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Effective One-On-Ones

By April 16, 2021
Learn WHY we believe one-on-ones are so powerful, get a plan for HOW to roll them out, along with WHAT five topics to cover as part of your agenda.

The #1 most impactful action you can take to improve how you manage people and become the boss top talent wants to work for is to hold consistent, reoccurring one-on-ones or “O3s” with each of your employees.

Whether you call it an O3, one-on-one meeting, 1:1, 1-2-1, 1-on-1, or check-in, we’re talking about conversations where it’s just you as the manager, and one of your employees.

Why Hold O3s?

First, O3s focus employees on the priorities

Your role as a leader is to get results. Results with and FOR those you lead, whether that’s your team, your organization, your family, or your community. It’s all about results. People want to collaborate with or follow you because you help them get results, both in terms of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), but more importantly, in the person they have to become to achieve that higher result.

As you move from an individual contributor to a manager of people, you are no longer responsible for the results you can solely produce, but are now responsible for THE PEOPLE who are responsible for producing those results.

In this new paradigm, you get results by first, envisioning the future results you want; and second, inspiring and equipping other people to get those results.

Even if you have a defined vision, many leaders aren’t able to lead people to that vision.

How many times have you sat down with a direct report (a direct is someone who reports to you as their manager), and you go over a problem, opportunity or project and leave thinking the expectation was crystal clear, only to find a few weeks or months later that the end deliverable is completely different than what you thought it should be? Or you find they’re spending time and resources on something that doesn’t have sponsorship and will never get launched.

You need a mechanism to ensure they are focused on the right priorities, and that when they get off course, which they will get off course, you can realign them to the vision.

Second, O3s address issues earlier in the process and with more speed

An employee trying to reach your vision is like a rocket reaching a target. Along the way, a rocket is off course most of the time since there is no perfectly straight path. But it will eventually reach the end destination because it’s constantly doing small course corrections. O3s allow you to make course corrections early in the process when issues are still small and manageable, before they blow up into big problems.

One of the main reasons why leaders don’t yet have consistent one-on-ones is because they say they don’t have enough time. I’ll be the first to want to cut down the number and time spent in meetings, but the opposite is true for O3s.

When you have a consistent, reoccurring O3 on both calendars, the number of times an employee drops by for a “quick sec” with items that they could solve themselves will drop, and they’ll come more prepared for the time you do have together. And because you fixed problems earlier in the process, you won’t waste time and resources, all while having faster resolution of issues.

All this saves time. Not having time is the most common concern I get, yet once leaders implement O3s how I teach them, they all come back and say how much time they gained back.

Remember, your job is no longer only doing all the work that needs to get done. That’s what it was when you were an individual contributor. Think of your main work now as the people who are doing that work. You’re a people development factory and your product is people who can do the work. As a leader, success is based on what your team members can do, not what you do. So the time you invest in making sure they know the expectations and are getting your feedback and coaching, the faster they can meet or even exceed where you could have gone alone.

If time is still a concern, you can schedule the O3 during lunch, or to grab a cup of coffee, or while you take a walk.

Don't assume open doors are enough.

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Third, O3s improve communication

One of the biggest complaints from employees is that they don’t feel like they’re getting enough communication. And when managers hear this, they think that means they need to talk more.

But, employees don’t usually want to hear more from you. No! They want you to listen more to them. O3s give you a forum to consistently and deliberately practice active listening.

Employees will be more willing to give you discretionary effort when they feel listened to and that you care about them.

O3s are the best, and in most instances the only forum where you can have an honest, private conversation about what’s really going on – at work and at home.

O3s Proactively Uncover Problems and Needs

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Fourth, O3s provides a forum to engage and retain employees 

Another main challenge you face as a manager is that people leave. Or if they don’t leave, they disengage and stay.

The Gallup organization reminds us every few years that nearly 70 percent of employees are actively disengaged. A great leader is able to retain and engage great talent.

Global studies reveal that 79 percent of people who quit their jobs cite ‘lack of appreciation’ as their reason for leaving. Recognition is the number one thing employees say their manager could give them to inspire them to produce great work.

Some of the main reasons people leave companies is because they don’t feel appreciated, or believe their manager cares about them or their future enough to challenge and develop them.  O3s give you a consistent forum to recognize what they’re doing.

We all just want to be seen and feel like we matter. Taking the quality time to engage one-on-one with your employee sends the message, "I see you!" and "You matter to me and this team!"

