Top 10 coaching tips for managers to have better one-on-ones

Performance enablement unlocks employee potential. Here are our top 10 coaching tips for managers to use to make one-to-one sessions a success.

If you want to enable high performance across your organisation, you need to turn every manager into a coach.   

Yet the fact is that most managers aren’t coaches. Coaching is a learned skillset, not an instinctive one. While some managers naturally (or through previous experience) bring an element of coaching to their role, embedding coaching to create a culture of high performance requires a structured approach: a people-centric effort by the organisation that supports their leadership behaviours. 

But first things first: why does it matter? Why is a shift towards effective one-on-ones so important to business outcomes, and why does coaching play such an important role within it?  

Shifting the dial

Typical performance management processes are a method of measuring employee and organisational output. It tasks managers with regularly reviewing performance and setting objectives for individuals to improve or maintain that output. What it doesn’t do is assess what is driving that performance.  

Coaching led one-to-ones on the other hand, are a method of unlocking better performance. By identifying every employee’s unique challenges, motivations, obstacles and opportunities, managers are able to work with their teams to enable them to remove barriers and achieve their full potential. Successful one-to-ones don’t just focus on operational output and challenges: they provide an opportunity for managers to see the employee as a whole person and discuss – through regular one-on-ones – how their key motivators and drivers impact their day-to-day performance. 

The one-to-one is the single best productivity tool for a manager when they adopt a coaching mindset and style.

This approach equips employees with the tools and skills they need to achieve greater day-to-day productivity and autonomy, creates an increased sense of purpose, and improves job satisfaction.


What does an effective one-to-one look like?


The one-on-one discussion between managers and employees should extend beyond objectives and include recognition and feedback, wellbeing check-ins, as well as individual drivers and motivators.

Among OpenBlend users, a typical one-to-one session spends 53% of the time setting and reviewing actions and objectives, 20% of the time discussing wellbeing, and the remaining 27% of the session is spent assessing individual drivers and motivators.

The best way for managers to prepare for one-on-ones is to be mindset ready to instigate an open, honest conversation with the employee. Managers should take time to look back at previous one-to-one notes and have key metrics on hand but remember that the employee owns the agenda. They lead their own discussion points and talk about what is important to them. Managers need to ask them key questions that can push the conversation forward and create actionable outcomes.

Top ten coaching tips for effective one-on-ones 

1. Prepare your mindset

Don’t go into a one-to-one session blind. Look at previous notes (or access the employee’s profile if using a performance enablement platform), understand key metrics and what they mean, and review the agenda items that the employee has set. Employees should also be encouraged to “own” the session and prepare the agenda in advance with their talking points including, but not limited to, performance priorities (see Tip 3).  

2. The importance of setting an agenda for your 1:1s 

A one-on-one should combine two things: the employee’s agenda, and the manager’s additional items if required. As performance enablement is about unlocking the employee’s potential and improving business outcomes as a result, it’s vital that employees can create an agenda that addresses their priorities. A clear agenda that includes performance deliverables will help the conversation stay on track and make it easier to set actions.

3. Let the employee lead 

As mentioned above, performance coaching is about unlocking the employee’s potential: that means removing obstacles that they feel are holding them back. A one-to-one that is fully led by the manager may miss key challenges that are facing the employee, preventing the manager from coaching them through these issues. 

4. Really listen

Leave preconceptions at the door and listen to what the employee has to say. It’s easy for managers to make presumptions based on what they see: for instance, a high achieving employee may seem upbeat and on top of their workload, but could be unhappy and close to burnout.  

Listening is a key part of coaching, and it’s particularly important thanks to the shift towards hybrid and remote working. Proximity bias can distort a manager’s understanding of an employee’s engagement, performance or wellbeing. By truly being ready and willing to listen, managers will get a more accurate understanding of the employee and take the right steps to enable better performance. 

5. Identify their motivational driver

Do you know what really motivates your employees? Assuming what drives your workforce to achieve will never be as effective as identifying each individual’s unique drivers. To enable better performance, managers need to be able to understand the employee’s motivations both at work and at home. Employees perform better when work is a positive part of their life: by discussing what’s important to them, and how work can facilitate it (whether it is recognition at work or more time with family at home) managers can coach employees to achieve a better work-life balance and deliver improved performance as a result. 

6. Show you care about their wellbeing 

There’s a difference between asking an employee ‘how are you?’ at the coffee machine and assessing their wellbeing in a one-to-one. To coach effectively, managers need to have questions prepared that open dialogue around wellbeing and create measurability. Setting wellbeing levels or a scale can help employees communicate how they are feeling more accurately, making it easier for managers to follow up and track any improvement or deterioration in wellbeing.   

7. Create clear actions  

Discussion without action renders one-to-ones useless. Managers and employees need to be able to work together to set appropriate actions that target the issues raised, with clear objectives. The GROW framework is an excellent coaching tool for creating actions that are relevant, measurable and accountable, enabling managers to set goals, assess the current reality, look at options and discover a way forward. This method breaks actions down into a more achievable process. 

8. Use metrics to support coaching 

Once actions have been set, managers need a method of tracking progress and measuring outcomes that is visible to the employee. This visibility is vital in the switch from ‘managing performance’ to ‘enabling performance’, as it gives the employee a clear way to review their own development and measure their ongoing improvement. This then influences their agenda for the next one-to-one and enables the manager to support long-term development.

9. Recognise achievement and offer constructive feedback 

No one can develop if they don’t know what they are doing wrong - or right. Feedback needs to be constructive, with actions that the employee can take to improve. But it’s also important to keep feedback balanced: don’t just share the errors but give recognition for successes too. This will help employees feel positive about their contribution and keep moving in the right direction.  

10. Capture key discussion points

At the end of every one-on-one, it is essential to capture key discussion points, to ensure that both parties can refer back to previous sessions and assess long-term development. As a coach, these key discussion points and their outcomes are an important motivational tool to drive employee engagement and satisfaction. Keep accurate records of discussions for long-term development, greater measurability and accountability. If you don’t have a performance platform that makes it easy to log this information, establish a consistent method of note-writing and recording.

How to help managers become better coaches to enable performance

motivation matrix

Open, honest conversations are not always easy. You may find some employees are ready and willing to discuss everything straight off the bat – which makes dealing with issues a lot easier. Others may be open about some aspects, such as work performance and operational challenges, but reticent to discuss 

wellbeing, motivation or feedback (especially if they have not come from a people-centric workplace where such discussions could put career progression at risk). Then there are those that are very much a closed book. In all three cases, ensuring that the right conversations take place, at the right time, means that managers need to know how to ask the right questions.  

OpenBlend is a performance management platform that provides an organisational structure that features a range of coaching prompts and frameworks that guide managers through the coaching process, to equip them with the skills and touchstones they need to unlock their team’s best performance.   

From empowering employees to set a time-effective structured agenda and providing Regular Feedback, through to setting Objectives & OKRs and addressing wellbeing and motivation, the OpenBlend platform provides an easy to use framework that empowers managers and employees alike to have the right one-on-one conversations, at the right time: improving wellbeing, driving productivity and increasing engagement.


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