Elevating the employee experience, one meeting at a time

Is your business getting the most out of one-to-one meetings? HRD speaks to Alan Heyward of OC Tanner

Elevating the employee experience, one meeting at a time

Employee burnout is a real issue, and there’s no shortage of discussion around how it can be effectively addressed. Yet for Alan Heyward, managing director for Asia Pacific at OC Tanner, it starts with effective one-to-one meetings.

“One-to-one meetings play right into the heart of all the key elements within the employee experience that can, among other things, help identify the early signs of burnout, and address issues before they escalate into a crisis,” says Heyward.

“One-to-one meetings connect people with purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership. They ensure that whatever employees are doing remains connected to their role, to the goals of the organisation and to their manager.”

Heyward’s thoughts on the subject aren’t just born out of personal experience, either. The 2020 Global Culture Report by OC Tanner indicates that one-to-one meetings have been ‘elusive as an organisational practice and while they’re an integral part of people management, their integration into the employee experience has been haphazard at best’.

The research shows that 56% of employees reported having a regular one-to-one meeting. One in three dread meeting with their leader, and one in five one-to-one meetings are cancelled. In fact, less than half of employees and leaders prepare for these meetings and one in three employees have no say in their agenda.

Heyward believes that these statistics are reflective of an important distinction between ‘managers’ and ‘leaders’. 

“Not every manager is a leader even if they do have direct reports,” says Heyward. “It’s those managers who undertake regular one-to-one meetings, have open conversations with their people, create a psychologically safe environment, and actively listen to and mentor their direct reports that are entitled to wear the badge of leader. It shouldn’t be automatically bestowed upon them.”

The report also suggests that employers should not wait for annual reviews to manage performance; rather, it should be a continuous, ongoing process.

Peter Cappelli and Anna Travis, co-authors of a recent Harvard Business Review article, say that as more companies double down efforts on employee development by putting employees in charge of their own growth, a greater need for feedback from leaders has developed, something ‘that’s better met by frequent, informal check-ins than by annual reviews’.

Interestingly, the report also shows that monthly one-to-one meetings decrease the odds of employee burnout by 39%; bi-weekly meetings decrease the odds by a staggering 84%. This, Heyward believes, says it all. However, the MD acknowledges that it’s easy for a one-to-one to fall into the same old trap of managers asking for updates and ‘what’s on your plate now’ type of questions.

“Don’t make it all about a WIP update; the real value from the meeting comes when the conversation includes discussion points like, ‘I’ll help remove barriers’, ‘what support or development do you need?’ or ‘here’s an opportunity or issue – what do you think?’,” says Heyward.

He also draws on numbers from the report that validate his views. When one-to-one meetings are done well, there’s a 432% increase in the odds that an employee has a strong sense of leadership; a 226% increase in the odds an employee will highly rate their employee experience; and a 430% increase in the odds that an employee will be highly engaged.

“But consistency is the key; what message do you think it sends if you regularly cancel, reschedule or cut short your one-to-ones?” says Heyward.

“Direct reports should not feel as if they’re at the bottom of the priority list. And most importantly, these meetings should not just be a tick-box exercise; they should be viewed as an opportunity to connect, mentor and develop. Don’t underestimate their impact.”

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