How to Have an Effective 1 on 1

Managers, do you have regular 1 on 1s with your employees? For all of you March madness fanatics, no, I’m not talking about pick-up basketball. You know, those regular meetings with each and every one of your employees, where you sit down together and talk?

I’m amazed at the number of managers who don’t. Some of them don’t know any better – often the new ones. Perhaps they had poor role models, and they don’t understand the value of them. Or they don’t know how to. If you’re reading this, then you may be one of these. Good for you, you’re in the right place!

But I’m pretty sure there are a lot of managers that don’t have them because they just don’t enjoy talking to their employees. These are the kind of managers that see dealing with employees as distractions to getting their real work done. They avoid them or dread them because they might have to actually solve problems, make decisions, listen to complaints, or deal with messy emotions. They’re rather shut the door, pull the blinds, and send emails all day.

I wish these kinds of managers would just find jobs where they can apply their talents but not have direct reports. I’ll bet they are good at what they do… but they’re sure not suited for leadership.

After all, 1 on 1s and meetings are where leaders lead. That’s your opportunity to inspire, influence, motivate, coach, listen, solve problems, make decisions, and create an environment where employees feel energized. You can’t do this with email – it has to be f2f, eyeball to eyeball. Or, if managing remotely, at least over the phone.

So the most important tip to having effective 1 on 1s is: understand why they are important, that they are the manifestation of leadership, and treat them as the most important part of your day.

Once you’ve done this, the rest will come naturally. Here are a few suggestions to get you started, or enhance your 1 on 1s if you’re already having them and want to improve:

1. Schedule them out for 6-12 months, either weekly or bi-weekly, for about an hour each. Don’t wait for them to happen, because they won’t. Make it your employee’s responsibility to schedule them, but set the expectation and hold them accountable. It’s not an option.

2. Don’t cancel them. Yes, things come up – so reschedule if needed. If you’re always canceling them, you’re sending the message that they aren’t important.

3. Shut your door, don’t answer your phone, turn your cell phone off, and give 100% attention. If you don’t have an office, then use a conference room or other distraction free area.

4. Always let your employees go first. Clear their agenda first – it’s their time. Then cover any items on your list.

5. Make sure you don’t just discuss performance goals, metrics, quotas, or project updates. Save time to also talk about their development, job satisfaction, and yes, even a little time to get to know your employees as people.

6. At least once a year, set aside an entire meeting to have a career and development discussion. Review individual development plans on a quarterly basis.

7. You don’t need to follow the same rigid structure for every one of your employees. Tailor meetings to the needs and style of each employee. Some may prefer informal with no agenda – others may prefer agendas and formality. It doesn’t matter what you prefer- 1 on 1 are all about them, not you.

8. Like many of you, I’ve learned a lot about effective and ineffective leaders from my own managers. One manager gave me this piece of wise advice I’ll never forget: “How do you measure the effectiveness of your 1 on 1s? Take a look at your employees when the meeting is over. Are they leaving energized, enthusiastic, and motivated? Are they smiling? Or are their shoulders sagging, eyes glazed, and dragging themselves out of your office? That’s your scorecard as a leader.”

9. Kind of a follow-up to #8; don’t make your 1 on 1s feel like a complete physical exam (with prostrate check) to your employees. They shouldn’t be interrogations under a bright light.

10. Don’t accumulate a to-do list for each employee, and then use 1 on1s to unload your list. There’s nothing like leaving a meeting with a two pages of action items and wondering how you’re going to fit all the extra work into your week.

11. Be a barrier remover, not a gatekeeper. When an employee comes up with an idea, don’t shoot it full of holes (another fine “coachable moment”, right?), add so many of your own ideas to the idea that it’s no longer your employee’s, it yours; or add extra steps so that it takes longer to implement. Think about that last one… I just learned this recently, and it’s challenging. Instead of adding steps to your employee’s ideas, challenge yourself as a leader to remove steps, or barriers, so that the employee can implement the idea even faster.

12. Save some time to just talk. It’s OK to spend a few moments just asking what’s new, how’s life, how’s the family, etc….

13. Ask for feedback, opinions, input to important decisions, and advice.

14. Always try to end on a positive note – let your employee know how well they are doing (if it’s genuine); and how much you appreciate their efforts.

How about you? Do you have any favorite dos or don’t for 1 on 1s?