One-on-one (1/1) meetings between managers and employees are one of the most poorly leveraged meetings in corporate America (and if you’ve read my stuff you know how I feel about most meetings). The roots of the misuse come from two clear drivers:

  1. the relentless corporate focus on the delivery of work and,
  2. the ongoing devaluation of the person who fills a role or job

These two forces have been acting on corporate america for quite some time and are well understood (reference Job Shift and Corporate Confidential) though most folks under 50 are just starting to really recognize them in how the workplace has changed. Their impact has been to stray managers away from the leadership part of their jobs. But I’m jump ahead here…

Let me explain how I look at the role of a manager so that you understand why I think the 1/1 is in distress.

What is a Manager

“People who feel good about themselves produce good results” ― Ken Blanchard

There are three primary components to a “Manager” job at a modern, medium to large company:

  1. Work Management
  2. Staff Management
  3. Leadership

Work Management is everything to do with projects, tasks, quality, processes, timelines, and budgets.

People Management is everything around staffing levels, skills alignment, recruiting, staffing budgets, and annual review processes.

Leadership is about three simple things: Vision, Values, and People
The impact of the two forces I mention above means that most Managers are expected to focus on Work Management and Staff Management and to devalue and spend little time on Leadership. Notice that Leadership is where People, meaning humans, really are. Now we can see the setup for the problem.

So, let’s take a few more minutes to reset on on the People part of Leadership and get your 1/1’s working again.

What is a 1/1?

“The people who work with you as their manager will look to you as one of their sources of wisdom” ― Kenneth H. Blanchard

1/1’s are:

  1. “1/1’s” are for the employee, not the manager
  2. They are an opportunity for the manager to listen
  3. They are an opportunity for the manager to coach
  4. They are an opportunity for the manager to show the employee that they are important and valued and to guide their decision making through vision and values

1/1’s are not:

  1. A place for feedback
  2. A place to collect status
  3. A place to discuss tasks or projects for the purpose of work management
  4. A place where the manager or lead does most of the talking (Shut up!)
  5. A place where employees have all their problems solved

I’ve been doing 1/1’s this way for years and it is amazing to see the transformation in the people that work for you when you care about them, show them you care about them by listening, and provide some wisdom to help them in their lives.

Okay, so the what is now on paper and you might be thinking about the 1/1’s you hold. You might be wondering how you keep up to date with everything going on if 1/1’s are not for work management and people management.

Fear not, let me share my secrets with you.

How to hold a 1/1

Here’s the mental agenda for every one on one meeting. Now, this doesn’t solve any of the issues that will come up… that comes from your focus on the person. This puts you in the right place to hold a great one on one an to experiment with what actually works:

  • Get a discussion going about how the person is doing. Examples: How was your weekend? How is today going? How is your son, daughter, wife, boyfriend, etc? — The purpose here is to understand the person’s frame of mind right now.
  • Ask them what they want to talk about. Hint: Silence here means you need to work on your relationship. I let everyone know that I could fill the time with things to talk about if they’re not sure what to discuss (and it’s true) and I ask them to always have things they want to discuss about work, home, family, career progress, skills development, working with other people, me, etc.
  • That’s it… just two things.

I know you were probably expecting something far deeper but it just isn’t needed. When you really care about the people that work for you the experience you have as an employee, manager, and person flow really easily into a conversation about what is happening in their lives and at their job.

“When you really care about the people that work for you, 1/1’s focused on the person are really easy.” ― Jeffrey Kelly

What can happen in 1/1’s?

When you run 1/1’s this way you need to be prepared for some things that don’t happen when you cover work management and staff management. Here’s a list of things I can remember from the 1/1’s I’ve hosted in the last 6 months:

  • People smile
  • People laugh
  • People tell jokes
  • People cry
  • People share their feelings
  • People ask hard questions
  • People give really hard feedback
  • People relax
  • People tell you their problems away from work
  • People tell you about their kids
  • People tell you that they want to leave your team
  • People tell you about things that are not appropriate at work
  • People ask for help

… and when I write the word “People” you’re thinking “the employee” but that’s not how personal relationships work. Personal relationships are built on sharing and common experiences and being vulnerable.

So, stop holding work management meetings and staff management meetings and start being a Leader who holds one on ones.


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