Few of us are taught how to have a good 1:1 conversation. Conversations that add value and meaning. Conversations that result in positive action. Conversations that give clear direction.
In the workplace, the importance of good 1:1 conversation cannot be underestimated. It’s only through open, honest dialogue that managers can understand every employee’s experience, and take steps to unlock their potential. Yet a good conversation in the workplace isn’t just about talking – it’s about action. It’s about guiding employee and manager dialogue from an agenda – their wellbeing, their priorities, their obstacles to performance – towards objectives and actions that influence change. Every 1:1 should enhance performance, but they won’t if managers don’t understand that process.
Managers shouldn’t automatically be expected to understand how to hold 1:1 conversations like these, without support themselves. And employees shouldn’t be expected to know how to participate in these conversations authentically without guidance and prompting.
That’s where our conversation funnel comes in. It’s an approach to structuring 1:1 conversations, to ensure they deliver results – not just an empty exchange of words. Our conversation funnel can be applied to any type of 1:1 conversation, not least those that are most critical in the workplace – from goal-setting to development, performance reviews to motivation and wellbeing. It helps managers motivate their employees, agree on actions and continually improve performance. Providing clear expectations and frameworks empowers both parties to utilise 1:1 conversations to their full advantage.
Our conversation funnel has four key stages:
A regular schedule for open conversation gives employees a defined space to raise concerns and important questions; to check in on progress and goals with their manager; and to bring more of their whole selves to work.
For managers, it gives a regular session to discuss performance, consistently share feedback, and check in on wellbeing, challenges and other issues impacting the employee
1:1s are a clear indicator that managers are committed to employees and their development - that they really are there to listen to them. Managers need to prioritise and plan their time with employees. When both parties honour 1:1 time, ensuring that time is well-organised and regular, a mutual respect and trust evolves.
Prepare and focus
It’s important that employees feel a sense of ownership over their 1:1 agenda. A one-sided conversation, led solely by the manager, won’t get to the bottom of what’s really affecting an employee’s performance, and it won’t promote accountability.
A shared agenda gives employees and managers the opportunity to prepare effectively for meetings, bringing their own priorities to the table. By co-creating an agenda ahead of time, managers and employees can have conversations that meet the needs of both the business and the individual, leading to more productive dialogue. They can bring any supporting materials needed and gather information to enrich discussion points - such as talking to other team members or unearthing relevant data to build a complete picture. As performance management guru Anna Wildman explains in her book titled, Now You're Talking, “Decide ahead of time what your opening sentence or two will be”... It’s impossible to plan the whole conversation, but a co-created agenda that helps to focus the conversation will be invaluable.
Managers can further prepare by thinking about how they approach these conversations, specifically considering the questions they ask and the energy they bring to the 1:1. Anna Wildman explains, “The success of the conversation is almost entirely down to the way the manager leads it...get the tone and phrasing right and they create understanding and buy-in. Better still, they help the team member to take the best possible action going forward.”
Another transformative tool in a coaching-based approach to management conversations is the GROW framework. This again encourages managers to guide the conversation. With the support of the OpenBlend platform, managers can deploy the GROW framework to structure a conversation, guiding employees through each goal or topic of conversation to drive results:
G - Goal: What do you want to achieve?
R - Reality: Where are you now?
O - Obstacles: What stands in your way?
W - Will: What will you do?
The GROW model ensures the meeting becomes truly productive: conversations keep evolving over time to deliver results.
More than a third (37%) of employees consider unnecessary meetings the biggest cost to their organisation, with Doodle estimating that 24 billion hours will be lost to pointless meetings in a single year. A 1:1 should never fall into this bracket: the only way to stop it is by building action into these conversations.
In a productive 1:1 conversation, both parties should walk away clear on what they need to do next. Good conversations culminate in a shared commitment to progress. To ensure this, actions should be recorded there and then, and ideally recapped afterwards with a quick follow-up – or even better, recorded on a platform that gives both parties full visibility as well as prompts on deadlines. This makes it easier to measure progress and get the next performance conversation or 1:1 off on the right foot.
With all actions and deliverables, it’s important to check understanding. The “SMART” framework for setting goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) might feel excessive for day-to-day responsibilities. But it’s a useful mental checklist for managers to run through, to ensure they’re giving clear expectations. For example, rather than a manager giving their employee the action of, “Try to build your sales pipeline,” a clearer action, agreed by both parties, would be: “To help us achieve our team target, aim to bring 15 new B2C prospects into your sales pipeline by our next meeting.”
Obviously, actions shouldn’t come out of the blue or feel like orders. With the support of a platform like OpenBlend, the conversation will have been carefully structured in partnership to drive towards clear and specific actions that the employee feels a sense of ownership over.
That’s the value of good conversations. They become the pulse of a thriving business. When we can talk openly, in a well-structured 1:1, everyone is clear on what they need to do and how they really feel. By combining employee and manager priorities in every conversation, and funnelling those 1:1 conversations through the steps listed above, everyone can feel motivated and enabled to collectively deliver their goals.
Ready to support managers to transform employee performance? Download the good 1:1 conversations guide below and find out how managers can have valuable conversations at work.