How do you increase employee satisfaction through one on one meetings?(Part 1 of 2) ――Seeking optimal styles by “visualizing” interactions

One-on-one meetings are individualized interactions held between managers and employees. Unlike conventional employee evaluation interviews, the meetings are implemented in short cycles, once per week, and last around a mere 30 minutes. The meetings do not consist of one-sided guidance and instruction from managers. Rather, the managers accept employee opinions, iterate inquiries and communication through active hearing sessions, and provide advice at times. Through these characteristics, the meetings are attracting growing attention because they enable employees to promote their own growth.

In the Silicon Valley in California, where acquisition and maintenance of human resources is difficult, one-on-one meetings (1-on-1) are held as part of their corporate culture, and various Japanese corporations, with similar issues and tasks, have started to introduce and conduct these meetings. These meetings are effective in building mutual understanding and a relationship of trust, improving employee motivation and acquiring human resource development through autonomous growth support as well as enhancing careers and retention rates.

However, because these meetings are conducted on a one-on-one basis, their effects can be determined only by their participants, and their qualities cannot be determined objectively. In reality, even if the one-on-one meetings are conducted regularly, there are cases where the expected effects cannot be achieved and the meetings simply end up as chatting sessions; if conducted erroneously, the sessions may lead to decreased motivation and the relationship of trust may be lost.

We have established an improvement project for Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (“Murata” hereafter) digital marketing and service departments that seem to have issues with these one-on-one meetings.

Issues related to one-on-one meetings

First, we spoke to Murofushi, a promoter of the project, about the “one-on-one meeting improvement project.”

-- Please tell us how the one-on-one meeting improvement project was established.

At the division I am affiliated with, our manager Harada had decided to adopt one-on-one meetings that aim to achieve “human resource development” and “employee satisfaction” as a means for communication and management. These meetings were conducted with managers listening attentively to and sympathizing with what the employees had to say. Repeated sessions were conducted with an aim to allow employees to organize their thoughts and discover solutions on their own, then proceeding with work while team building with a sense of leadership. These meetings were conducted based on individual decisions alone and not as an organization. Needless to say, these sessions were not implemented as a means for employee evaluation.

Attentive listening worked well for employees with a certain amount of experience in their jobs. However, in the case of inexperienced employees, due to their lack of knowledge and skill, they were incapable of responding to Harada’s questions, making them feel cornered and resulting in greater disadvantages. This has hindered our intent to achieve positive results and instead were faced with negative effects. 
In addition, a major issue of one-on-one meetings stems from the fact that it is difficult to visualize the effects of actual manager and employee interactions, making it is difficult to identify the reasons they are ineffective.

And so, we’ve established this improvement project in order to discover optimal one-on-one meeting styles for our employees. 

Project promoter: Murofushi

Inspections through “visualization” of communication styles and questionnaires for our employees

-- Simply conducting one-on-one meetings does not generate results. What kind of methods did you implement for the project?

We held meetings with about 10 of our employees for approximately 3 months to search for an optimal communication style for one-on-one meetings. We held a total of 3 to 4 meetings per employee. Each session was held with intervals of about 1 month. There, we inspected optimal communication styles and guides by incorporating and intentionally mixing [attentive listening], which is based on coaching techniques Harada had learned during his training, with [chatting], [discussion], and [guidance]. During these trials, we found it necessary to “visualize” the interactions and decided to apply a tool manufactured by Murata that senses the state of these interactions.

This tool extracts data between managers and employees as [chatting] if dialog is short between the two, [discussion] if the interaction is at mid-length or is long, [attentive listening] if the employee’s dialog is long and the manager’s dialog is short, and [guidance] if the manager’s dialog is long and the employee’s dialog is short.

A diagram that indicates how communication types are categorized depending on the combination of dialog tempo lengths between manager and employee.

We had one-on-one meeting participants complete a questionnaire to inspect what kind of correlation there was between “visualized” communication styles and employee satisfaction. However hard the managers try to conduct communication styles through trial and error, we will not be able to determine whether these one-on-one meetings are good or bad unless we can grasp how our employees feel.

The questionnaire includes items to be rated in a scale from 1 to 10, including “disclosure level of concerns and issues,” which indicates how much of their concerns and issues they were able to speak to their managers about, “clarity of solutions,” which indicates whether they have a clear solution for their concerns and issues, and “level of satisfaction,” which indicates whether they think the one-on-one meetings should be conducted at other divisions.

We had combined the “visualized” interactions and employee questionnaires to have an objective view on the meetings.

The 1-on-1 interaction characteristic of one-on-one meetings makes it difficult to grasp what is actually going on. By “visualizing” them, we believe we will be able to discover the points we can improve. So have they been able to discover an optimal style?

In the latter half, we have spoken to Masuyama, who had conducted one-on-one meetings with his manager Harada, on what kind of changes had been observed from inspection results and following one-on-one meetings.

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