One on One Feedback Sessions

Leading for High Performance

One on One Feedback Sessions

This expertly prepared One on One "How To guide" will help you to build a high performing team.

The Case for Great One-On-One's (O3)

Typically, managers will spend as much as 80% of their “employee time” with their lowest performing employees. This means they are spending 20% or less with their middle and high performing employees.

This imbalance of managerial time allocation causes dissatisfaction with your better performing employees, which can lead to increased employee turnover, increased unplanned absence and lower employee engagement.

By adopting a program of regular feedback sessions with all of your employees, you will create balance in your time allocation and will give more time to your middle and high performing employees which will:

  • motivate them to continue performing at a high level,
  • reduce employee turnover, and
  • reduce unplanned absence.

What are One On One (O3) Feedback Sessions?

A one on one feedback session is a formal meeting held in private between a manager and employee where the discussion is focused on the employee’s recent performance and the employee’s short-term goals, (0-3 months).

These feedback sessions are a subset of your organisations overall employee performance planning and monitoring framework.

One on One Accountability

How do One on Ones Lead to Higher Performance?

The use of regular formal performance feedback sessions plays a pivotal role in sustaining the motivation of your employees.

Simply by making your time available for your people you will:

  • Show through your actions that your people are valuable
  • Enhance your relationship with all of your employees
  • Ensure your employees know how valued their performance is to your team’s performance
  • Increase opportunities to provide positive feedback to all employees
  • Create opportunities to discuss your employee’s career plans and development goals
  • Clarify performance standards and expectations

Once you commence a program of regular one on one feedback sessions you will find your employees will save any issues / concerns or improvement suggestions for their valuable one-on one-time with you.

Most employees value their formal feedback sessions, as it is often the only time that they will have the dedicated attention of their leader to focus on their performance and career goals.

However, if these feedback sessions are executed poorly then they become a source of dissatisfaction.

Linking One on One's to Performance Appraisals

Many organisations will have an annual performance appraisal process. In this performance appraisal process a manager and employee will meet to discuss the employee’s longer term career and performance goals. The performance appraisal process generally commences with a one hour goal planning meeting, followed by a "six monthly" and an "end of year" review discussion.

The one on one (O3) feedback sessions commence soon after the performance appraisal goal planning meeting. During the O3 feedback session the manager and employee will discuss the employee’s recent performance and how their recent performance is helping them to realise their annual goals as stated in their annual performance appraisal goal plan.

The mid-year performance appraisal review meeting then becomes a summary of the last five feedback sessions. (This assumes that you are having monthly one-on-one feedback sessions).

One On One link to Appraisals

How Frequent Should Feedback Be?

Generally O3 meetings will occur monthly and last anything from 15 to 60 minutes, however you should typically allow 30 minutes plus preparation time.

Some leadership programs suggest you should have a feedback session every week with each of your people. You will find that leaders who have a weekly meeting with each of their staff tend to discuss the current status of initiatives, share corporate communications and other changes in the organisation during this time.

This weekly time is valuable for your employee and if you choose to have these weekly meeting you can then make one of these meetings each month specifically about the employee’s current performance.

The duration and frequency of feedback sessions depends on the needs of your employee and should allow the employee sufficient time to improve their performance between meetings. When determining the frequency of your feedback sessions you may like to consider that:

  • New or developing employees will generally require more frequent sessions. (Weekly is reasonable for a new starter)
  • Employees who are competent and content in their role will tend to require shorter and less frequent sessions
  • Employee needs should drive your time allocation and frequency

Tip: Saving time in people management reduces performance; don’t be efficient be effective in your people management, focus on being effective and giving your people the time that they need.

Step 1: Planning Your One on Ones

In general, your employees will not appreciate you springing a surprise feedback session on them; instead what you will find is that your employees will:

  • Respond well to a schedule/plan communicated in advance
  • Get concerned when asked to attend a discussion without warning
  • Are, in general, surprisingly accepting of changes to your plan, as long as the change is communicated well in advance (last minute changes cause dissatisfaction)
  • Prefer to be prepared

One on one

How to plan your One on One Feedback Sessions

Developing a plan is as simple as printing out a calendar of the month that you intend to start your feedback sessions and writing in the names of each of your employees on the day that you want to conduct their session. When doing this, give consideration to the amount of time you will need to prepare for your employee feedback sessions and your other tasks that are falling due.

    For example: If you have a monthly report due on the 15th then have a few days before hand with no feedback sessions to ensure you can meet your report deadline.

