What The Best Managers Are Asking Their Employees During 1-on-1s

As a manager, how much do you know about your employees’ professional goals? A Deloitte Survey found that two-thirds of employees believe it’s their manager's responsibility to provide them with development opportunities.

But with the fast pace of today’s business world, it’s common for managers to opt for a project-focused weekly, bi-weekly or sometimes monthly check in with their direct reports.

Showing an interest in your employees’ advancement demonstrates their value to the company and fosters loyalty. A 2015 survey found that managers who know their employees’ strengths are 71% more likely to have employees who are engaged and energized. It will also help you maximize their potential and assign tasks that best fit their skills. Employees who have strengths discussions with their managers are 78% more likely to feel their work is valued and appreciated.

Even if you’ve encouraged employees to come to you with concerns, taking an active and vested interest in their professional development is one of the keys that will set you apart as an effective manager. We know it can be time consuming, but it will pay off in the long run as you and your team are increasingly aligned, and individuals are satisfied in their jobs.

Knowing how to ask the right questions can help you both inspire, and lead your employees in a constructive dialogue about their professional development. We’re here to help, with some example questions you can ask employees during your 1:1.

Learn how to ask the right questions

Different types of questions can be used to help you get to know your direct reports better, and in turn give you the answers you’re looking for. Closed questions (with a yes or no answer) can be useful if you need to get straight to the point. But the key to a good 1:1 is being open-minded, ready to listen, and let the other person do the talking. Ask open-ended questions to glean further information and encourage more thoughtful responses. This is the best type of question to use when you want to lead your employees to a deeper reflection about their professional goals.

Questions To Inspire and Motivate:

Encourage employees to think deeply about their current situation

When coming up with a professional development plan, it may be challenging for your employees to create goals if they’re not fully aware of their strengths and interests in the workplace. Get them thinking with these questions:

  • What do you enjoy most and least about your job?

  • What project have you enjoyed working on recently, and why?

  • What other strengths or skills do you have that you feel are not being utilized?

  • What would others on the team be most likely to come to you for help on?

  • What do you like to do in your free time, that could be reapplied at work?

Help lead them to a more specific, ambitious and attainable set of aspirations

  • Which new responsibilities would you like to take on in the next few months and years?

  • Which skills would you need to refine to help you achieve these goals?

  • What kind of projects would you like to be involved in more, to help you with the above?

Give them food for thought

  • If you were in charge of our next team project, what would you do differently?

  • What do you see as our team’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?

  • What could we do to address them?

Help them to align their goals with company objectives:

  • Where do you think your skills would add the most value?

  • How do you think you can best contribute to company objectives?

  • Do you have any ideas of how the team can contribute to company objectives?

To understand how you can help ask them:

  • What tools and resources help you the most in your daily work? Is there anything missing?

  • Are there any learning opportunities you’d like to pursue?

  • How can I help you achieve these goals? 


Another great way to find out how your employees feel about their performance and role in the team, is by keeping a record of the feedback they receive from you and their peers. Using feedback reports as a reference can help you refresh and prepare beforehand for an engaging and personalized conversation with each team member.


To continue developing your skills, download our free E-Book “The Manager’s Guide to Using Feedback to Motivate, Engage, and Develop Your Team”.



Photo by Morgan Sessions