Using one-to-ones to boost employee engagement

Using one-to-ones to boost employee engagement

by James Edwards, client success director 

I’ve written a lot about employee engagement and developing a strategy that fits the unique characteristics or your organisation. There’s no silver bullet that works for every company. Increasing engagement requires a combination of solutions that include everything from initiating communications campaigns to offering employee perks like flexible work schedules and employee discounts.

That’s why my team and I are completely focused on growing employee engagement for our clients. But as a team manager, there’s another step I’d like to talk about today to improve employee engagement that extends beyond technology: conducting one-to-one meetings that plot career growth.

Management is one of our building blocks on The Engagement Bridge, and meeting regularly with employees to talk about their career path is a critical piece of that step.

Continually investing in your employees’ career development can eliminate that feeling of being stuck in a role that’s grown stale, which leads many employees to disengage and start heading for the door, by providing them opportunities for growth that they may not be aware of.

And it demonstrates that companies care about employee’s long-term development, not just the day-to-day work they do. That’s especially true of millennials, where research shows that they enjoy receiving feedback, are eager to move up and continually value companies that offer opportunities to develop skills for growth.

With that in mind, you can understand how the structure of your one-to-one meetings can help boost employee engagement. To take advantage of these opportunities, let’s look at five key steps you should be taking when meeting with your staff.

Meet regularly
You’re no doubt already meeting with your employees for weekly check-ins, monthly staff meetings and annual performance reviews. How often you meet with members of your staff to discuss career growth is an important question that only you can answer and will likely depend on multiple factors, from the number of reports to their level of engagement.

You should meet at least twice a year, if not quarterly with this key topic in mind – set an agenda where the only thing on it is talking about that employee’s professional development and growth. I often let the employee determine the frequency too as we have so many different styles of working, some people like weekly catch-ups whereas others prefer less frequency and the knowledge that they can grab me for a catch-up anytime.

Prepare in advance
You can’t expect to have a successful discussion about career path unless both you and your employee are prepared.

Prior to your meeting, put some thought into the steps their career has taken, how long they’ve been at their current role, what they excel at, areas where they could improve, and what kind of progress has been made since your last meeting. Likewise, you should encourage the employee to spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the same things and even write them down.

Focus on career
One of this biggest mistakes a leader can make is losing sight of the discussion and mixing in other topics such as work assignments and performance review. Those topics belong in separate meetings.

Use this one-to-one time to allow your employee to talk about career growth, opportunities for advancement and how you can help them succeed. That’s a big topic, and you want to provide ample time to cover it.

Provide guidance
Some employees may find it intimidating to chat with their manager about their career ambitions, so you may have to encourage them to open up a bit. Fostering an open and honest culture can help break employees out of their shell, but a couple of questions to ask can include:

  • What are your career goals for the next three to five years?
  • Would you like to be recognised as a subject matter expert?
  • Are you interested in management?
  • What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

Remember the goal here is to find out what they want and to support those ambitions. You should offer guidance by discussing their strengths and weaknesses and how those can lead in specific directions. Your direct reports may not see long-term career options from their vantage. You should be able to offer solutions to help them gain experience or knowledge needed to get where they want to go.

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Follow-up with an action plan
The final step is creating a development plan so that these meetings are not in vain. You can collaborate on a plan that includes appropriate training courses, conferences, educational seminars, mentorships and anything else that can help give them the step up they need to achieve their career goals. The onus is on the employee to take advantage of this plan, but you can keep them engaged with regular check-ins and recalibrate at your next one-to-one meeting.

We always like to say that employee engagement is a marathon, not a sprint. By setting the right example on career pathing and professional development, your employees will be more likely to stay engaged with you and your organisation every step of the way.