As a leader, your time is tight. If you have more than 4 or 5 direct reports, then time is even more crunched. One-on-one meetings may feel counter-productive when you have limited time and the option to meet virtually. However, these meetings are a key opportunity you have to develop each of those direct reports.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders, the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, says "One-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager."
These are times when they can learn from you what it takes to get to the next level, and you can learn from them what is happening closer to the front-line and gain more practice developing a flexible management style.
Do your directs look forward to their one-on-one times with you? Do you look forward to them?
The higher up you are, the more structure you will need to have since you will have fewer one-on-one times per month.
Here are a few tips that should help in establishing effective one-on-ones:
1. Come prepared.
One of the first one-on-one conversations you should have with your directs is how to have a one-on-one.
Is there a structure that you want to follow? How about them? What would make that time most valuable to them?
There is probably going to be a lot of overlap between the two of you but for clarity’s sake, encourage them to share their expectations, and you share yours.
After you’ve established what one-on-one’s are going to look like, you will know how to prepare for those meetings (see below).
Send an agenda for the one-on-one a couple of days in advance. Be sure you have learned what it is they most want to talk about during their one-on-one. Ideally, agenda items should be phrased as questions since questions get people thinking about answers.
This will help you both to prepare or at least start thinking about the topics.
2. Determine how often you will have one-on-ones and where.
Some direct reports may need more time than others, especially those who are newer to their role. It is important to determine the pace of the meetings and stick to it.
3. Create an environment of focus.
One of the keys to effective one-on-one's is to create an environment where both of you can be fully present and focused.
Silencing or turning off phones completely helps. But so does making sure there are no interruptions.
Another way to create a high level of focus is to shorten the meetings. This forces both of you to be sharp.
4. Create a dialogue.
One-on-one meetings should feel more like a dialogue and less like a monologue. One way to accomplish this is to start personally (see below). Another is by starting with what the direct wants to talk about. A third is by asking open-ended questions. This limits the amount you speak and encourages your directs to say a lot more.
5. Start personally.
What is meaningful to them in life in general? For many, it is going to be their families or another significant relationship. For some, it is going to be favorite hobbies, restaurants, or adventures. Show them that you care by remembering what matters to them.
Moving this way helps both you and your direct to be positive, open and vulnerable, ready to engage the meeting in a spirit of trust and collaboration.
Use your humor. Laughing bonds people together. Having a team that is tight with one another and with you will go far in developing the high performing team you’ve always wanted.
6. Start with a Win.
If each of you can share a win that you’ve had since the last time you met, that will go a long way in making the conversation positive.
7. Move to the core - discover what your report is doing in the most important area of their role.
Since time is usually tight, many clients have found it helpful to start with the most important area of their direct report’s role. This is the point where you especially want to have influence. It can help set them up for success. Moreover, their best results will come by focusing on what is essential (cue Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism).
As part of your preparation, know what you want to know about the core. Brainstorm here so that they can see how you process. Also, they can sense how much you believe in them through this collaboration.
8. Update on project.
There is probably a project that you especially want to keep an eye on. Typically, you do that by receiving email updates ahead of the meeting, then the update during your one-on-one is more about moving the project further.
This could also be a brainstorming time. It could be an opportunity to discover the obstacles that your direct is facing, which you could help them remove.
Here is where you want to know how you could be of most value to them as they work on this key project.
9. Find ways to increase engagement.
You want to get a feel for what their overall engagement is like. Do they love their role? Company? Their team? You? What would help increase their engagement?
Getting a pulse on engagement is really important with your higher-performing directs. Throughout the meeting find ways to increase their engagement by giving them opportunities to do the things that generate engagement for that specific direct report.
Feedback doesn’t need to be limited to formal reviews. Start by sharing something you are grateful for concerning their performance since the last meeting. Then give them some positive affirmations about their work, and one thing to focus on improving. This kind of interaction can go a long way.
Hopefully, the more this becomes part of the dynamic between you and them, the more you will see how to help them grow and build upon their strengths.
11. Ask, “What can I do better?”
Asking for feedback is your chance to grow further. You might not be able to accomplish everything all your directs want, but it is likely that gaining their feedback and modeling change and growth will go far for everyone on the team.
12. Both sides should send an email to one another with next steps
At the end of the meeting, it would be helpful to talk through next steps for each of you. Get buy-in, and then each of you should send an email with those next steps to each other to make sure that you both are on the same page and know what each of you is empowered to do.
Chew On This:
- What has been your experience with effective one-on-one meetings?
Ryan C. Bailey is President and CEO of an organizational effectiveness company.
*This blog is an amalgamation of a few different clients. No one single client is being singled out.