One-to-one meetings help employees succeed

By Lori Goemans | December 2, 2020
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At The C.A. Lawton Co., weekly one-to-one meetings with all employees have become a key element in cultivating remarkable people. Human resources manager Lori Goemans explains how they work, what makes them unique, and their power as a recruiting and retention tool in this interview.

*This interview has been updated from its original publishing in August 2018.

How long has Lawton been doing weekly one-to-ones between employees and their supervisors?

Lori: They were rolled out almost three ago and are now an integral part of our culture. We typically reach in the upper 90s to 100% completion each week. What makes these meetings unique is that the employee goes first and controls the agenda. When they are finished, the supervisor has the floor for whatever time is left. It’s an opportunity for each of them to ask questions, discuss progress, and talk about development. It’s also an opportunity for supervisors to learn about their employees, both on a professional and personal level.

Why are one-to-ones effective?”

Lori: Employees wanted more communication. This is a way for them to receive weekly communication and feedback from their supervisor. They also function as a “safe place” to raise any issues or ask any questions they may have.

What types of issues get surfaced in these meetings?

Lori: Employees ask a myriad of questions of their supervisors. They vary from wage increases to what their priorities are for the day or week. Sometimes it’s personal stuff that they have going on. This time is designed so that supervisors can answer their questions and get to know them on a personal level. This is also an opportunity for supervisors to give positive feedback or do some coaching on areas that need improvement.

Supervisors also use this time to share the “information waterfall” distributed weekly by Lawton’s leadership team. This is what’s going on at a high level and where the company is at with customers, strategic plans, or whatever else may be a hot topic. Employees need to see the big picture to feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. We want all employees to be in the loop. They’re part of the Lawton family.

Do you provide any training to help managers be effective listeners and facilitators?

Lori: We use The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman as our playbook for supervisors. They have a book that talks explicitly about one-to-one meetings and the best way to do them. They also have excellent podcasts on many topics related to managing people. All managers have an Effective Manager book, most have gone through training regarding it, and all have access to the podcasts.

What tangible and intangible results do you see from these one-to-ones?

Lori: I’ve spoken with employees about them, and the feedback is generally very positive. It’s a huge time commitment from our supervisors, but they already see the value. It may be challenging to carve out the time each week, but they are committed to doing it because they can see that they work.

How do these one-to-one meetings help with change and transitions?

Lori: The one-to-ones allow employees to talk about their fears with their supervisor. It’s their time to discuss whatever is weighing heavily on their mind. Because we have a small supervisor-to-direct reports ratio, they can build that trust and working relationship to the point where they feel comfortable asking challenging questions.

How do these one-to-ones help you with employee retention?

Lori: The fact that they provide a forum to discuss employee concerns helps. At many companies, you don’t have that freedom. In that kind of environment, employees tend to feel isolated and unappreciated.

At Lawton, the supervisor and their direct reports can talk about the future, the employee’s career path ambitions, what kind of cross-training they may want, and more. It also gives supervisors the floor to discuss performance and how the employee can improve or give feedback on the improvements they have made in their work.

Since it’s not something we made up internally, there is a book, and there are guidelines and best practices we stick to. This helps employees who move into leadership roles make that transition a little easier. Having standard work practices to follow makes learning any new job or taking on new responsibilities much more comfortable.

How do these one-to-one meetings help you recruit excellent people?

Lori: When we do interviews with potential employees, we talk about the weekly one-to-ones. Everyone thinks it’s great that we do them and that they will have weekly time with their supervisor if they’re hired.

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