Alex Tolbert, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is founder and CEO of Bernard Health, an Inc. 5000 company whose flagship product, BerniePortal, is an all-in-one HR platform for small employers supported by thousands of benefits professionals nationwide. We asked Alex about best practices in tracking performance management. Here's what he shared:
That said, one thing is for sure: The annual performance review is not optimal for today's workforce. Continued feedback is critical and more effective in keeping teams and organizations on track.
In our company, weekly one-to-one meetings between managers and team members are an integral part of our culture and performance management strategy. We consider the "1-1" as the primary mechanism for organizations to use to ensure high-quality feedback and improvement.
If your organization doesn't currently have a framework for continued, consistent performance management, now is the time to implement a 1-1 approach.
What's a 1-1?
A one-to-one, or 1-1, is a weekly scheduled meeting that every manager holds with each of their direct reports. As opposed to regularly scheduled team huddles or project-specific meetings, the 1-1 is intended to provide a regular outlet and avenue for two-way communication on the full scope of an employee's tasks, responsibilities or concerns.
What are the benefits of a 1-1?
There are two key benefits to building a 1-1 strategy into your company culture.
The first is coaching. Most team leads want staff members to grow their skill sets and careers, ultimately allowing managers to delegate more and recognize a higher level of productivity. Further, employees are generally happier when their growth is prioritized, leading to improved retention.
But without a dedicated strategy that ensures regular coaching, it's easy for these tasks to get pushed to the backburner as both managers and direct reports focus on everyday responsibilities.
The second benefit of regular 1-1 meetings is from a compliance standpoint. When managers identify an employee for job termination, HR typically asks for a record of dialogue around the reason for termination in order to protect the company from a legal perspective.
Often, managers aren't aware that such documentation is necessary, but with nothing in writing and no history of feedback, it can be challenging to terminate employees, especially those in protected classes.
The weekly 1-1, with written agendas and summaries, guarantees regular documentation of these conversations, which is good for the health of the organization.
How to conduct a useful 1-1
Speaking of agendas and summaries, documentation is a vital part of an effective 1-1. Regular meetings between managers and direct reports improve coaching, but won't do much in the way of compliance unless there's a written record. Further, recording meeting topics in writing leads to more productive meetings as well as a higher likelihood of mutual understanding.
In our company, we ask team members to send their manager an agenda of items they want to discuss at least a day in advance of their weekly 1-1. Managers reply with any additional agenda items. This makes meetings more productive, and it also gives both parties time to prepare. We encourage that if an agenda item is sensitive in nature, it should be described as fully as possible to give the other party time to think about it before discussing.
Following the meeting, team members send a summary of action items and important points of discussion. Again, managers respond with any other items they would like documented.
Holding managers accountable
Once you implement a performance management strategy, HR or the business leader may initially have to be proactive in holding managers accountable for these meetings.
One method is to explain the value of these meetings to managers and get them invested in the outcomes. Here's how our Organization Success team describes 1-1s: "Our company invests significant time in mentorship, feedback and employee development in 1-1s. Given the investment, it's important we do it well. We have some of our most meaningful and productive conversations in 1-1 meetings. When done well, 1-1s make us a stronger organization. It's important to the company's continued success that these norms are internalized and become part of our cultural DNA."
For another perspective, check out A Good Place to Work by Ben Horowitz. In this essay, the venture capitalist and author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things writes about his experiences with a manager who hadn't conducted a 1-1 meeting in six months, and why these meetings are integral to building a strong company and creating a good place to work for employees.
The 1-1 might not seem like a make-or-break tool for your organization at first, but in our experience, it's a core component of creating a successful organization. It imbues a sense of accountability for team members at every level and ensures that both employee and organizational success are prioritized.