Actions to take: Have a working file for one-on-one topics that is always close at hand. Throughout the week, note topics to add for your employees. Always have it front-of-mind. Spend some time just before each one-on-one thinking through how to discuss the more important or complex topics.
To be a truly effective boss, the most important thing you can do is build a trusting relationship with each employee. By far the easiest way to do that is through routine one-on-one meetings. Better-boss.com recommends that those meetings are scheduled, 30 minutes, weekly, and rarely missed, with the first half of the meeting spent on whatever they want to discuss and the second half for whatever you want to discuss.
Some of your employees are going to be skeptical about this whole one-on-ones business. Rightly so if you were boss who did not do very much active management in the past. The easiest way to prove those employees right is by failing to adequately prepare for your half of the meeting. I had a friend who rolled out one-on-ones with her team of five. However, the launch week for the meetings was just after her own week-long vacation. The first set of meetings were dreadfully awkward, and she ended most of them after about 10 minutes. She got into each meeting and just didn't have anything to say. The experience soured her team (and nearly soured her) on the idea of one-on-ones altogether. The setback took months to correct. (She ultimately "relaunched" one-on-ones with an apology to her team and a promise that that the meetings would look better in the future.)
Avoid this pitfall by adequately preparing for your one-on-one meetings. They are your most important meeting, after all--treat them that way. When you are well prepared, your half of the meeting flows naturally. There is almost nothing to it: you will go through your list of topics, make sure to leave room for them to speak (it's a discussion, not a presentation), and take notes as necessary. Preparation is the key word. Preparation separates genuinely valuable, rewarding one-on-ones from the awkward drudgery of a meeting led by a mediocre boss.
Here is how you will prepare:
- Have a file within easy reach at all times to note topics for one-on-ones with each of your employees. I like an excel table with employee names down the side and week-by-week dates running across the top. This allows me to easily make notes for one-on-one topics several weeks out. A more common method is to have a notebook for each employee, one page per meeting. Then it is as simple as flipping back to review old meetings or flipping forward to make notes a few weeks out.
- Always have this file front-of-mind. With just a little effort on your part, you will discover dozens of potential one-on-one topics throughout the week: you overhear your employee talking about a new process idea in the workroom; an email from your boss reminds you of an important service update launching next week; you see an employee deftly handling a tricky customer; etc. Note these things down as topics for your next meeting.
- In addition, spend some time prior to each meeting preparing what you will say. If your list is light, you may use this time to come up with additional topics. The primary purpose, however, is to think through how you will approach the topics you already have. If you plan to give positive feedback, think through the phrasing. If an unpopular change is on the way, think through how to draw out your employee's concerns. If you're planning to learn more about some aspect of their work, consider what questions to ask to get them talking freely.
With the right preparation, employees will be impressed. You will be involved in their work in a productive, non-intrusive way that they have never experienced before. They will see that there is real content there, meaningful discussion that actually has an impact on their ability to achieve their goals. They will recognize that you are genuinely trying to get to know them, and they will respond in kind. When you have a list of 5-10 thoughtfully planned topics each meeting, your employees will get on board with one-on-ones in just a few weeks.
The average boss does whatever the company expects for routine meetings with employees. They assume that one less meeting is better for everyone, so they avoid any meeting that is not mandated. If one-on-ones are required, average bosses muddle through with barely a moment spared for advanced preparation. Better bosses know that weekly one-on-ones are the easiest way to manage. They guarantee the value of those meetings by coming prepared.