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Five steps to a meaningful one-on-one

Contrary to popular opinion, establishing a meaningful one-on-one rhythm is less about performance management—and more about simply showing up and giving attention to your people.

Five steps to a meaningful one-on-one
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“Hey dad, I’m going out to the garage to work out. You want to come watch?”

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I was busy, and the last place I wanted to be was in our garage sweltering in the summer heat.

“Sure,” I replied.

My son lifted weights while I broke a sweat just standing still. And we did a rare and important thing for a dad and a 15-year-old: We talked.

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I’ve learned a lot about leadership through parenting, and I believe the most important thing is that you need to talk with your people. Regularly. Make the most of connections with your team through regularly scheduled one-on-ones.

IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

Contrary to popular opinion, establishing a meaningful one-on-one rhythm is less about performance management and more about simply showing up and giving attention to your people.

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One-on-ones don’t have to be formulaic. In fact, they’re better if they’re not. Choose a rhythm that honors the relationships you want to build with your team members. Then show up for them.

Recurring one-on-ones are a key indicator of organizational performance. According to Kim Cameron, Ph.D., “When organizations implement highly effective one-on-ones, performance, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement significantly improve.”

 Bottom line: Recurring conversations pay off.

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FIVE STEPS TO MEANINGFUL ONE-ON-ONES

Meaningful connections don’t just happen with the first one-on-one. They require relational magic, which you can create with the following five ingredients.

1. KEEP IT CONSISTENT

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Find a manageable rhythm. Schedule one-on-ones in a bi-weekly or monthly rhythm for one year. Start with 60 minutes per meeting. If you’re new to the company or your role, try weekly one-on-ones with your direct reports to earn trust and build connections. The clear win is that these give you a consistent time to be present and learn about your team.

2. KEEP IT RELATIONAL

Take time to get to know your employees. Stay curious about them by consistently asking questions that can be answered on both personal and professional levels. Can you name their closest family or friends? Do you know their interests outside of work? If not, ask new questions or create more space for conversation and connection.

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Constructive correction can go better when you know the name of your team member’s family pet!

3. KEEP IT RECIPROCAL

Leave room for your employees to have a voice. Let them ask questions, ideate, problem solve, or share concerns beyond their daily grind. Share specific ways you will support them, and—if appropriate—share a few ways they can support you too. But balance your voice with theirs. The biggest breakdown between a leader and an employee is a lack of relational equity.

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4. ASK QUESTIONS THAT MATTER

Pick three to five questions to ask during regular one-on-ones, then share those questions with your team member. This will help them show up prepared. Consider asking them these questions:

  • What’s going well? This question helps you learn how they define their success—and also gives you the chance to shape their perspective by weighing in on what you think is going well.
  • What’s not going well? Learn how they define their struggle and weigh in with your thoughts. This question also provides a helpful starting point when a conversation about performance development needs to happen.
  • What’s on your mind? Understand what matters most to your teammates—whether they are consumed with work or with something happening in their personal lives. Knowing what’s on their mind is the key to a meaningful connection.
  • How can I support you? Offer guidance and assistance. Notice the question is not, “How can I help you?” Help suggests you’ll carry some of their load; support involves offering guidance as they carry their load. Slight difference, huge implications.

LeadershipFreak blogger Dan Rockwell offers these additional questions:

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  • How are we living up to what you expected?
  • What words best describe what it’s like to work here?
  • What makes you feel most valued here?
  • What would you like to learn?

 Remember: Keep it simple, ask just a few questions, and know that your questions can change over time.

5. UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE

The only place I have a captive audience with my kids is when I’m driving them—oh, and apparently in the garage too. Car conversations happen side-by-side with two people facing the same direction. This particular approach is best for meaningful conversations with one of my sons.

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The same goes for some employees too. These types of conversations are less intimidating, allowing individuals to feel comfortable opening up. So take a walk or a drive as a meaningful way to connect during a one-on-one.

For others, a face-to-face conversation signals you’re all in.

MAKE THE MOST OF TODAY

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In a few short months, my quiet kid will turn 16 and get his driver’s license. Our days in the car and our garage gym will be mostly gone. I need to make the most of today.

The same goes for our teams. As leaders, we have few opportunities to connect in meaningful and relational ways. Prioritize and make the most of your one-on-ones, and help your people become the remarkable leaders you know they have the potential to be.


Tim Foot is the CEO of Slingshot Group
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