When was the last time you really talked to your employees, and really listened to them?

How do they like working for you and your firm? What are they thinking these days? Do they have any new ideas? Could you be removing any obstacles for them?

Brief 30 minute, one-on-one meetings with your employees can have a huge impact. They can motivate your employees; build your relationship with them; help earn their trust, respect, and loyalty; and harvest their ideas.

Here is a great little format for your one-on-one meetings.

A few good questions:

A couple of simple, open-ended questions can do lot of work—if they are good questions with affirmative language, focused on the future, and non-judgmental.

Three good questions:

  1. Tell me about what it’s like to work here and how you are doing? (I combine these two questions to give employees maximum latitude and not put them on the spot too much—nice gentle way to open.)
  2. What do you think our company’s biggest challenges and opportunities are?
  3. What are our most important drivers of success, that is, what do we really need to take care of to be successful—to maintain and improve our success?

Let them prepare:

These are not trick questions. You are not testing their ability to think on their feet and make stuff up. Give them a chance to prepare by sharing the agenda with them in advance—just as you would for any other big meeting.

Sharing the questions in advance lets your employees know what to expect; it gives them time to prepare; and they have a chance to be at their best when you meet.

Keep your objectives in mind:

When you have the discussions keep your objectives in mind, e.g.:

  1. Ideas: Collecting good ideas, e.g., ways you can support your employees and improve the organization.
  2. Relationship building: Building mutual trust & respect with your employees. Be respectful, non-judgmental, and grateful for their feedback.
  3. Engagement: Make your employees part of the solution by engaging them in dialogue about the challenges and opportunities of the business.
  4. Development: People learn from doing, so it is developmental to encourage them to think about the big picture from time to time.
  5. Talent Assessment: Listening to your employees is a great way to assess the talent on your team: what they are thinking; the quality of their ideas; gaps in their knowledge and expertise; who has big ideas; who might be ready for more responsibility; what are each person’s gifts—what unique strength does each person bring to the team; etc.
  6. Motivation: How an employee prepares for the meeting can tell you a little about their current level of motivation, engagement, loyalty, and ambition.

A few success factors:

It is crucial to come to the meeting with a couple of good questions and an open mind, i.e., your natural curiosity and a desire to learn. You can’t really fake that kind of stuff. It is far more powerful to be genuine with your employees, especially in such an important conversation.

If any bad news comes up, don’t get defensive; just thank them for sharing and tell them you want to think about it. You have to be grateful for honest feedback, even if it stings. It takes courage for employees to be honest, and feedback can help you be a better leader. As I said in another blog, getting defensive is never a good defense.

When an employee shares an idea that calls for a decision, action, or response, make note of it. And don’t feel pressure to respond on the spot. Take the time you need time to reflect on complex issues and new ideas, and just make sure to circle back and close the loop, i.e., let the employee know what your decision is, or what you are going to do with their idea. Again, even if you think an employee’s idea is bad, you can still be grateful that they took the risk to speak up.

If a bunch of your employees are asking naïve questions and making poor suggestions, then you have some development work to do. As the team leader, it’s your responsibility to develop your team—to ensure your team is knowledgeable, skilled, and accomplished.

If you feel your employees are not giving you the straight goods—spinning their feedback or too cautious about questioning the status quo—then you have some work to do in fostering a culture of candor on your team. It’s worth the effort.


Advanture helps organizations take their leadership development practices up to the next level for enhanced business performance. Performance by design!


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