Engaging Employees with One-on-One Sessions

Still Life: Tea Set, Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1781 – 1783

I love having one-on-one feedback sessions with my employees.  I find the sessions to be of differing value depending on when they are held.  Currently, I schedule feedback sessions with my student workers after onboarding and training, yearly in the summer before the fiscal year closes (and raises are given), and before they leave the position.  I also check in with each individual on a more personal level each semester (fall and spring).  I also check in with people when they seem especially happy or especially discontent.

Priming with Psychological Safety

For these feedback sessions to go well, you have to set up psychological safety from the beginning.  And I do not just mean in the session itself, but from when the employee starts work.  Be open and respectful.  I repeatedly request the individual ask questions until they start asking questions on their own.  I happily answer questions and comments when they are brought to me.  I set everything I am doing to the side and engage fully with the person.  I stand if they are standing and I sit if they are sitting.  I meet them in a place of respect, and I listen to understand instead of responding.  Remember that you are there to support their well-being and their work. Your employees are your customers in a sense. If you treat them with respect and as valued, smart, and capable adults, they will rise to high standards. 

Structuring the Session

I prefer to take my students out for coffee, tea, or any other beverage of their choice.  We sit in a coffee shop within walking distance of the workplace or outside if it’s nice.  I usually start by telling them what a great asset they are or that we are happy to have them working with us, how and why we value them and their work, and thank them.  I make a more personalized observation (this means you have to pay attention throughout the workdays), e.g. you have a great way with patrons, your attention to detail is outstanding, etc. I ask them first if they have any questions, comments, or concerns.  Then I ask my questions. If there is something I cannot answer or address right away, I make sure to follow up.  Also, I don’t let anything they say get to my ego because it’s not about me – it’s about the greater good.

Starting Out

When the employees first start, they know what training is adequate and what is outdated or incorrect.  With my student workers, it takes approximately one to two weeks to become trained.  This is where I request questions and comments until they start coming to me on their own.  I give them about a month more to experience any possible work situations.  I find this is the best time to ask them about training, e.g. what was helpful, what was not, and what can be improved.  I also learn about which processes and tasks are difficult to learn, and even situations they encounter that I have never thought about.  Again, I tell them we are happy to have them here and that what they do is important. 

Ongoing Check-Ins

Again, I acknowledge and thank them for their work.  I tell them that they are the experts and we need their feedback for improvement – that anything they have to say is valuable.  If I ask the right questions and the employees feel safe, I learn about important variables such as broken processes, how people feel about the general working environment, and management, etc.  I thank them for being candid with me. 

The End

I focus this session on their value and our gratefulness for all their contributions.  I try to quantify the impact they have had.  I tell them they may ask me for a letter of recommendation.  I state that this their last chance to tell me anything that they think I need to hear.  I usually arrange a card and bring in a treat for all to gather around to say goodbye.

Examples of general questions:

  • Are you adequately trained to do your job well?  How can we improve?
  • Are you satisfied with the way you are managed?  Do you have clear goals and objectives?  Do you receive constructive feedback to help you improve your performance?
  • What challenges are you facing?  Where do you need more support?
  • What are some great contributions made by other team members?
  • Do you feel acknowledged, respected, and valued?  How is your morale?
  • How would you describe the culture of our organization?

Examples of more personal questions:

  • What would you do differently in my position?
  • How can I better support you and your work?
  • Do you have ideas on how we could improve any of our services or products?  What would you change?
  • What do you like most about your position?
  • What do you dislike most about your position?  Any suggestions for improvement?

You can search for more ideas online; here are three sources I have used recently:

How do you handle your feedback sessions?  Do you have any advice for me?  I look forward to your suggestions!

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