So you're having one on ones. Great. You've taken an important step in being a good manager for your people. But having the meeting is just the first step in being effective. You need to follow through on what's discussed and stay out in front of the problems and opportunities that come up.
Like any good tool, one on ones are as much about how you use them as having the right tool for the job. If you're only having one on ones once a month, or even worse, less frequently than that, then you are not talking frequently enough. Here's why.
Why Once a Month is Not Enough for your One on Ones
1) Too much happens between one on ones
A month is 4 work weeks, about 20 work days, or likely about 200 hours of work. That's a lot of time for things to go right and wrong.
A small problem that occurs on the first day of a month can be a huge issue by the end of the month affecting many others on your team. A personal issue that is distressing someone can cause a complete crash by the end of a month, which could have been solved by a manager-granted day off earlier in the month. Meanwhile, specific praise about something they did great will feel hallow a month later.
Most employees are respectful of your time as a manager, so they won't come to you until a problem is a big deal. While that may seem courteous, it's setting you up to be in a constant reactive mode fighting fires as they get big enough to bring to your attention.
But you also don't want to be constantly interrupted over every little thing, which is why one on ones are so important; you can find out those 3 or 4 issues on their mind at once and talk through how they or you can address the issue.
The Bottom Line: Having one on ones more often, creates a safe, structured environment where they can bring up issues before they blow up without constantly interrupting you.
2) You can't cover everything you need to
Most one on ones are 30 to 60 minutes. Anything longer than that can be really draining and you both probably need to get back to work anyways. In one hour, it's impossible to cover everything important to discuss since a meeting a month ago.
Now maybe you're efficient. You could use a template each time and always ask the same questions, but what are you missing? Remember, this is your one chance to have a private conversation with your team member with less pressure where even introverts are more likely to open up. Can you really cover all of this in 60 minutes every 30 days:
- How are they doing personally?
- How is work going for them?
- What work are they enjoying most right now?
- Where do they need help right now?
- What's frustrating or difficult for them now?
- What are their career and development goals?
- Are they progressing on their goals now? Why or why not?
- How could the team or the company be improved?
...and about a hundred other questions for one on ones.
The Bottom Line: When you have one on ones weekly or bi-weekly, you have more opportunities to vary your questions, which allows for more learning opportunities, more growth for your team members, and catching more problems before they're a big deal.
3) No time to build management's secret weapon: Rapport
One of the most underrated parts of building relationships for sales, at work, or in your personal life is building rapport. That means taking an interest in the other person's life. As Dale Carnegie wrote in his classic best-seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People,
"You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
Rapport is essential as a manager. When you get to know your people beyond their work, they will like you and trust you more. That means they'll be more open to feedback from you, more likely to come to you sooner with problems, and more motivated to work hard for you. Most importantly, you desperately need that rapport if you have to give unpleasant news or make a tough decision.
Rapport in Action: My father has been running a business with over 100 employees for close to 20 years. A few years ago, he had to restructure their commission for more than half of the staff, which made many skeptical they were not taking a pay cut (despite his assurances it would not happen with the new formula). Fortunately for him, he has built up a ton of rapport and trust in his team, and so despite it being a very unpopular decision, he did not lose a single employee. If he treated his people as replaceable and not cared for them, he would not have an average tenure of 17 years for his entire staff in an industry that averages under 4 years.
The Bottom Line: You won't have enough time to get to know your team members personally to build the rapport you need to lead them effectively if you only have one, jam-packed one on one per month.
4) You will have costly procrastination
If you do your one on ones right, you will create action items for both of you to follow up on before the next one on one (an app like Lighthouse helps you do this automatically). Action items help you make progress on things that matter and make sure you're not just having a therapy or gripe session with team members.
When you have a month to do something, there is plenty of time to put it off; you've literally got 4 weeks. The likelihood of you completely forgetting about it is much higher than if you knew you have to do it by next week.
It also hurts the progress you make for your team. By only checking in once a month, the rate at which things change for your team member is dramatically reduced. This can have devastating consequences for you.
A costly procrastination: A coworker once brought up he felt stagnant in his career. He had become extremely proficient and knowledgeable in his field and was largely doing the same work he had been doing for years. While he shared this with his manager, he started looking at other job opportunities to challenge him. Before changes happened at the company, he had an offer in hand to work at a well-known company that gave him a massive raise. It was too late for his manager to do anything, but wish him well.
The Bottom Line: People crave progress more than anything else in their work lives. If you procrastinate on the things you discuss in the meeting because you have a month, you not only slow progress, but risk losing them to those on the outside moving faster.
5) You miss the chance to get buy in on big decisions
One of the great things about 1 on 1s is that they don't have to be the same each time. In fact, they shouldn't if you want to maximize what you and your team member get out of them. Instead, you can talk about career goals one time, problems at work the next, build rapport another time, and shop ideas the next.
The last one is very important. If you are making a big decision or have a big announcement coming, the best thing you can do is shop it first privately. Then you can gauge reactions from the people you need buy in from most. If you can get them to come around, others will as well, and you will know the objections you need to overcome. You could try to do this separately, but who has time to schedule separate meetings and how many rumors will it start when some people are having surprise meetings with you?
Let's go back to our earlier story about my father and his compensation restructuring for his people. He first went over it with all his regional managers to get their feedback. This led to a few tweaks to the formulas and ensured they were united with my father when their team members would talk to them about the decision. This was just as important as the rapport he had with everyone in retaining them after such a tough decision.
The Bottom Line: Having more frequent one on ones gives you room to work in important, timely discussions like getting buy in on big decisions and changes.
Bonus: You miss out on priceless insights to improve your team and company
Have you ever had a creative idea for improving the company or the way your team worked? Chances are, you have a number of times. Would you want to schedule a meeting with your boss to pitch the changes you suggest without lots of preparation? Unlikely. You'd be afraid that they'd expect some amazing, well-thought-out presentation to justify a special meeting for it. The same is true for your team.
Another way you can leverage one on ones is to get ideas and suggestions from your team. These little ideas can slowly improve your team to be more productive, effective, and happier.
Who better to know what needs to change than the people doing the work?
Turns out, one of the best run companies in the world, Toyota, has made it at the center of their Total Production System. When an American was trained to be a manager in their Toyota Production System, he discovered, "improving actual operations was not his job—it was the job of the workers themselves. His role was to help them understand that responsibility and enable them to carry it out."
The Bottom Line: If you think there's room for improvement on your team in any way, then making time to hear people out on even half baked ideas for improvement is a great use of one on one time. You are unlikely to have time to squeeze such a discussion into a monthly or less frequent one on one.
One on ones are a swiss army knife for you as a manager. Making sure you make the most of them is critical to the success of your team. Only using this priceless tool once a month means missing out on too many things that could make you, your team member, and your whole team better.