As a leader you should have one-on-one meetings with your direct reports regularly.
But how do you introduce one on ones to your direct reports? How does such an one-on-one meeting work? How do you get started and what exactly should you say in such meetings?
My experience with one-on-ones
During my time as a manager, I had lots of meetings with my direct reports.
However, from todays point of view, I should have conducted one-on-one meetings more frequently and especially regularly. Over time, I realized how valuable this management tool – the one-on-one meeting – is and how important it is to build trust with your direct reports.
When I talk to executives about these one-on-ones, I often hear:
“I know that I should regularly take the time to talk to each of my direct reports, but I don’t have time for it. There is always so much to do.”
Well, if the one-on-ones are important to you – I mean really important to you – then you should find the time to talk to each of your direct reports at least 20 minutes every week or at least every 14 days.
Of course this is easier said than done, but in the long run these conversations will bring you an incredible return on investment. They save you a lot of time and money.
If you do it right, you will get motivated people who will think along similar lines and pull in the same direction along with you.
These one-on-ones will help you to get to know your employees better and better. But most important: You build trust which makes it easier for you to delegate tasks.
If you have one-on-ones regularly, you will become much better at understanding what is going on with your employees and how you can support them.
„OK – and what do I have to consider for these one-on-one talks?“
It’s a conversation between two people.
If possible, these conversations should take place in a quiet, relaxed environment. That can, but does not have to be in the office. You can also have such a conversation during a walk together, so to say a meeting “on the go”.
Focus on your direct report.
It is important that you are focused on the matter and only concentrate on your employee. No distraction! Avoid interruption of any kind!
And please remember: In a one-on-one meeting its clear that your smartphone is switched off. I don’t have to point that out, do I?
A one-on-one is an employee meeting!
Why is it called like that? That is because the employee talks more than the boss.
It is mainly the time of the employee spending with his manager, not the other way around.
“Well, but how do I start such a conversation and what should I talk about?”
The one-on-one process
Let´s talk about the rough process of one-on-one meetings first: Each one-on-one is different. They are unique because people are unique.
Nevertheless: Especially if you have just officially started regular one-on-one meetings, it is beneficial to provide a rough framework. For simplicity, we assume 30 minutes. You can then divide these 30 min one-on-ones into three 10 min parts, for example:
Part 1: Employees time only
You start the conversation with a question and then you listen. This is the time when your direct report wants to discuss matters that are important to him or her.
Part 2: Your time
The manager addresses issues such as giving feedback for instance. You can also inform about goals or talk about organizational changes and hear your employee’s opinion on them.
Part 3: It’s about the future.
What is in store for the next few days. Talk about your plans. Ask about his or her plans. If you have agreed on actions to be carried out then you can briefly summarize them at the end of the one-on-one meeting.
It is just a framework…
As I said before, these 3 parts are just a rough framework, a kind of guideline that can be helpful to you especially when you start one-on-one meetings with your direct reports and if you haven’t done it before.
The meetings don’t necessarily have to be 30 minutes. Start with 15 minutes or 20 minutes. The individual parts can also be of different lengths. If the employee has many things to discuss, just talk about them and skip the other parts. That’s ok.
The key is: just start with one-on-ones. And very important: do one-on-ones regularly – and I mean weekly or at least bi weekly.
“I feel stupid about it. I don’t know how to start the conversation …
What should I talk about?”
Good question. I have put together a free checklist for one-on-one meetings with examples and tips how to conduct one-on-one meetings. You’ll find the link to the free download in the YouTube description and in the comments.
If you introduce one-on-ones, you may feel uncomfortable at the beginning. That’s normal. The situation may seem strange to you.
“What does the employee think about me when I suddenly start with such personal meetings?”
Just hang in there. It is worth it.
You can easily start a one-on-one by asking open questions, for example:
“John, how is it going? How are you doing? “
“John, what is your biggest challenge right now?”
“Is there anything I can currently support you with?”
If that leads to nothing, you can also ask about current developments in the company, e.g.
“John, what do you think of our recent organizational change? What´s your take on that? “
All the questions are used to break the ice and start a conversation with your employee. Get involved, be interested in her or his opinion and ask.
You can also ask questions like:
Where did you feel friction in the last week? Where there specific meetings or situations where we as a team can improve?
You know that we strive in our company for customer satisfaction. But I also know that some of our rules and customer processes are not ideal at all. I ‘m interested in your opinion. Where do we need to improve? What needs to change?
What feedback do you have for me? Where can I as a manager improve?
For example: What do you want to do me more and what should I do less?
Start with open questions.
But note that it is your job to start with such open questions. After that, you listen actively. You can ask if you don’t understand something but you listen carefully.
If you are introducing one-on-ones, explain to your employees why you are doing this, what the talks will roughly be about and what advantages your employees will gain from it.
The greatest advantage of one-on-ones?
Do you know what most employees consider the greatest advantage of such meetings?
It is the undisturbed, undivided time they can spend with their manager. Your employees know very well that you are always under time pressure. So if you take your time and spend them with them, that shows appreciation.
I, the employee, am important to my boss because otherwise he wouldn’t spend regularly time with me, right?
What to do if I feel uncomfortable…
If thinking about starting one-on-ones still makes you feel uncomfortable, talk about it. It’s not weakness but strengths when you talk about that feeling.
For example, you can say the following:
“John, I’d like to conduct 1 on 1 meetings with each of my direct reports on a regular basis. This is very important to me because I believe that if we spend more time together, we will understand each other better and I can support you much better.
To be honest, starting with these one-on-ones still feels a bit unusual or awkward to me. But I strongly believe it’s important to start with it and it will help us to improve working together.
So: How’s it going with you: Is there something I can currently support you with?”
By conducting one-on-one you offer your employees a forum to exchange ideas with you. Of course, your employees also want to hear your opinion, but it is particularly important that your employees can share their thoughts and issues with you.
One-on-ones are not about you.
Therefore: One-on-one meetings are not about you, they are about your employees. Be sincerely interested in them, in the job they do and in their personality.
I promise that one-on-ones will be a game changer in your leadership. They pay off in the long term for everyone involved.
I have put together a checklist for one-on-one meetings. You can download this check list for free here:
The inspiring quote
“We have this religion that everyone has one on ones on the team. We think everyone should be doing it. It just leads to a happier work place, and it takes almost no investment. It really pays off.“