One-on-One Meetings: The Habit of Better Managers

Recently, I talked about how stockpiling feedback for “the right time” is a bad idea.  Waiting until performance review season can be overwhelming and disengaging for direct reports.  In addition, this is wildly inefficient for you as a manager!  So how can we avoid this tendency? One-on-one meetings.

Time after time, I see the more successful managers doing something differently than colleagues.  They have made a habit of regularly checking in and talking with their employees.  These on-going check-ins foster a comfortable forum for communication and feedback.  In practical terms, effective managers hold individual “one-on-one” meetings with each direct report.  “Oh, no!  Not MORE meetings!” is a common reaction to this recommendation.  I understand.  However, these meetings can save you time and pay off dividends.  Let’s discuss how.

Three Steps for Getting Out of Your Own Way

Keep one-on-one meetings short.

These meetings can be 30 minutes long once a month. The important thing is that they take place consistently.  When you and your direct report get into a rhythm, you both know what to expect and will make better use of your dedicated time together.  If you cannot commit to 30 minutes once a month now, start with 20 minutes every five weeks.  Focus on the quality of the time and not the quantity of time.

Resist the urge to cancel.

Cancelling one-on-one meetings sends an unintentional message to your direct report that you do not value their time or professional development.  I have heard this specifically called out in countless discussions with people who eventually became disengaged because they could not get time with their manager to discuss their performance or how to get better.  Protect the time with your direct reports and you will avoid sending a disengaging message.

Focus on coaching.

There will be times when you want to discuss task lists and deadlines.  While that’s OK, the real value in these meetings comes from coaching your direct report, not just managing the project work.  Ask your direct report to bring questions or discussion topics.  For example, you can ask about what they valued learning in the last month, where they want to improve their skills, and how you can help them further develop.  This is an especially useful practice as you delegate projects and give stretch assignments.  Look for opportunities in this two-way conversation to offer feedback and reinforce progress since the last meeting.

Leaders Who Invest Time Get Better Results

In looking at our Thrive 360 data, leaders who hold regular one-one-one meetings with their direct reports consistently received better marks for communication and coaching than colleagues do.  Their direct reports are more likely to recommend them as an excellent leader to work for.  Anecdotally, the leaders who hold regular one-on-one’s (even those who were reluctant at first!) end up with fewer interruptions, misinterpretations, and employees frustrated with their growth and development.  On the positive side, leaders who hold regular one-on-one’s report seeing more alignment, shared purpose, prioritization, and trust from their direct reports.

One-on-one’s are a great example of how a little dedicated time spent mindfully with direct reports goes a long way in building a focused, engaged, and high-performing team.