“Nicole” called me looking for help on employee engagement. “Karin, I’m looking at our employee engagement survey and 80% of the respondents said they haven’t had a one-on-one meeting with their boss in the last year. How is that possible? And what do we do now?”
Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve run into such a situation. If you’re not having one-on-one meetings regularly (ideally once a week) with your direct reports, just start. Show up and listen. Ask where they need help. Recognize effort and accomplishment. Say thank you. Connect.
Don’t over-think, just start.
On the other hand if you’re doing one-on-one meetings, and they feel like a waste of time on either side, read on to discover a few tips to make them more impactful.
I learned the value of a great one-on-one meeting from my boss, Mel, when I took over a new division at Verizon Wireless. She had her assistant schedule a “pull-up,” on my calendar, so I thought we were in for a casual chat. She jumped in eagerly and inquired, “So, what’s on your list?”
My list? I didn’t have a list, and asked her for hers to get a sense of the “pull-up” scene.
Mel’s list was scratched in various colored ink and pencil … clearly she’d been keeping it all week. Apparently, she’d saved interrupting me on IM, phone calls and email by keeping a list of important, but less urgent topics and highlighting the decisions that required dialogue. I could have leaned over the desk and kissed her.
From that moment on, I replicated the process with my direct report team, saving all of us from needless interruptions and ensuring we had quality-time for focused conversation.
5 Proven Ways To Make Your One-On-Ones Meetings More Impactful
- Build a Two-Way Agenda
Mel taught me the power of a two-way, one-on-one agenda. Come with an agenda and ask your direct report to do the same. Develop a cadence of keeping a list throughout the week. As both a leader and follower, after I learned the fine art of a great one-on-one, I would keep a growing list for each direct report (and my boss) each week of the important/less urgent things we needed to discuss. This saved us a lot of interruptions and emails along the way.
- Reinforce the MIT (Most Important Thing) and link to the Bigger MIT
In Winning Well, we talk about identifying the MIT or Most Important Thing you can do each day, each week, and each quarter to make the biggest strategic impact. Meaningful one-on-one sessions link clearly back to that. If you’re finding yourselves stuck in continuous conversation that has nothing to do with what matters most, that’s an important indicator that it’s time for a prioritization conversation.
- Notice Something Great
The most impactful recognition is often what you notice along the way — it’s the small behaviors and efforts that you reinforce that lead to breakthrough outcomes. If you’re preparing for a one-on-one and can’t think of a single thing going right, here’s the lay-up question, “What are you most proud of this week?”
- Ask Great Questions
Terrific one-on-ones are a conversation. Come prepared with a few great questions and build from there.
-What was the MIT (most important thing you accomplished last week– and why was this so impactful?)
-What’s your MIT for this week?
-Where are you stuck?
-Who else can we engage to help?
-What do you need from me?
- Say Thank You
Mean it. Be specific.
It’s seriously hard to have a bad one-on-one if you’re coming from a balanced perspective of strengthening results and relationships. The hardest part is carving out the time and preserving it for your team.