Most of the time, if someone wants to improve their 1:1s, they focus on what happens during the 1:1—what they talk about with each person, what questions they ask, what information they need to provide and what information they need to get. Of course, that is where all the action is. It’s easy for managers to forget that there is more to every 1:1 than the meeting itself.
A small adjustment that is sure to improve your 1:1s right away is engaging in a structured follow-up process after each meeting. This process not only allows you and direct reports an opportunity to debrief. Structured follow up also creates a natural venue in which to document and create an ongoing record of your conversations.
You and your direct report just met. You both took notes. Wouldn’t a debrief just be a waste of time? It may certainly feel that way in the day-to-day pressure of the workplace. But trust me, in the grand scheme of things it won’t require that much of your time. And it will end up saving you so much time in the long run by avoiding misunderstandings and miscommunications, and identifying small problems as soon as possible.
Follow ups should be as brief and direct as possible. Really, all you need to include in your follow ups are a list of the topics discussed and a list of next steps that were agreed upon. It doesn’t hurt to use follow ups to set a broad agenda and schedule your next 1:1, either.
Having a structured debriefing process following your 1:1s gives both you and the employee in question the opportunity to:
With 1:1s it is always better to meet in-person. At the least, communication should be conducted in real time, either via video or phone call. But when it comes to follow ups, it is almost always the case that email is the best solution.
There are a few reasons for this. One is that using email typically makes both managers and direct reports more likely to engage in the follow up process—it reduces pressure and creates a shared sense of ownership and responsibility. The bigger reason email is preferred for follow ups is that it serves the dual purpose of documenting every 1:1 you have.
Maintaining an ongoing record of the 1:1s you have with each direct report is invaluable. That record allows you to tie recognition, rewards, and consequences directly to specific instances of past performance or behavior. You can use it to guide your efforts to develop each employee. And when you make the call to HR to either reward or punish someone, you will be able to provide them with exactly the documentation they need.
Many managers overlook follow ups because they appear too simple—surely the way to improve your 1:1s is in the meetings themselves. But the reality is that follow ups are a simple way to achieve a lot. The five minutes it will take you to type that follow up email will save you so much time and effort later on.