Alternatively you can empower your team members – you might like to print out your calendar and highlight the available time slots for your employees and let your team members pick the time that suits them.

The final step of planning is to send calendar invitations from your diary to all of your employees with the title “(Employee name) One on One” advising them of the time, date and location of their feedback session.

Tip: Block out time in your diary to prepare for your employee’s feedback sessions

Tips for planning your employee’s One on Ones
  • Spread your employees out evenly through the month
  • Always allow 30 minutes between sessions if you have two on the same day. This will ensure you have time to be prepared and punctual for each employee. (Being unprepared or late is a source of dissatisfaction for your employee).
  • Allow time between other meetings and your employee’s feedback sessions in case your meeting runs overtime. (In general it is ideal to have time, say 5 - 10 minutes between all meetings)
  • If performance data is available monthly – then schedule your lower performing employee’s as soon as the data becomes available. Make them timely; however do not rush through your employees.
  • During a team meeting, some time after your third month of giving feedback, ask your team for feedback on your planning and scheduling of one on one sessions. You never know what your employees do or don’t like until you ask.
  • If you are not currently having feedback sessions with your employees – let them know that these sessions will be commencing soon possibly in a team meeting prior to setting up your first one on one meetings.

You should also consider varying the frequency of feedback sessions in the following situations:
  • New employees should have more frequent formal feedback during their induction/orientation until they have acquired the skills required to do the job well
  • Employees taking on new tasks should have more frequent feedback to help guide them along the way

How to demotivate your people

Feedback sessions are motivational, however they can be destructive if you do any of the following:

  • Frequent rescheduling of the meeting or last minute rescheduling
  • Cancelling the meeting or just not turning up for the meeting
  • Answering your phone during a O3 meeting
  • Letting other people interrupt
  • Raising your voice during the O3 feedback session
  • Keeping rehashing the past, bringing up issues that occurred before your last O3 with your employee
  • Doing most of the talking yourself

Read more Do's and Don'ts

Step 2: Preparing your feedback sessions

Preparing for a One on One requires effort from you, however this effort will be returned to you tenfold in commitment from your people and improved business performance.

Managerial Effort = Employee Feeling Valued

Research has shown that employees are highly motivated by a leader who is knowledgeable about the employee’s performance. Employees are not motivated by leaders who are not aware of or not informed about the employee’s performance.

Preparing for your One on One feedback session is all about making sure that you are knowledgeable about your employee’s performance, that you have refreshed your memory about your previous discussions. When you are prepared you are able to discuss your employee's performance in general terms without looking at reports or data during the feedback session.

Before each feedback session, review for each employee:

  • Your notes from your last two feedback sessions
  • Any compliments or performance issues raised during the month
  • Performance and quality reports
  • Stakeholder or customer feedback
  • The employee’s annual performance plan or annual KPI’s
  • The employee’s development plan
  • Unplanned absence records
  • Lateness (if important in your business)
  • Behavioural or performance issues that were discussed since the last one on one
  • Approaching deadlines or project milestones

In your employee’s feedback sessions also be prepared to:

  • Mention recent business changes, and seek feedback on how they are going
  • Validate understanding of upcoming business changes
  • Ask for improvement suggestions
  • Ask for feedback

Using Feedback Sessions to Embed Strategy

For leaders who want to drive a focus on strategic initiatives, always focus on these initiatives in your employee’s feedback sessions.

For example if you have a strategic goal to improve customer service, then during your employee’s feedback session:

  • Ask for feedback on how the improvements in customer service are going
  • Give feedback on how the improved customer service initiative is going and how this employee is contributing to the initiative, and
  • Ask for customer service improvement suggestions

Empowering your employees:

You should expect your employees to complete the same level of preparation for their feedback meetings as you have; if your employee turns up unprepared you should reschedule the session.

Ask the employee to present to you a summary of their performance. Let them do 90% of the talking; you can interrupt anytime to give positive feedback. In a feedback session you can give positive feedback on how well the employee:

  • Prepared for the session
  • Presented their performance
  • Took on feedback and developed an action plan

In addition to giving positive feedback on the employee performance a One on One is the ideal time to give level 3 or 4 associative praise.

Step 3: Conducting O3 Feedback Sessions

How should you open the discussion?

Download Free One on One Templates

It is recommended that you open the discussion by thanking your employee for making the time to attend their feedback session.

Why do you thank your employee?

  • To show appreciation for the effort that they put into being prepared
  • To show that you appreciate their punctuality
  • To further demonstrate that you are humble, that you consider your employee did not attend their one on one because you directed them to, they attended because they wanted to attend

Then as an ice breaker you should have 5 minutes of social chat where you listen to your employee talk about their life. (The goal is to build relationships with your people, even while you are discussing their performance).

