing in your development as an employee, the larger organization benefits from your satisfaction and productivity.

Make sure to follow up.

The follow-through is the most important aspect of a 1:1. Taking action on critical feedback shows you’re proactive. It also exemplifies integrity, initiative, and accountability. After all, the point of receiving critical feedback is to improve.

Make sure to follow up on what was discussed during a 1:1. Depending on how frequently you meet with your manager, you can choose to wait until the next 1:1 to bring it up. You may also choose to email your update, but if your manager is available for quick conversations during the workday, it would be most rewarding to tell them face-to-face.

 Annual performance reviews can be a critical tool in an organization, but aren’t comprehensive. That’s why 1:1s are helpful in tracking development in bite-sized chunks, to provide ongoing feedback in hopes of speeding up the improvement process. Ultimately, employees benefit from continuous feedback — because it shows your manager (and their organization) is committed to your professional growth.