Conversations about your performance are a given if you are an employee. You are hired to do a job and your employer wants assurance they made the right decision. They want you to succeed and grow in return for your valuable contribution. However, the quality, frequency, and format of performance conversations vary widely in the workplace. At the core is the relationship with your line manager. So it pays to give proper attention to your one-to-one. Here are some tips.

It’s a partnership

The relationship between direct report and manager is changing (slowly) from a parental one to more of a partnership. The shift is about control – less micro-management, more autonomy, and empowerment. Today, effective managers are enablers, helping people to realise their potential, use their talents, and grow. Not purely for altruistic reasons, but also to deliver for the team, the section, the business.

Perhaps the title and label of ‘manager’ need a rethink. Managers are not always popular because of perceptions that they constrain, poor skills, and self-interest driven by pressure from above. Ideally, the relationship works best when the roles of direct report and manager are complementary. For example, a software engineer will know the ins and outs of a particular piece of software. Often, a manager will be less familiar because they don’t need to work with it every day. However, they will have other knowledge, skills, and experience that help the software engineer to achieve (context, strategy, coaching, client relationships etc). The learning and mutual support are two-way.

Why have a one-to-one?

one-to-onePeople want to be valued and to make a difference through their contribution. Having a conversation once or twice a year as part of a formal process does not meet those wants. Also, it makes no sense for an employer who needs performance to be agile in response to change. Regular one-to-one performance conversations help you to stay on track and adjust if necessary. It’s a space to build and maintain a trusting relationship in a psychologically safe place. You hold yourself to account and are accountable to your manager, so you can do and be at your best.

Research shows that employees want six things from a frequent one-to-one:

  • Goal setting
  • Goal review
  • Performance feedback
  • Problem-solving
  • Soliciting support
  • Problems with colleagues

As a manager, take a holistic view of the person both inside and outside work. Add wellbeing and professionalism to that list.

What’s it about?

This type of performance conversation is not about your day-to-day to-do list. It’s not the chat across the desk. Instead, for half an hour every 2 to 4 weeks, you are stepping back from the action to talk informally about how you are doing and feeling. Expect or encourage a coaching style from your manager. What’s on your mind? How well are you meeting your commitments? What is holding you back? How can we resolve issues or improve things in the short-term? Agree on a short, clear agenda and create actions together.

However, if your manager starts cancelling one-to-ones, it’s a sign they or you are not a priority. And it will reduce your productivity, which is in no-one’s interests. Don’t accept interruptions either. Otherwise, it’s time for an assertive conversation. Here’s how not to shoot yourself in the foot.

The difficult bits


People are not difficult, their behaviour can be. Separate the person from what they do. As a manager, things always go better when you go into a performance conversation with a listening mindset and a positive intent. Check out these tips if you want to be more capable and confident holding tricky performance conversations.

As a direct report, the balancing act is between being assertive and being tactful. Speak up when facing any of these weasel words from a poor manager. How can you support your manager in a way that helps you both? You will need to manage your emotions before, during, and after the conversation. So, plan, rehearse and pause in the moment.

In summary, a regular conversation about your performance and growth is a healthy personal, professional, and business enabler. Ensure you get the most out of your one-to-one by applying the tips in this post!

Do you have a regular one-to-one with your manager? If so, how well does it work? What needs to happen to improve it? If you don’t, what gets in the way? What is within your control to change?