What are some good tips for 1:1s with your employees? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Ian McAllister, former General Manager at Amazon, @ianmcall, on Quora:

Here are a few ways to make 1:1s productive:

  1. Don't cancel them. The easiest way to communicate to employees that they're not important is to cancel their 1:1s, no matter what the reason. If a conflict comes up, try to reschedule the 1:1 at another time on the same day, and apologize for doing so. Cancelling a 1:1 is worse than never scheduling one at all.
  2. Let them drive (to start). Don't start 1:1s by piling more work on employees. Encourage them to drive the agenda and to bring a list of things they'd like your advice on or to discuss. You can try to bring these out by simply asking, "What can I help you with?"
  3. Go fishing. Ask open-ended questions to try to ferret out concerns. They can be questions about a specific project ("How's project X going?") or even more broad ("What's keeping you up at night lately?").
  4. Be transparent and honest. By encouraging your employees to raise real concerns you're going to get some tough questions. If you can't answer them, tell your employee that. If you do choose to answer, answer honestly and err on the side of transparency. If she points out a problem on the team, acknowledge it and respond by telling her what you're doing to fix it. If he thinks he's due for a promotion and you don't, reset his expectations by doing a gap analysis.
  5. Discuss career development. Every few 1:1s, make sure to step away from project discussions and have a higher-level discussion about the employee's career and satisfaction on the team. These are sometimes called "stay interviews." Check in on what the employees' specific goals are and what they think will make them satisfied in their jobs in the coming months. If the goal is to be promoted, review the different things they need to achieve or demonstrate to move further down that path.
  6. Ask for course correction. You won't always get answers, but every couple 1:1s with an employee, ask: "What could I be doing better as a manager?" You can get some really great guidance this way, and it's much better to get this feedback throughout the year and act on it than to be surprised by it at review time when you hear about it from your own boss.
  7. Give course correction. Performance issues grow over time. Try to spot patterns early and give gentle feedback to reverse performance issues. Strengthen the tone of your feedback the longer the performance issue persists.
  8. Coach them on communication. One skill that can benefit all employees throughout their careers is clear communication. Use your 1:1s as opportunities to coach your employees on communication. Ask them to write brief docs on relevant topics. If they are unclear explaining something, probe until you understand and then replay the point back to them, as an example.
  9. Dangle opportunities. Try to come up with a couple personalized ideas for how the employee could really distinguish herself. Don't assign these as goals or projects, but mention them as opportunities. See which employees take the bait and go over and above to capitalize on the opportunity, or come up with others on their own. These are the employees that are striving, a key quality in any employee.

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Published on: Sep 13, 2016