"A manager is not a person who can do the work better than his men; he is a person who can get his men to do the job better than he can." -Frederick W. Smith

One on ones, a lot of us do it. However, there are many a time we came out of the meeting wondering to ourselves, “I wish that had gone a little better.” Don’t worry, you are not alone. Many of us are either in the capacity of a manager or an employee in a 1:1 meeting and have learned to streamline our thought processes a little better each time around. This post is to ease the pain of those employees who are now on the other side of the table and to establish a few pointers along the way.


Let us first establish the primary goals to be achieved through the 1:1 conversation.

Develop a relationship

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how the conversation is going to be, it is imperative that a manager has a clear understanding of his relationship with the prospective employee and should ensure that the same is reiterated throughout, to avoid any miscommunication.

Discover one’s self-interest

Here, self-interest means, finding a few intrinsic motivators that excite an individual and help them to see how their current job responsibilities entail these motivators. Psychology states that the pleasure associated with work is merely the excitement related to the contribution towards a personal interest. The onus falls on the manager to identify these interest factors and help the employee incorporate them into their work.

Seek value out of employee

Though it is given that any organization employs a person for their contribution, one on ones can be used to elucidate and clarify the requirements of the expectation and ask the employee to match them. Define a single hope or establish a common thread that links to multiple responsibilities which will provide direct and immediate benefit to the organization and use this thread as a guideline to recall, or reinforce valuable talking points. Employees also tend to be more accountable when it is stated directly than conveniently assumed.

Key details to remember

Remember your employee is worthy enough for your organization to have gone through the hassle of recruiting them

  • Be someone your employee can rely on.
  • ‍When posed with an opposing opinion, try to be less disruptive while the discomfort is being stated to let them finish the point entirely.
  • ‍After your employee has shared their point of view, calmly disagree or engage without throwing a wrench into the conversation.
  • ‍Be curious to find their passion that would help you keep them engaged over the long-term.
  • Remember that  1:1s are ideally driven by self-interest that helps bring a willingness to hold others accountable and to be held accountable oneself.  
"An employee's motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager." - Bob Nelson


Besides the agenda and notes that are guiding the conversational flow of your meetings, it is also helpful to follow a structure or guideline that can help you steer the conversation without looping back and forth or being disruptive. One on one meetings are a safe space for employees to share honest opinions and a rudimentary if not explicit guideline will make you an expert navigator across various conversational landmines which may prove detrimental.

These pointers can serve as a rough marker for covering all aspects of a 1:1 conversation.

Addressing short term objectives

These can serve as quick talking points, and a light conversational starter, as they set a professional tone and also revolve around something both you and your employee are equally indulged in. However, ensure that you do not spend too much time talking about daily updates or employee performance, for there are other places to talk about it.

Addressing long term objectives

Most managers assume that addressing long term objectives revolve around the employee KPI and OKR, even though that forms an integral part, it is still only a small piece of the pie. Long term objectives should be about employee’s vision about their career and how they see themselves getting there. Your job as a manager is to listen to in and act as a facilitator for the resources and guidance that they need to achieve to be successful.

Talk about improving the company

As a manager of a direct report, you also to a certain degree are shouldering the responsibility as a representative of the organization. However, you too are facing the responsibility of helping your employee become successful, and hence conversations about how current practices or functionality around the company can be improved will highlight to your employee that you and the company are on their side when it comes to any genuine concern.

Talk about how you can improve yourself

Though most managers deny carrying sentiments away from a 1:1, they most certainly do. As humans, all of us are flawed animals, with the most prominent being an inability to accept our flaws. When you talk about your improvement to a direct report, it establishes to them that you recognize their value and are also a fellow human like they are. Though this may for a while turn the dynamic of the conversation, it is a precious process for safely unearthing personal shortcomings that you might have earlier overlooked.

Talk about happiness

As humans, apart from those seeking enlightenment, we all seek the next best thing that’s happiness. It is essential for anyone to share excitement or a personal investment with work to be more functional and indulgent in it. Though happiness is very subjective and you are by no means your employee’s life coach. Any concerns about work or workplace that are a hindrance to their satisfaction can be addressed and resolved. Doing this simple activity will make your employees form a greater trust with you and the organization.

