Giving effective one-on-one performance feedback is an essential skill for any manager to master. Now, as HR transforms to more frequent employee surveys and ongoing appreciation, one-on-ones are becoming less formal and more frequent — and even more vital to building engagement and company culture.
A one-on-one performance feedback meeting is a “precious moment of connection,” author and Wellcoaches CEO Margaret Moore tells Harvard Business Review. “Think, ‘I’m here to make a difference in the life of this person.'”
If that isn’t enough pressure, it’s compounded by another factor: the task of judging another person, and being fair about it.
“What a performance appraisal requires is for one person to stand in judgment of another. Deep down, it’s uncomfortable,” Dick Grote, author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals, tells Harvard Business Review.
It’s worth the challenge. One-on-one performance feedback meetings are one of the most useful productivity tools a manager has. Meeting face-to-face is a necessary break from the usual digital communications of the modern workplace. It’s a great time to share gratitude and encouragement. Plus, it gives you a chance to step out of the daily grind and discuss big-picture, strategic questions.
Make the most of your one-on-ones! Read on for tips from Harvard Business Review-approved experts like Moore, Grote and How to Invest Your Time Like Money author Elizabeth Grace Saunders.
Maximize One-on-One Performance Feedback: 10 Tips
Sitting down one-on-one to discuss performance isn’t an everyday opportunity, even if your company is increasing the frequency of its performance feedback surveys and post-survey chats.
Don’t waste this chance to engage with each employee. Here are 10 tips for giving one-on-one performance feedback that’s productive and meaningful:
1. Give Employees Questions to Mull Over Beforehand
Your one-on-one time with each employee is limited, so be prepared to dive right in. Prepare employees by giving them questions to think over in advance:
- Who do you admire in the organization and why?
- What is the biggest opportunity we’re missing out on?
- What don’t you like about our product?
Include prep questions right in the online scheduling system for each meeting invitation, or email a bulleted list of topics you’d like to cover. Share your questions a week or so beforehand so employees have plenty of time to think — this isn’t a pop quiz or an ambush!
2. Stick to the Schedule
Actions speak louder than words. Canceling or pushing back a scheduled meeting sends the wrong message to employees. Demonstrate your commitment to each employee by sticking to the schedule and arriving on time.
3. Don’t Offer a ‘Feedback Sandwich’
The “feedback sandwich” — compliment, criticism, compliment — was once the gold standard. But many management experts now agree it demoralizes good workers and falsely encourages those who are struggling. Pick a side, advises Grote. Praise motivates people who are already competent at their jobs. For poor performers, don’t sugarcoat bad news but keep the focus positive and oriented toward an action plan for improvement.
4. Begin with a ‘Win’
Before digging into a deeper discussion, start off the meeting by congratulating the employee for a recent ‘win,’ even a small one. Keep it simple and acknowledge their input: “I know you worked hard on that, and it went well.”
5. Practice Mindfulness
You need to be fully present with each employee during your one-on-one. Silence all digital notifications and other distractions while you’re meeting. If “busyness” and multitasking are draining you, try the Greater Good Science Center’s 3-Minute Body Scan Meditation before the meeting so you can be calm and focused during the meeting.
“You are there to learn,” Moore says. You’re in charge of the discussion but that doesn’t mean you need to dominate it. Listen and respond thoughtfully. Making sure employees feel heard is an important part of any feedback discussion.
7. Be Specific with Advice
Advice and praise always have the most impact when they’re specific and targeted. “Don’t say things like: ‘You need to be more proactive.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Say something like: ‘You need to take more initiative in calling potential sales leads,'” advises Grote. Employees should leave one-on-one performance feedback meetings knowing exactly what to do and by when.
8. Ask About Career Goals and Development
Your priority topic is current performance, but asking about career goals and development can guide the discussion and provide context for your feedback and advice.
9. Block Regular Time for One-on-Ones
When employees know they have a standing meeting, they are less likely to barrage you with a “constant stream of interruptions,” Saunders says. Experiment with the right frequency of holding one-on-one meetings for your organization, but keep it regular. Let employees know they can rely on you for one-on-one time.
10. Don’t Forget to Thank Employees
It’s the little things that count! Always remember to say “Thank You” to employees as part of your one-on-one performance feedback. Praising their hard work is important, but thanking them gives your feedback an added layer of meaning. It lets them know you personally care and are invested in their success.
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