I’d like to ensure I’m making the most out of my 1-on-1s with my direct reports.

Suppose you are given $10,000 and told to invest it for the greatest return over time. Five years from now, you can keep the profits. How much time would you spend on that investment?

One-on-one meetings (1-on-1s) are like that. It’s your chance to invest in your employees for the greatest possible return—for you, the organization, and your people. When done well, you build relationships, build trust, motivate your people, and dramatically increase retention.

The success of your team can grow exponentially when you build your people well, and 1-on-1s are the most powerful way to make that happen. Here are some ways to maximize their impact:

Recognize the value of 1-on-1s.

These should be the most important meetings of your week for you and your employee. You’re investing in their success and growth, and it’s where you’ll get the greatest return on investment with your team.

That’s why it’s important to meet on a consistent schedule. If you only connect when there’s a problem, it’s demotivating. Never cancel due to something that comes up at the last minute because it comes across as: “Something came up that’s more important than you.” Also, always be on time. It’s an unspoken message that says, “I couldn’t wait to meet.”

Set expectations up front.

In your first meeting, let them know what to expect. This isn’t a time for status updates (which can be done by email or a separate meeting). It’s a chance to deepen your relationship and help them develop themselves. You’ll focus on the big things—career development, new insights, ideas, goals, frustrations, and performance feedback—things they can use immediately to think and act differently. It’s your chance to help them grow, which is always motivating for them.

Remove distractions.

Stay 100% focused by putting your phone across the room where it can’t get in the way of your conversation. On a virtual call, make it obvious you’re setting the phone aside. Turn off notifications on your computer during the call to ensure you’re fully engaged. You want to send the message that this is their time, and it’s important enough to keep from being distracted.

Create a casual but intentional agenda.

Always prepare ahead of time, so it’s not just a chat session but has an outcome that will benefit both of you.

Include items from this list:

  • Start by affirming them honestly for something you’ve noticed.
  • Be sensitive to how they’re doing. Don’t ask them directly because they’ll say, “Fine.” Ask, “OK, on a scale of 1-10, how are you today?” If it’s a low score, acknowledge it without pushing. Make it safe for them to share as appropriate.
  • Ask for their input: “Are we focused on the right things?” Don’t counter anything they say, just listen for understanding. You’re there to learn from them.
  • Review their current progress on major issues, so there are no surprises at their annual performance review.
  • Talk 10-20% of the time. Ask questions and listen for the other 80-90%.
  • Ask them to bring a list of things they want to talk about.
  • Always end each session with a simple expression of gratitude—for them, for their work, or for their unique contribution to the team.

This isn’t a performance management conversation. It’s not about you giving direction or micromanaging. It’s a chance to invest in a real relationship that becomes critical to their success and well-being. Think about how you can partner with this person to get things done while exploring their deeper goals, motivations, and concerns.

In other words, treat them the way you would like to be treated by your manager—as a valued partner working together to achieve meaningful results for the organization.

It’s the best workplace investment you’ll ever make!