After the ice breaker you ask our employee about each element of their performance, the following sample questions show you how to mix it up:

    “Tell me about your productivity, John”

    “The expectation is 42% for conversion, tell me about your conversion, John”

    “I see you had some great customer feedback, tell me about your service score John”

    “You have had a tough month with sales, tell me how you’re going, John”

Read more on Giving Negative Feedback and Giving Positive Feedback

The trick to a great feedback session is to let your employee do 80% of the talking. So you need to follow up with questions, such as:

    “How can you turn that around this month, John?”

    “What can you try to improve your results next month, John?”

    “That is an excellent outcome, what do you think you could share with others who are struggling?”

    “You’re doing well, how could we challenge you?”

And when the conversation reaches the logical point:

    “What actions are you going to commit to, John?”

    “What can I do to assist you, John?”

    “What do you need from me, John?”

    And, if your employee is stumped for ideas:

    “Would you like me to make a suggestion?”

As the leader your role becomes to ask probing questions, give praise, ask for actions and, when required, ask permission to offer suggestions. If you follow this model your employee will be doing 80% of the talking.

Rate your one on one capabilities with our free self-assessment

Exceptions For Employees Not Meeting KPI’s

In general the discussion should focus on development towards meeting KPI’s.

Sometimes you will have an employee who is not a good fit for their role, for example someone who is not great at details in a detail orientated role, but who has other skills.

You can look at developing these people to other roles in your organisation.

If you have commenced formal performance management processes with an employee then their performance discussions replace the employee's one on one until the performance gap has resolved.

Discussion for Employees Meeting KPI’s

Focus more on their development goals. Developing new skills, broader capabilities or coaching, training and leadership skills.

One on One feedback session tips

  • If an employee has a lot of development needs try to work on only one or two at a time
  • During a feedback session your role is to be a coach, not the manager or leader
  • During a feedback session your employee may raise an issue affecting staff morale. The first thing you should do is to thank them for raising the issue with you then ask some probing questions
  • Accept your employee’s reasons for under performance, there is limited value in having a debate. Simply restate the expectations and ask them how they will meet their performance expectations next month
  • If an employee misses a feedback session it is their accountability to reschedule with you
  • Use the time to validate the employees understanding of upcoming change initiatives
  • Ask for feedback from your employee “how can I help you to be more successful”

More Tips

High Performance Leadership Recommendation

Ask someone to sit in your One on Ones and give you feedback on your One on One style using our observation checklist. Explain to your employee how the observer is going to help you before the One on One and ask your employee’s permission. (it’s a respect thing)

Step 4: Follow up to Inspire

Show, through action, your employees that you are interested in them and they will repay you tenfold

Following up is one way great leaders show that they are interested in their people, it is easy to do and shows your people that as your leader “I am interested in you and how you are going with the things you said you would do”

Some manager’s think that following up says to their employees “I don’t trust you” these managers have made an incorrect assumption. Following up is supportive and provides an opportunity to assist, coach or give positive feedback.

Once managers start following up with their people they see their relationships strengthen and team morale improve.

Here we will describe an easy to follow, three step process to follow after you have completed your one on ones that is guaranteed to improve morale and business performance in your business.

One on One Close Out

At the end of your employee’s session you should ask your employee to sign off on their results for the previous period and to sign up to any agreed actions. After a feedback session make sure you update your file notes on the themes discussed and file your copy of the signed feedback form in the employee’s personnel file. (The file can be on-line or in a folder). Your files notes exist as an extension of your memory where you record themes of the discussion including both positive and negative commentary. You may also make notes on any social discussion.

Manage your One on One Actions

Add your actions to your time management system. Then make sure you complete all of your actions, any failure to follow through will harm your ability to lead your team effectively as they will quickly lose confidence in you.

Leaders who complete all of their actions are described by their team members as “on top of their game”.

One on One Follow up

Now invest in your people, show interest. Put reminders in your calendar to follow your employee up on their actions in a few days’ time and then again in about a week and a half.

When you follow up with your employee, ask the employee how their specific actions are going and how effective the actions have been at improving performance, or developing their skills.

(Your employees will always be in awe that you seem to be able to remember everyone’s actions).

Following up after your feedback sessions will

  • keep you on top of your game
  • make your employees feel valued
  • Increase goal achievement
  • Provide opportunities for you to
    • - give positive feedback
      - coach, or
      - assist your employees with their action

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