Transform One-on-Ones Into a Powerful Weapon

By February 23, 2017one-on-ones
one on one

It seems that when you talk with people about holding one-on-ones with their team they either see them as essential, or they see them as a complete waste of time with negative ROI (yes negative ROI).

Cynics will say that one-on-ones create negative feelings between managers and employees because they feel their time is wasted. A typical one-on-one for those in this camp might unfold like this:

Manager: “So…how are things going?”
Employee: “Good”
Manager: “…”
Employee: “…”
Manager: “Well great, next week then?”

If this is how all your one-on-ones have gone, and you’ve never experienced a better one, then of course you have reason to hate them. This type of meeting is a waste of time. The travesty is that it does not have to be this way.  You’re missing out on what could be your most valuable asset in growing your team. Start doing one-on-ones right by avoiding these common pitfalls…

Make It About Them

A one-on-one’s purpose is to allot devoted time to your team, and give them a platform to openly and honestly share with you. It’s not a status update meeting and it should have little in the way of task discussion. Spend one-on-ones hearing from employees to gain understanding of where they feel blocked, where they feel successful, and gather other feedback they want to share.

The irony of most managers’ frustration with one-on-ones is that they try to fill the conversation void, and in doing so they end up making it a project status meeting.

To quote one of the Habits of Highly Effective People

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

-Stephen Covey

One of the best ways to make your one-on-one’s more effective is to shut up and wait. The reason I say wait is because you can’t expect to have your team openly share with you the first go-round, especially if you don’t have a history of asking for their input. Try asking some specific questions at first, and then move on to more general open-ended questions. For example, you might ask:

What have you really enjoyed working on lately?

And then follow it up with a “why?” or…

Why do you not enjoy that type of project?

Moving from specific to general breaks the ice a bit, especially if you usually only communicate with your team in project meetings. You’ll have to build the skill of having meaningful discussions with your team in a coaching manner. You need consistency in order to build a habit, which brings me to my next point…

Make Them Regular

I get it, you’re busy.

You feel like your hair is on fire most days, and you’re just trying to herd cats. I’ve been there too. The last thing you want to do is feel like you have to babysit your team. This is the position of most people in leadership. It’s hard to see the ROI of regular one-on-one’s because you feel like you’re communicating with them. You don’t want to add yet another meeting to your calendar. However, one of the frequent complaints employees make about one-on-ones is that they are often canceled. It sure is hard to make someone feel valued if you’re not valuing their time.

It comes down to mutual respect. If you can’t make the appointment, then let them know in advance and reschedule it when you cancel. Don’t simply cancel it, which sends the message that you don’t care. Odds are it won’t get rescheduled or will be an extended period of time between.

Holding regular one-on-ones ensures that the ones you have are effective.

Make Something Happen

If you’re not acting on the feedback that they provide you, then odds are that the feedback won’t continue. One reason employees don’t give more feedback is because they don’t think anything will really change as a result. Prove to them that you’re taking their feedback seriously by engaging with it. You don’t have to do everything that they suggest, but you do have to acknowledge the feedback they give and the reason why you will or will not implement it.

Taking notes during each one-on-one is important to track what was said and the to-dos that result. You shouldn’t feel like the purpose of the meeting is to come away with tasks for each of you, but rather to know that action is required on your part. It’s your job as a leader to make sure that your team is cared for, and doing their best work.

Growing Your Team

At the end of the day, you want to grow your team. It’s the best thing you can do for your team and for your company. The only way you can do that is by knowing them and having regular (and meaningful) conversations with them. Make a commitment to be intentional about your one-on-ones and know that it is an investment that will pay dividends in the future.
Other questions you might include.

  • If you were in my shoes, what would you change and why?
  • What makes you feel successful/fulfilled in your work?
  • What was one of the most enjoyable projects that you worked on recently and why?
  • What have you seen other companies do that you think we should try?
  • What are some personal (not work) goals that you have?

Got any other questions you would add to this list? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

In the end, it’s about relationships with your team, that’s how you understand them and make sure they are doing the best work they can. No two will be the same and you won’t really know until you start doing them so schedule your first today. Seriously check with your team and put it on the calendar. You’ll be a better leader because of it and guaranteed you will see a more engaged team.