Many years ago, I worked at a teeny, tiny PR firm where each employee was required to meet with a partner once per month. The meetings were one-on-one, and while they were designed to provide an outlet for employees to talk about their trials and successes in the workplace, each one inevitably turned into a vent session about one’s personal life.
I usually left these meetings feeling icky, like I had revealed too much, learned too much, and/or my boss had asked too much.
One-on-ones can often end up this way, especially in small business settings that are intimate and casual by nature.
So how can small business owners stay on task in an employee one-on-one meeting?
Request a clear agenda
Ask your employee to prepare a list of talking points prior to the meeting.
“Ask them to come to the meeting with things you need to know about, challenges they are facing and items that they need your help with,” suggests Erika Andersen, author of Growing Great Employees and founder of Proteus International, a business coaching company based in Highland, New York. “If the responsibility is on the employee, it will change the dynamic of the meeting in a really good way and the employee will come more engaged.”
In addition to asking an employee to come with an agenda, it is important for small business owners to also be prepared for a one-on-one meeting.
“One-on-one meetings can be stressful for managers and employees,” says Robin Throckmorton, president of Strategic Human Resources, an HR consultancy based in Cincinnati. “If the meeting is a performance review, make sure you’ve reviewed the employee’s job description, sought input from other members of your management team, and know what you are going to say.
“If you are prepared, the conversation will be much less stressful. It is also important to prepare for how you will end the conversation and move forward with advice or next steps for the employee.”
Clear your desk
Most people will agree: talking with someone who is constantly checking their smart phone is beyond annoying. That frustration can also surface during one-on-one meetings.
“Make sure you are clear of distractions before you meet with your employee,” Throckmorton advises. “If you keep your phone on or are constantly glancing at your computer, your employee will feel belittled.”
Meet often, but not too often
Andersen says it is important for business owners to meet with direct reports on a regular basis, maybe even once per week.
“Setting up a standing meeting will help employers delegate more effectively; help employees think more clearly about what is important to them, their success and the company’s success; and the meting will turn into a normal course of business instead of a nerve-wracking event,” Andersen notes.
That said, make sure you aren’t meeting too often.
“If you set aside an hour and you are done in 30 minutes, end the meeting,” she says.
Have you ever had a boss who loved to hear the sound of his own voice? Me too, and I soon found a new employer.
“Guard against the tendency to talk all the time; instead, really encourage your employee to talk during a one-on-one meeting,” says Andersen. “Letting your employee talk is a great way to find out what is going on with them and in your business.”
Katie Morell is a Chicago-based writer and frequent OPEN Forum contributor. She regularly contributes business, feature and travel articles to national and regional publications.