Talk Team Relations

This is mostly dependant on the nature of your team and their working style, though a sense of camaraderie will be a significant boost in collaborative efforts, some people fly farther when they fly solo. As a manager, it is only expected you address any hurdles or impediments that jeopardize a great outcome. It is also important to highlight the formality of the conversation to save yourself from being dragged into Chinese whisper circles that deteriorate and go against team spirit.

"To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well." - John Marshall


Once you believe the conversation is where you want to be, and you have stated everything that you had to and the employee has demonstrated their complete understanding, you can always throw the ball on their court and switch the roles. Though it is not advised to give them free rein over anything that they can tell you. It is advisable to have a few trigger questions which may give you honest answers about anything specific you wanted to evaluate.

A few examples of trigger questions can be:

  1. ‍If you were me, what changes would you make?
  2. What do you not like about the product?
  3. ‍What’s the most significant opportunity that we’re missing out on?
  4. ‍What are we not doing that we should be doing?

A few caveats

The discussion is personal in the sense that it's often up to the employee being discussed with, and what they are willing to share.  However, the idea seems to reflect that,  people in our current society are not so often asked such personal questions by someone who is interested in the answers.  We seldom are welcomed to share our stories, and people are often quite willing to do so.  

A one on one is not aimed at generating an intimate friendship (although this may also be an eventual result).  Instead, your purpose is straightforward and instrumental.  You are trying to link this person into a larger group, giving them and the organization more power to make the kinds of changes they would very much like to see in society.  You want a formal and not a personal relationship with this person.

Be careful to set your bias aside, though we pride ourselves in being fair and ubiased, we are all terribly biased creatures, voluntarily or involuntarily. It could be various factors including a person's likes or dislikes, or an observed similarity in the person’s exhibition of poor or excellent taste in attire. The point is there can be a plethora of external factors that may swing your perception either way and as a manager and mentor, one must always observe a calm and composed stance.


Giving a solid conclusion from the discussion enables you to set the right precursors for the next debate. It also helps you and your employee assimilate the discussion into valuable insights, and compartmentalize the talking points as bite-sized chunks for information. However, a conclusion is only an overall abstract of what the final takeaways of the discussion are and is most definitely not the takeaway in itself. One common mistake managers try to do is to discuss the conclusion with the employee. This arises due to the widespread misrepresentation of the findings as takeaways. Once all the issues have been addressed, the 1:1 in itself has concluded, and it is to be treated as a recap to remember the highlights of the discussion. This brings us to the importance of takeaways

“ A great manager is someone who says, 'You come to work with me, and I'll help you be as successful as possible; I'll help you grow. I'll help you make sure you're in the right role; I'll provide the relationship for you to understand and know yourself. And I want you to be more successful than me.'”- Curt Coffman


Takeaways are a non-infringing and straightforward way of asking and ensuring accountability, these help you and your employee figure out the next plan of action, or to continue your next meeting in contrast to a specific set of expectation and it’s relevant outputs.

What are you ready to be accountable for?

This is a straightforward question, that highlights the requirement of the one single metric or responsibility that your employee agrees to be accountable for. As a manager, you and your employee can discuss together to decide this accepted parameter. In some cases, where the outcome cannot be quantitatively measured, you can settle for a binary result that is regulated by factors which the manager and employee agree upon.

What am I ready to be accountable for?

Reflecting personal accountability, not only highlights the employee that you care but also helps them acknowledge that you are willing to learn. This culture of learning promotes educational honestly within the organization wherein every shortcoming whether from a superior or employee; is turned into a learning opportunity. This makes your employees consider you a fellow learner and reflect the same attitude towards their fellow teams.

Being a new age manager is a laborious and difficult task, but those who can successfully pull it off do it with constant learning and persistence. Many modern managers have also started practicing Radical Candor, to help them be better leaders, guides and coaches. If you believe in caring and listening to your employees' triumphs over objective feedback, click here to learn more about the art of giving and receiving feedback.