Last month, I presented information about challenges companies face to retain and develop their employees.

What we determined was that a professional relationship with a manager and improving skills contributed to a more than 70% increase in retention and engagement, which in turn led to better organizational performance. I also introduced the idea that one-on-one meetings between an employee and their direct manager were one of the best ways to develop this important relationship, based on the data that I have seen and continue to see.


What else does the data show?

  • Per a MetrixGlobal study, consistent employee coaching via regular one-on-one meetings produced a 529% ROI. When retention is factored in, the total ROI climbs to 788%, the study shows.

  • Harvard Business Review reports that employees “who get twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager relative to their peers are 67% less likely to be disengaged.”

  • Harvard Business Review also reports that when managers don’t meet with employees one-on-one at all, those employees are “four times as likely to be disengaged as individual contributors as a whole, and are two times as likely to view leadership more unfavorably compared to those who meet with their managers regularly.”

  • Gallup found that “on average, only 15% of employees who work for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged; managers who regularly meet with their employees almost tripled that level of engagement.”

  • found in its studies that “four out of 15 managerial behaviors account for 75% of a manager’s ability to achieve results and retention,” and that “the single most effective behavior a manager can engage in to improve results and retention is getting to know your people. The data shows that it represents 40% of the value that the top four behaviors contribute to results and retention.”

The data is clear — one-on-ones are incredibly effective, more so than any other metric for managers to get results and retain their people. But, seeing is believing. Which businesses and organizations have incorporated one-on-ones? And have they had success?



In the book “Powerful,” Patty McCord describes how Netflix replaced its “rigid” annual performance reviews with “performance conversations as a business as usual activity.”

At Google, John Doerr describes in his book “Measure What Matters,” how the continuous performance management system is the contemporary alternative to annual reviews, and how it led to incredible growth.

In fact, “10% of Fortune 500 companies have already ditched the old once-a-year performance review system, and their numbers are growing,” according to “Measure What Matters.”


Scotty Bowman, former Stanley Cup winning coach of the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens, is quoted in “Powerful” as saying, “Well, we have an 80-game season, and every 10 games I would sit down with them individually. I’d bring all their stats and I would ask other people — the other coaches, the other team members — for feedback also, and the player would bring a self-evaluation. Then we would have a conversation about what to do for the next 10 games.”

Greg Popovich, current coach of the consistently winning San Antonio Spurs NBA basketball team, describes how he gives feedback to each of his players individually every day in practice, and fosters personal relationships with his players, as detailed in the book “Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle. He is able to do this because of the one-on-one relationships he has built with each of his players.

Bill Belicheck, head coach of the six-time Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, does one-on-one meetings with his players. In those meetings he describes what he feels like he has taught and learned from his players. As Belichick indicates in a USA Today/Patriots Wire interview, “There are always opportunities to sit down individually with players and just talk specifically about what they’re doing.”

What is the psychology of why one-on-one meetings work? How is it that this small, simple behavior has helped make these organizations (and at a micro-level their managers) successful? Simon Sinek, the author of “Start with Why,” has a great YouTube video, “Do You Love Your Wife?” in which he very succinctly describes this occurrence through the lens of a romantic relationship.

“She didn’t fall in love with you because you remembered her birthday and brought her flowers on Valentine’s Day. She fell in love with you because, when you woke up in the morning, you said, ‘Good morning’ to her before you checked your phone. She fell in love with you because when you went to the fridge to get yourself a drink, you got her one without even asking… This is why she fell in love with you. I can’t tell you exactly what day. It was no particular thing you did. It was the accumulation of all of those little things — that she woke up one day as if she pressed a button, she goes, ‘I love him.’ Right? Leadership is exactly the same. There’s no event. There’s no thing I can tell you that you have to do for your people to trust you. It just doesn’t work that way! It’s an accumulation of lots and lots of little things that any one by themselves is innocuous and useless.”

Watch the whole video. It’s worth it, trust me.

The best “innocuous and useless” thing I have seen the professional marketplace come up with is one-on-ones, but I’ve also seen them work.

Let’s think about this from the employee’s perspective, such as in this example quoted from Manager-Tools. If your boss came to you and said, “Hey, I’d like to meet with you. The first half of the meeting is yours to talk about whatever you want to: work, family, pets, anything. The second half of the meeting, we’ll talk about what I’d like to talk about, like projects you are working on, things I need, etc.”

What would your reaction be? Would you feel valued? I’m willing to wager there are not many people out there where this managerial behavior wouldn’t inspire them to perform better in some fashion (results), or to lead them to stay with their current employer just a little bit longer (retention).

As we discussed, one-on-ones are not only directly related to engagement and retention, but are also (and more importantly) tied directly to performance and results. The beauty of this is that no matter what one’s role or level is in an organization, one-on-ones can become a powerful tool. One-on-one meetings are only part of the process. In my next article, we’ll review some of the different behaviors and types of one-on-ones that organizations do, and I’ll share my personal experience of doing one-on-ones for the last few years.