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Managing Millennials Part 3: Regular One-on-One Meetings Are the Key

By Bruce Tulgan, excerpted from Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials

This is part three in the Managing Millennials Series. You can view Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Establish a Regular Time and Place for One-on-Ones

Remember that Millennials have grown up hyperscheduled. They thrive on that kind of structure, and they thrive on one-on-one attention. One of the most effective ways to help your young employees is to schedule regular discussions with each of them about their work. At first, err on the side of meeting more often with each person—every day, every other day, or once a week. Start by evaluating what time will best work for you: What time will fit your regular schedule and needs? Then communicate with each Millennial the expectation that you will meet regularly one-on-one at a regular time.

Whenever possible, try to choose a regular time, and stick with it as long as you can. If you have to make a change, try to set a new regular time, and try to stick with the new time as long as you can. Regularity makes a big difference to Millennials. In-person meetings are always preferable to meetings by telephone, but if your only option is telephone, don’t let the phone call slip. Keep those phone appointments the way you would make sure to attend your own child’s birthday party. And make sure to support these telephone conversations with clear point-by-point e-mails, before and after your calls. Follow-up e-mails are key, especially following telephone one-on-ones.

Whenever you can meet in person, try to conduct your meetings in the same place. Choose a good venue, whether it is your office, a conference room, or the stairwell. You want these meetings to become familiar and comfortable. The routine of meeting in the same place every time is an important part of the structure these one-on-one meetings provide.

Making a plan with your young employee to meet one-on-one at a regular time and place is a huge commitment for both of you. It is a powerful statement that you care enough to spend time setting this person up for success. When you follow through and spend that time, you are creating a constant feedback loop for ongoing short-term goal setting, performance evaluation, coaching, troubleshooting, and regular course correction.

It’s also a lot of pressure on both of you. But it’s good pressure.

For the employee, the pressure is that of constant accountability. Quite literally, the employee will be expected to give an account of her performance in every one-on-one meeting. Has she met her short-term goals? Has she accomplished everything on her to-do list? Has she met all the guidelines and specifications? Has her performance been timely and swift? Have her results been high quality? Has her demeanor been cheerful and energetic? She will hope to score points—actually or metaphorically—in every meeting. Meanwhile, she will also expect feedback from you, including regular fine-tuning, revising, adjusting, and suggestions for improvement.

For you as the manager, the pressure is to carry the ball without dropping it. After all, you are the boss here. You are the one who has to make sure these one-on-ones happen, as scheduled, in the right place, and at the right time. If it is a new habit for you, this practice may feel uncomfortable or burdensome at first. It will take time to get used to it. It will be easy, on a very busy day, to look at your schedule and be tempted to skip it. Don’t.

If you skip meetings, you are sending a message to Millennials that the schedule is not real, the structure is not solid, and the relationship is not reliable. They will take it as license to start skipping meetings when they feel like it. It will be very hard to reestablish the routine. So you’ll feel the greatest pressure on those times when you inevitably do drop the ball. At those times, you only have one good option: “Mea culpa!” Confess and ask forgiveness. Say, “I let you down. I’m sorry. I hope you’ll forgive me.” Explain that it is precisely the very chaos and uncertainty at work that makes the structure of regularly scheduled meetings so important. Then ask, “Will you please trust me to resume our regularly scheduled meetings with discipline?” The only thing to do is to get back on schedule immediately, get back to work, and do better.


Create a Focused Routine for Your One-on-Ones

One Millennial told me, “The coolest job I ever had was working for this guy who was really intense, but he made me have these ‘focus meetings’ with him every day. He’d show up or call and say, ‘Okay. Focus meeting. Are you ready?’ It was his chance to tell me what was going on and what he needed me to put at the top of my list. It sounds terrible, but it was great. I knew it was coming every day: ‘This is what’s important right now.’ I always knew what I was doing was important work, at least to him.” I’ve heard this kind of testimony over and over again from Millennials and managers alike. Millennials thrive on the familiar and comfortable structure of a focused routine, especially in relationships with authority figures. The routine doesn’t have to be pretty, as long as it’s a routine—the faster and tidier, the better.

It won’t be enough to just start meeting regularly with your Millennials one-on-one. You’ll have to teach them how to meet with you. Spell out how long you expect each meeting to last (my advice is to keep them to fifteen or twenty minutes). Don’t ever let these meetings become long or convoluted. Make it clear that your meetings will follow a fast and tidy agenda, preferably the same basic format every time. Start each meeting by reviewing the agenda. Whenever possible, present an agenda in writing that you can both follow. These meetings should be cordial but all business. This is not the time for chitchat.

Often managers have a difficult time talking to their young employees. “I always feel like I should touch base personally before moving onto my list. It’s slightly disingenuous, I guess,” said one manager in a small professional office. “I might say, ‘What did you do last night?’ Or ‘Did you see that show last night?’ Or ‘Did you get in okay this morning? How was traffic?’ But really, I’m just trying to warm up to, ‘Great, here’s my list.’” Don’t let these meetings become therapy sessions. This is not your chance to play older sibling, confidante, wise sage, or pal. Also beware of letting your regular one-on-ones digress into big-picture career discussions or long-range planning sessions. There may be a time and a place for everything, but your regular one-on-ones are not the time and place for anything but helping each Millennial focus on priorities in the short term. All references to matters really deep, big picture, or long-term should be immediately tied back to short-term details that can be written down on a to-do list.

Customize One-on-Ones for Every Employee

Like everything else, this dynamic process will change over time, and your approach will have to change with each young employee you meet with regularly. For each of your employees, you’ll have to figure out how often to meet, how much time to spend at each meeting, what format to use, and what topics to cover. And remember: you’ll have to make adjustments over time. If things are not going well with a particular Millennial, maybe you’ll have to meet longer and more often, going over his to-do list twice a day with a fine-tooth comb. And if things are going really well with a Millennial, maybe you only need to meet twice a week—just long enough to check progress and troubleshoot any issues that come up with her current tasks, responsibilities, and projects. No matter how well things seem to be going, you still need to verify that things are indeed going as well as you think. If they are, make sure that Millennial knows just how many points she is scoring today.

Never forget that your one-on-ones are your primary method for keeping the lines of communication open. Keep your expectations on the table, and make sure you are showing them exactly how to meet and exceed your expectations. And keep asking, “What do you need from me?”


About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website