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This Week Make Your Direct Reports Glad You Met

Updated: Mar 11

Q: What is one of the most important activities of a great leader?

A: Regular one-on-one meetings with their direct reports.

Q: Guess how many managers get trained to lead effective one-on-one meetings?

A: None.

One of the most vital elements both our Leadership Development program and Professional Supervisor Series emphasize is the importance of regular, one-on-one meetings between a manager and his/her direct reports (directs).  It’s during this meeting you set and track goals, provide feedback and recognition, coach and counsel and even check in on a direct's well-being.  In our classes we describe it as the pivot point where the manager/ direct relationship converts strategy into trackable action and results….or where it doesn’t.


Chris McChesney, best-selling author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, says we all have a “game on switch” and nothing motivates performance more than feeling like you are winning.  I always believed the regular one-on-one is where that switch gets flipped on.  It turns out we were on to something.


In his book, Glad We Met: The Art and Science of 1:1 Meetings, Steven Rogelberg, Chancellor’s Professor at the Universtity of North Carolina at Charlotte refers to the regular one-on-one as “the stage for leadership.”  He and his team spent years researching the best way to prepare for, structure, engage in, and follow up on one on ones.  You can find a great podcast summary of his book here.


Of all the organizations Rogerlberg’s team studied, they found NONE that provided training to the managers around how to conduct effective one on one meetings.  Only two organizations explicitly stated that having one on one meetings with regular cadence was expected, and measured whether these were happening.  Even those managers conducting one-on-ones still fell into common traps, like:

  • Not meeting with regular cadence, not meeting frequently enough, or too often (It turns out meeting once a week for 20 to 25 minutes or once every two weeks for around 45 minutes is the optimal cadence),

  • Not having an agenda or a plan of action,

  • Not asking well-rounded questions or asking about the personal needs of the employee,

  • Not involving the direct enough into the conversation or talking too much as the manager,

  • Falling into the status update trap,

  • Canceling these meetings because the manager is too busy.


When you consider that these meetings are the foundational drivers of multi-billion-dollar industries it seems incredible we aren’t better at this.  Our bias and blind spots are partly to blame.  Most leaders believe they are better at this than they really are, and many organizations are just assuming these meetings are happening effectively. However, over 50% of one-on-ones are not highly rated by direct reports.  Rogalberg’s team was surprised to learn that even senior and executive leaders actually want more one-on-one interaction with their boss regardless of how busy they actually are.  My personal experience on executive teams supports these findings.


The best tips for effective one-on-one meetings include:

  • Conducting regular one-on-one meetings weekly or biweekly with every direct report,

  • Maintaining an asynchronous means for generating an agenda that both the manager and direct report can add topics to,

  • Focusing the meeting on the employee rather than the manager - start by asking the employee how things are going and talking less than the employee,

  • Including development, well-being, and personal topics into the discussion,

  • Checking in on progress from last week’s goals or performance against a set of standards, providing praise or support, and setting goals for this week,

  • Maintaining complete records of what was discussed, assignments, decisions and follow ups that are documented and accessible,

  • Maintaining that history for the annual review.


If you want an easy way to conduct and track superior one on one meetings, I invite you to join me for a webinar demonstration of PI Perform.  Learn how to leverage the one-on-one meeting as your truly best means of unlocking your team’s true potential.


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