Friday, January 15, 2021

One-on-Ones: The Basics

Actions to take: Make sure your one-on-one meetings have each of the elements listed below. Wait until the core series of posts about one-on-ones is complete before rolling them out. 

The initial post about routine one-on-one meetings with your direct reports explained why they should be your first priority and enumerated the benefits of doing them. Future posts will walk you through each element of conducting one-one-ones in great detail. This post will bridge the two. This post serves as the general framework to help you picture what these meetings will look like once you are doing them on a regular basis. 

Conceptually, it is simple to do one-on-one meetings. You will conduct regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports, likely on a weekly basis, likely 30 minutes long. In practice, it is difficult to do them well. There are dozens of elements that make up an effective one-on-one meeting and just as many pitfalls to ruin them. Let's start with a quick overview of the most important elements. Each of the following bullets will get its own post that will review the concept in greater detail and give you more specific instructions: 

  • Regularly Scheduled: Set a specific time that becomes the standing meeting time for each employee. Some managers like to sprinkle them throughout the week; some prefer to have a "one-on-ones day" for all their direct reports. Either strategy is fine as long as the following conditions are met: 1) it is a standing, recurring meeting and 2) the employee knows about the meeting and meeting time. This is perhaps the most important aspect of your routine one-on-ones. The post dedicated to the "regularly scheduled" aspect will delve deeply into why it matters so much.
  • Rarely missed: This is your most important meeting. Do not cancel these meetings frivolously. Do not allow interruptions more than you would during any very important meeting. There are two major reasons. First, you are signaling to your employee "this is important and you are important." Second, you will learn that these meetings are just really useful! You will not want to lose one. I do not exaggerate when I say that most of you job will get done in one-on-one meetings once you get them rolling.
  • Weekly (for most staff): The vast majority of managers and employees should meet on a weekly basis. Work and life happen on a weekly basis. People think on a weekly basis. When you ask someone about their work, they probably know the most important thing from last week, this week, and next week. They will have to consult their calendar for anything beyond that. Anything done every week starts to feel like just part of the job (which we want for these meetings). Anything done less frequently never quite feels routine. Do your one-on-ones every week. 
  • First half is employee's meeting: This meeting is not for you. It is for your employee and for the relationship between the two of you. Demonstrate that by always having the employee lead. It is "their meeting" in that they decide what will be discussed and for how long. The post dedicated to this element will enumerate the many, many ways that bosses can mess up this part of the meeting.
  • Second half is your meeting: Treat this meeting like it is the most important meeting you will have this week (it is). What do you do for important meetings? You prepare. Have a list of topics written up before the meeting. Spend some amount of time considering how to approach certain topics, not just what you need to cover. Consider their likely reactions and plan your follow-up. This preparation is fairly easy to do once you get the swing of it. For you as well as your employees, the routine will integrate itself into your daily work.
  • 30 minutes: 30 minutes is the sweet spot for getting what you need to out of this meeting. For executive-level positions in large organizations, your employees' jobs may be complex enough to require an hour each week. However, the flip side is not true. No position should have meetings shorter than 30 minutes. Despite how much these meetings will seem like they are about the job, remember, the purpose of the meeting is to strengthen the relationship. Do not attempt to build meaningful relationships in less than 30 minutes a week.

Hopefully you are beginning to visualize how these meetings would go and what you and your employees will get out of them. As I alluded to above, each of these topics requires more detailed study. There are many other topics to cover as well. This is a starting point. Subscribe or check the website frequently for future posts to coach you through the process of creating meaningful meetings with your team. Any boss can do a one-on-one meeting with their employees. Better bosses take a thoughtful, considered approach in order to make those meetings valuable.

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