Managers can improve or destroy an employee's performance by up to 40%[1]. Therefore it's extremely important that managers are focusing their efforts on the most meaningful activities when spending time with direct reports including building deep relationships with each team member.

Building deep relationships begins with setting up regular one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports. These meetings should be scheduled for at least 30 minutes every two weeks. Depending on your direct report's tenure you may want to meet more or less often, though meeting less than once every three weeks is not recommended, as it can appear you are disinterested in these conversations.

These meetings should not consist solely of project updates. Both your team member's and your time is very valuable--this is your team member's opportunity to have your dedicated attention and discuss what's important to him. In order to use this time most effectively, I recommend asking the staff member to submit an agenda prior to each meeting with specified headings such as:

  • Recent Successes
    Too often when it comes time to right performance reviews, both managers and direct reports forget about the number of successes a staff member experiences across a period of time. This section serves as a consolidated location to record those successes. Team members often neglect to include smaller victories--recognizing those omissions will please your team member.
  • Things I've Learned Recently
    This section helps you keep track of your team member's new skills--both hard (e.g., InDesign functionality, coding languages) and soft (e.g., time management, client management).
  • Current Challenges
    Talking openly about challenges provides you the opportunity to directly coach your team member or to align her with another colleague for support. Ideally items under "Current Challenges" move up to "Things I've Learned Recently."
  • Project Updates/Reviews
    While reviewing these items, be sure to ask questions about the project such as "what was easy, what was challenging, how did you accomplish 'x', how did the client respond to 'x'" and to provide both positive and constructive feedback. Don't allow this topic to become the bulk of your conversation unless it relates highly to the other headings. This conversation should focus on development, not status updates.
  • 2010 Development Objectives
    This is where the staff member identifies skills she would like to develop or opportunities she would like to experience. This section may not change very often, but it serves as a reminder to you to provide opportunities that develop (a very valuable manager activity) and as a cue to your direct report to be thinking about her career development.
  • Feedback for You
    This heading asks the team member to provide you with upward feedback. They will often leave it blank, but you should still address the heading and ask if they have any feedback that will help you do your job better or help you run the department/team better.
  • Questions/Other

I recommend printing the agenda ahead of the meeting and noting any additional comments or topics you want to discuss. During the meeting take notes on the printout, including items for follow-up. Failing to follow up on committed items is a common manager pitfall and not doing so in a timely manner can harm your credibility with your team members. Make sure to commit to a follow-up date that is possible within your schedule and to add that task to your to-do list.

Your annotated printouts should be stored in an employee-specific folder or other easily accessible location. Before each one-on-one meeting it is helpful to pull out the last meeting's notes and review for follow-up items. These notes are most helpful when it comes time to write the performance review. My first step was always to pull out the employee's folder and read the agendas and my notes.

Lastly in these one-on-one meetings, seek to learn more about your direct reports. You should know what they like most and least about their jobs, what they enjoy doing on the weekends, their children's names, etc. An individual's relationship with their manager highly affects their likelihood to stay at a job. It is your responsibility, and hopefully desire, to build deep relationships with your team members--they, your department, and your company will all benefit.

For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email [email protected].

Jackie Schaffer has more than a decade of experience optimizing creative teams. Most recently she directed an international team of 80 creatives. During her tenure, she spearheaded the launch and development of the group's India-based team, built an interactive media division, and executed against a new visual identity. Jackie's management competencies lie in workflow, technology, and talent management, and she has a deep passion for balancing the creative and business needs of in-house shops while providing fulfilling opportunities for the team.

[1] Corporate Leadership Council, Corporate Executive Board. "Improving Talent Management Outcomes: 10 Talent Management Insights from the CHRO." (accessed May 4, 2010).