Monday, May 3, 2021

One-on-Ones are Efficient

Actions to take: Virtually all bosses should do weekly one-on-ones with virtually all employees. The argument that it is "too much work" is an indication of prioritizing the wrong tasks.

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. 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.

How would you react if I said that you can do 75% of your job in 10 hours per week? 

This blog is not about get-rich-quick-style managerial schemes. Good management requires hard work every day, plain and simple. However, the one sensational statement I am willing to make is this: if you are a manager, you can get 75% of your job done through effective weekly one-on-ones. If you have 10 employees, that's a 30-minute meeting, with about 30 minutes of prep and follow up throughout the week for each, or 10 hours of work for 10 employees. Even if you double the number of employees, 75% of your job done in half of a standard work week is still a great deal.

The biggest argument I hear against weekly one-on-ones is that managers don't have the time. That extra task feels like a huge burden for the already-overburdened boss. The fact is, everyone in this world has the same amount of time each day. These managers don't have a problem with time; they have a problem with priorities. To put it bluntly, they aren't managing effectively. When you put your time into the thing that matters most (helping your employees become more effective), every element of your team's work becomes easier.

One-on-ones replace other work, and they do it far more efficiently than any other means. Most bosses are backwards-thinking about managing people. They spend most of their time on "my work" and will "help my employees with their work" around the edges. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to manage. If you manage more than 3 people, your mindset should be, "My job is to make my employees more effective at their work. I will do other tasks with whatever time I have left over."

Managers who are overworked without doing one-on-ones are doing the wrong things. Once you fully accept the premise "My job is to direct others' work," your perspective on your work vs your employees' work completely shifts. The bulk of your work is almost certainly tasks that could 1) be done far more quickly or 2) be done by your employees. I suspect that you are doing a lot of work that your employees already do. You save the hardest or most important parts for yourself because you don't trust your employees to do them right. Spend your time learning how to assign work and follow it up effectively rather than doing it yourself.

There is mathematical proof that weekly one-on-ones are a smart use of your time. Let's say you have 4 employees. Let's say that you can make their work 10% more effective by engaging in weekly one-on-ones. Remember what you are doing in these meetings: giving feedback, coaching, checking in on work, nudging them in the right direction, clearing up vagueness about tasks or new directives, etc. A 10% increase is an extremely low estimate of how much you will improve their effectiveness. With 4 employees, a weekly 30-minute meeting plus 30-minutes of prep and follow-up throughout the week comes out to 4 hours of your time. A 10% improvement in a fulltime employee's work comes out to 4 hours of additional productivity per employee. You are getting 16 hours of increased productivity for a 4 hour investment of your time. 

Once the figures are laid out, it is hard to believe how few managers focus their time on making employees more effective.

The average boss sees weekly one-on-ones as another task to add to their ever-growing list of things to do. Better bosses understand that one-on-ones are about getting work priorities straight. They know that work for the entire team becomes easier when the boss spends time helping their employees. 

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