(2-minute, 30second read)

“Got a few minutes? Can I close the door?”

For anyone who has heard those two sentences, you know someone is resigning. The question is, are you happy the employee is leaving, or not?

We know that staff turnover is expensive. According to Gallup, replacing a team member costs between one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.

Because of the cost and the volatility that resignations create within a team dynamic, a lot has been written about employee retention strategies.

Today, we’ll focus on retention through an often-underutilized mechanism- the one-on-one meeting.

Most managers schedule one-on-one meetings…and routinely cancel them. Prioritizing one-on-one sessions sends a solid signal to staff that management is invested in their success

Ideally, these conversations build trust and are a forum for staff to express ideas and concerns. For managers, this time is an opportunity to gauge productivity, guide tasks, and manage career pathing.

However, project deadlines often turn one-on-one time into report-out sessions focused on the tasks at hand, leaving little time to discuss activities that impact employee satisfaction-the stuff that will help retain staff.

If your one-on-one meetings have become report-outs, it’s time to rethink the format.

Fortunately, we work in a time with abundant technology designed for project/task tracking. Shifting reports-outs/status to a technology platform refocuses your one-on-one meeting time on higher-level concerns and opportunities.

What follows are additional ideas for making the time productive for both parties.

1)  Make these meetings a priority

One of the primary reasons staff leaves is that they feel neglected by their manager. Making individual meetings a priority mitigates a feeling of employee neglect. Not every employee will require the same frequency of meetings. Work individually with your team members to decide how often you should meet. Do your best not to cancel.

2)  Allow your employee to set the agenda

Allowing your staff to set the agenda gives them ownership of the time. As they talk about what’s important to them, they will feel heard, giving you critical insight into their needs. For introverted team members, offer a structure for them to backfill with specific topics. Topics can include professional development, opportunities for collaboration and career goals.

3)  Create ownership opportunities

People stay with their organization when they feel they’re trusted. Use your one-on-one time to create opportunities for your team members to own a piece of or an entire project. Help them set up actionable and time-bound goals using the SMART goal setting model. With a strategy created, reporting on progress can be done through technology platforms.

4)  Connect tasks with career goals

As a manager wanting to retain staff, use the individual meeting time to connect career goals with current projects. Frequent check-ins on career pathing allow you to manage the moment more effectively and not rely on annual or semi-annual reviews for aligning goals with workload.

5)  Ask for feedback

Without a doubt, these one-on-one meetings are most effective when employee-led. However, this is a valuable opportunity to ask for feedback on your performance and behavior. Asking about what you’re doing well and where you can improve will make you a better manager. Asking for feedback allows your staff to get comfortable with giving and getting feedback.

6)  The low-tech notebook

This valuable tactic comes from my good friend and leadership consultant Don Waisanen. For each team member, dedicate a notebook for tracking your one-on-one conversations. This simple tool will help you organize past exchanges and future pathing. Thanks, Don!


One-on-one meetings are a powerful employee retention mechanism. Making the most of the interaction by giving ownership to staff creates trust and builds loyalty and solidifies personal connection. As a manager, this is time well spent.


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