Once a leader realizes that there is a lot to be learned and everyone around us has an internal life as rich and conflicted as ours, a mutually benefiting 1:1 can be conducted.
One has to know the right questions to ask, not thinking of oneself as an authority figure, but as a learning partner of one's employees and as a student of their insights.
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1:1s (or one-on-ones) are worth every leader's time, help maintain employee relationships, and builds trust.
We need to equip ourselves for common challenges and choose the right questions to ask while ensuring adequate follow up.
Rather than being a clueless boss, it is imperative to become a respected leader, one who has harnessed the energy, resources, and processes to work optimally, with the right information at hand.
A one-on-one meeting with an employee should:
One-on-one meetings open up a Pandora's box of valuable information and benefit everyone. By getting things off their chest and being assured of your support, employees see the leader as trustworthy. And if there is any problem or issue that comes out in the open during the discussion, it can get solved at a faster rate together.
If employees are not familiar with 1:1 meetings, they might think it is a precursor to layoffs, or think of them as another waste of time.
Make sure the right message goes across the team, ensuring that these sessions are now a regular occurrence, and involve you meeting with everyone one by one, to discuss priorities and problems that don't fit in other meetings.
If there is resistance or your employees are short of time, offer them assistance with their work, or accommodate them to a different time, while underlining the importance of the 1:1 session.
If the employee only wants to talk or badmouth co-workers, the leader needs to steer them back, making them focus on what can be controlled. Look for key points in their venting and check if anything that is mentioned is not unlawful harassment for anyone.
Some other ways to ensure compliance:
Chronically unhappy employees are always at risk of quitting or committing a mistake. The leader needs to work with them and prioritize their growth, compensate them fairly, and optimize their daily work.
If the employee doesn't trust you, start with a clean slate and provide direct assurance that you are going to do your best in addressing any problem. If need be, you can apologize for any past issues.
A few questions related to various aspects of work:
Many issues cannot be solved in a 20-minute meeting, and it is a good practice to follow up and provide a solution at a later time.
Important points for Follow-up:
The goal of an effective 1:1 is not an update from your direct report or for you to lay down some instructions. It's a conversation. It's a chance to hear about your direct reports' ideas for your product, their career goals, and possibly their opinion of their performance.
Keep a list of three potential topics ready for discussion. When they say they have nothing to discuss, you can jumpstart the conversation with one of your items.
...to ensure maximum satisfaction for everyone:
Clearly explain the reason for the conversation, the specific critique, and then offer suggestions to improve.
Even if the conversation is to fire an employee, you should still offer a suggestion that will help them improve in their next job.
Nothing is worse than delivering a critique and leaving it just at that.