Going Personal with Deep 1:1s for Better Employee Engagement

Beatriz Boavida
Mar 15, 2024
4 min read

The success of your business starts with your team.

That is not to say your employees are merely a resource, a means to an end. What we mean is that it is the people and their talents that can truly transform a company. Thus, we believe employees should be at the centre of a CEO’s mind.

Great leaders know the importance of fostering strong relationships with their employees and building trust and collaborative environments. Most rely on 1:1s as a tool to make this happen, where they typically discuss ambitions, areas of improvement, current issues, etc. But usually, they avoid getting too personal.

Mogens Møller, CEO of Sleeknote, defied the idea that to be professional you should keep your private life, well, private, and instead he embraced all dimensions that are involved in the outcomes of his employees’ work. 

By doing that, he realised that the more personal you get with your employees, the greater the impact on their motivation, engagement, and productivity. So, he started implementing sessions he named Casual 1:1s in his company.

These sessions allow him a knowledge of his team so deep that with most standard 1:1s you would be just scratching the surface. Nevertheless, Møller’s casual 1:1s do take a lot of effort, so let’s break down his approach.

How deep should a leader know their employees?

Going too personal is an idea that triggers discomfort, feels intimidating, and is difficult to grasp or act on. This is mostly due to our internal bias and limiting beliefs.

It is impossible to turn a blind eye to the fact that Casual 1:1s take a lot of effort. And if they are challenging to do as a manager, it sure can be harder for a CEO. 

But the message you send when you, the CEO, engage with these individual sessions has a tremendous impact on your employees’ motivation and engagement at work. By going all in and exploring personal aspects of your employees’ lives, you are showing that you care deeply for their wellbeing and fulfilment. And who does not want to feel that their CEO cares about them?

Because of this practice, Møller has a team that deeply appreciates him as a leader at a level that you would not find anywhere else.

By prioritising learning more about your employees – actually getting to know them - you get more insights into what is going on for them and how you can be a greater support. In turn, employees feel empowered, valued, and more connected to the company - and that will reveal itself as their engagement, productivity, and the quality of their work increases.

5-Steps to have casual 1:1s

As for every big problem in our lives, if we break it down into smaller pieces, we empower ourselves to move through it and achieve our goals. So, we asked Mogens Møller if he would share with us how he conducts his Casual 1:1s. Here is his recipe:

  1. Set the scene. You want to create an environment that invites sharing. Decorate and make the room comfortable, unique, and cosy – add candles, a fireplace on television, and cake – you name it, be creative!

  2. Focus on the personal talk. We usually tend to use personal talk as a quick ice-breaker before we dive into the real matter. Here you should focus on making this period of the conversation longer – longer than what is considered “normal” or even comfortable at first.

  3. Share a lot about yourself. Make this a two-way interaction. Remember, if your employees feel that you are sharing and are involved in the conversation, they will also tend to do so.

  4. Focus on understanding why they do what they do. The key here is the WHY. It is easy for us to step in judgement, conclusions, or simply analyse things at a surface level. Try to understand their reasons and how they think.

  5. Write notes. These conversations will probably result in rich insights. Make sure you register the topics and ideas discussed so that it gets smoother to follow up.

Plan ahead

Casual 1:1s should not become your average 1:1 sessions. They are lengthier in time and the goal is not to focus on performance or set goals for the future, it is to go deep and connect to your employees. Thus, Møller advises you to do them once every year.

He spends about 1-2 hours with each employee. And he takes these sessions as a priority, he does not cancel them.

Spending 2 hours with each employee may sound too ambitious considering your time and responsibilities. Nevertheless, it is possible if you plan ahead. This is how Møller ensures he finds the time to have each Casual 1:1 session:

Key takeaways

Great companies are the ones with great teams. It is your job, as CEO or leader, to build strong relations with your employees and promote an environment of trust and support. 

Once a year, have 1-2 hours with every employee. Go all in. Get personal like Mogens Møller. Here is what you should do for each conversation:

  1. Set the scene – make it cosy.

  2. Focus on personal talk – longer than usual.

  3. Share about yourself.

  4. Focus on understanding the WHY behind their actions.

  5. Write notes – make following up easier.

Remember to plan and schedule the meetings in advance. Now it is on you!

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