A Harvard Lecturer Shares Her Tips on One-on-Ones

From shy engineers to bombastic sales executives, Julia B. Austin has managed dozens of direct reports over the course of her career in the tech industry.

HarvardAnd no matter what their role, she’s always made one-on-one meetings a priority.

“Whether it’s an hour a week or 30 minutes once a month, making time for an individual says you give a damn about them as a person,” Austin writes in the Harvard Business Review.

Austin, a senior lecturer at Harvard and principal of advisory group Austinfish, says how leaders treat staff as individuals “can determine the way their DNA will impact the fabric of your organization.”

One-on-ones provide a forum for staff to be honest, establishing trust, while allowing managers to assess employees’ unique abilities, Austin says. They also can assist the performance review process by focusing on the future rather than on past achievements.

Here are five of Austin’s tips that may be useful for CEOs:

1. Make sure all staff know in advance why one-on-ones are happening: you don’t want people freaking out and thinking they’re getting fired!

2. Make them regular, not ad-hoc, to demonstrate commitment to each individual.

3. Have an agenda that focuses on personal growth and email it to staff in advance.

4. Don’t monopolize the conversation.

5. Always follow up after the meeting with discussion notes, decisions made and any relevant feedback.

Investing in individuals also means investing in teams, Austin concludes.

“One-on-ones can make all the difference in how you lead. Your time invested in doing them right will pay off not only with each individual, but with how your organization functions as a team.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events