Why Winning the 1:1 is The Secret to Your Team’s Success


With $160 Billion lost each year in North America due to employee attrition, retention has never been more vital to companies. I’ve touched on this in my blogs on recruiting in the age of the hyper-hopper and hiring for GRIT. Several SHRM readers reached out after reading all asking the same question: once you hire new employees, how do you retain them? 

As someone that’s spent over a decade hiring, developing and mentoring dynamic teams of future leaders I wanted to share three simple techniques that I have implemented around my teams 1:1s. These practices have laid the foundation for teams that were not only high-performing but highly retained. My goal is to provide examples you can enable with your team quickly and efficiently.

  1. Establish a clearly defined 1:1 cadence and provide a template

This has worked for several reasons. One, it allows the team to have a loose structure and lets them know there’s a structure in place vs. completely ad hoc meetings. Also, I ask that they send me their 1:1 template 24 hours in advance of our meeting. By sending it to you a day ahead of your 1:1 you are given a head’s up on any issues. Whether you get a short note, or a full-blown novel allows valuable insight into your employee’s challenges.  It also allows you to start formulating a plan vs. having to diagnose on the fly for any major issues.

I’ve had tremendous success doing biweekly 1:1s which take place the first and third week of the month (allowing extra time for my remote employees). Here’s my format:

1:1 A (1st week): Most Important Thing to Discuss > KPI’s > Kudos for a Coworker

1:1 B (3rd week): Most Important Thing to Discuss > Development > Kudos for a Coworker 

  1. Start Your 1:1 with “What’s the Most Important Thing for Us to Discuss?"

Why start this way? Establishing that the meeting starts with you listening to their biggest concern speaks volumes. Allowing for your team to think critically on what’s the most pressing issue gives a measurable barometer on what’s important to them and offers you some perspective on how they are developing. Some employees may offer a direct challenge with a candidate/hiring manager/customer. Others may have a more strategic big picture idea they are excited to present to you. Regardless, the power here is listening and doing your best not to simply solve their challenge. It may take some practice but I’m a big believer in not giving an answer out of the gate. The best leaders I’ve reported to have instead used 1:1’s to guide me down the path to come up with the solution on my own and I’ve found my employees respond well to this approach.

  1. Make professional development a priority and talking point in your 1:1s

Why: As I’ve grown in my own career, I’ve realized how important it is to my teams to have the opportunity to not only thrive in their current role but expand their skill set. That’s why we spend half the time of the second 1:1 each month discussing their professional development goals. These are goals we’ve established during their annual reviews and that we’ve jointly agreed make part of their MBO’s. Some managers review this bi-annually or quarterly which is great but for me making it someone we discuss monthly shows an investment in the employee’s development. 

So often leaders get lost in the whirlwind of the day to day that we are left scrambling to come up with annual goals, etc at the worst possible time: year-end reviews. This leaves employees frustrated especially if they have a bonus tied to objectives that are then decided by their manager. For me, it’s about making growth not only a major part of annual reviews but also when jointly planning Management by Objectives (MBOs) for their upcoming year.

This has resulted in me having one of the highest retention rates of any team at my previous and current companies in the competitive field of Software as a Service. I’ve been fortunate to hire and manage amazing teams that continue to impress and exceed expectations. One of the things I enjoyed about my most recent annual reviews for my teams was that several employees said their last year was the one they grew the most professionally.

And yet one of my favorite stories came when I lost a team member but retained a friend and colleague. At the time, I was head of Sourcing for a Fortune 100 tech company. During his 1:1 out team’s best Technology Sourcer shared that he had come to the realization he wanted a career change to become a Software Developer. He said this almost guiltily and I’ll never forget the look on his face when he told me he’d understood if I had to let him go. 

It was a unique challenge as he was not only one of our top producing sourcers consistently exceeding his KPI’s but was also an amazing coworker and relationship-builder at our company. Firing him was the last thing I thought of when he said this. 

Instead, we worked together on building a plan that would allow him to do both. We utilized a recruiting CRM that allowed our team to build HTML web/email campaigns. Instead of being fired, he became our specialist building 100’s of HTML campaigns and getting invaluable coding experience. We also spent time looking at free coding classes he could take outside of work. I’m happy to say six years later he’s still pursuing his passion and is a very accomplished UI Developer. He’s also still an amazing culture fit and gives back to the developer community by advising other professionals transitioning their careers into coding. 

I’ve been fortunate to hire and manage amazing teams that continue to impress and exceed expectations. One of the things I enjoyed about my most recent annual reviews for my teams was that several employees said their last year was the one they grew the most professionally. In today’s competitive talent-market its as essential for us to retain as much as hire the next generation of your company’s future leaders. By truly investing in your 1:1 time with your team you show that you care not only about their current role but that you are invested in their future. As people managers, we have an amazing opportunity to cultivate the next generation of leaders and it all starts with winning the 1:1. 

Hopefully, this was helpful and as always, I look forward to your feedback and continued discussion.  Please feel free to follow me and continue the conversation on Twitter @AndreJBoulais and connect on LinkedIn. 





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