One of the most powerful management tools you can have in your tool box is the discipline of regular one-on-one (1:1) meetings with your team members. Some leaders do these naturally, but for many it’s something they start but don’t do regularly; others prefer ad hoc chats to check in with their key players. In my book, Basic to Brilliant, the value of these meetings is evidenced in the profile of Supernova Salon, where owner Dana Lyseng devotes two full days per month to checking in with her 22 team members. It’s been a game changer for her business and has given her the real edge when it comes to retaining star talent and keeping the whole team engaged.
Let’s look at what makes these meetings the fuel that can keep your business running on full throttle. Unlike weekly status check-ins or bi-weekly team meetings, the monthly or quarterly 1:1’s provide a regularly scheduled time to check in with each team member on a range of issues important to them. The goal of these meetings is to come to a mutual understanding of how the individual is feeling about their day-to-day work, the team, the organization. These are not status update meetings; rather a management tool to increase output, track progress towards goals, and stay in touch with employees’ happiness. It’s an ongoing feedback mechanism to help employees grow skills and overcome challenges. It’s a high leverage activity that shows staff you care.
Beyond a firm calendar commitment to hold these meetings, they are designed to be free-form for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas, big and small questions, and chronic frustrations (if there are any) that don’t fit neatly into status reports, email or other forms of communication. They ideally take place outside the office – at a coffee shop, sitting in a park, or doing something active like going for a walk. A target of 30 minutes for these meetings is ideal, but there may be times when one hour may be more appropriate.
If you’re ready to launch the meetings as part of your regular routine, initial communication is important to frame their intent and build interest. To start, consider painting the larger picture – now that the team is well established (or continues to grow etc.), you want to make sure they feel comfortable and are driving forward with positive momentum. When it gets crazy busy it’s too easy to not take the time to pause and touch base. The monthly (or quarterly) meetings are designed to make sure everyone’s “saw is sharp” and there’s mutual understanding of how things are going.
The conversation should start by asking what’s on the employee’s mind; the employee should own the agenda and generally dictate the flow of the conversation. Listen and comment appropriately and wherever possible, avoid jumping in to solve a problem. But by all means, offer suggestions and feedback/feedforward when asked.
Sometimes the conversation during a 1:1 can stagnate – perhaps it’s an unusually slow or uneventful week or month, so there were no big roadblocks or the employee is an introvert who is hesitant to open up, or is generally content and has no burning issues to discuss. This is where it’s time to start asking questions to draw out more about what makes them tick.
One-on-ones are a sacred time where employees get a manager’s undivided attention. It’s an opportunity to clear roadblocks if needed and gives individuals the forum to seek advice for overcoming challenges or seizing new possibilities in the day-to-day work. The conversation can incorporate questions about career (how can I be a better marketer?) or personal advice (should I go back to school or stay in the industry?).
While the meetings are not designed to be heavy on problem solving, it’s essential to follow up on any issues you may have promised to look into. This shows the employee you truly care about their concerns because you took the time (and remembered) to address their needs.
By having frequent 1:1’s, you have the mechanism to help employees navigate their path and uncover new issues and ideas. The end result is that you are not seen as micromanaging (especially with high performers), but rather gaining an understanding of their perspectives and acting as a true sounding board. You also provide the visibility team members need, which in turn fosters the trust and credibility essential to your leadership success.