How can an employee believe you really care about them and have a relationship of trust if they don’t regularly speak with you?

How can you know when their thoughts are shifting to wanting to leave if you don’t have a mechanism to understand what they’re thinking?

If not through your O3s, what are you doing, as their manager, to make sure they are engaged, satisfied, and making the best contribution to your organization?

Where do you get as good an opportunity to truly connect with your employees and apply all your other important leadership "soft" yet very hard to do skills like showing courage and vulnerability (thank you, Brene Brown), giving them feedback and coaching, or delegating and developing them?

What do the data say?

Employees who DO have regular O3s with their managers are 3 times more likely to be engaged (Gallup 2014). Only 15% of employees who work for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged.

 Employees of managers who DON’T have O3s are 4 times as likely to be disengaged (Harvard Business Review).

My experience from majoring in leadership in both my undergraduate, MBA, and post-graduate studies, to starting and running a company, to being an HR Executive leading leaders in both a Fortune 100 company with 130,000 employees and a smaller $3 Billion company with 7,500 employees shows that no matter how hard you try, it's nearly impossible to establish the type of relationship that can help you be more effective without doing consistent, scheduled O3s.

How often and how long

Ideally, leaders should schedule weekly reoccurring meetings for at least 30 minutes. However, it could be adjusted based on the size and proficiency level of your team.

If you manage more than 10 direct reports, you could move to bi-weekly O3s, but I don’t recommend you have them any less frequently. The point is that you want a consistent forum that your directs can count on.

With new employees or those with new responsibilities, I’d give them time with you even more frequently and for a longer duration. When I hire a new employee into my team, those first few months are critical and the amount of questions and direction they need is best addressed with more and longer one-on-one time.

Lastly, set reoccurring meetings on both calendars. They need to know the specific date and time when they’ll get time with you next. When the meeting at the appointed time doesn’t work, please don’t just cancel. Instead of canceling, try to reschedule during that same week. You begin to lose trust when you keep canceling, even if you tell them all the good excuses in the world.

5 topics to cover in every O3

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I like to start off with some type of personal connection.

This may even feel a little weird at first if you haven’t been building that relationship, but it's critical. Over time, the hope is you’ll not have to pretend to be interested in them, but will genuinely be interested and curious about learning about them. People are amazing. And when you approach every person by realizing there is something amazing about them, you’ll find it.

It can be very simple like asking about their weekend or finding out what their hobbies are, or something their child is into. Over time, you’ll find more you can talk about and build that connection. This part is something under a minute and other times can be more.

I then transition by simply saying, “what’s on your mind?”

The first several months of O3s, you may need to coach them a little on what you want, and you may even have some awkward cricket moments as they learn how to use that time better and come more prepared. To help them prepare in advance, I have a few key questions that I’ll bring up like, ‘what successes can we celebrate today?’ I start almost every meeting with that question, and will sometimes offer the item myself based on what I’ve seen that I want to recognize. I also let them know it can be about something they did since I may not know all the great things they’re doing and driving.

For my employees that are doers and use up every second we have together, I’ll sometimes tell them to hold off on all the day-to-day items and ask them how they are feeling. We’ll go into that more in the second manager must-do since understanding what you’re thinking and feeling is a skillset you must learn and practice. But many employees haven’t taken the time to understand or don’t feel comfortable sharing it with their manager. I’m letting them know that I realize they are not a robot or a machine, but a human that has feelings and dreams.

Some of my other favorite questions to have them open up are to ask what isn’t working or where are they getting stuck. They should know that this is also the time to make progress on our work together, so I want to hear about what they think I should know about. What is the update on any actions, projects, items I’ve delegated to them. This is their time to also bring up items they want to collaborate with me on or get coaching and feedback from me.

The third topic is that I want to hear their top three priorities for the week.

There is power in constrained focus. By forcing them to tell me their top three I’m ensuring they’ve taken the time to distill down to the most important things, and then I can see if we’re aligned. So many times the top three priorities in their view are not the most important things I want them to focus on. This invites that dialogue. In many cases, I free them from the other less important tasks so they get the more important ones done. Or we have a conversation about capacity or where we have disconnects on our views. Don’t assume they know unless you hear it from their mouth. I have them tell me versus me telling them on purpose.

The fourth agenda item is really used throughout, but this is my catchall to ask what help they need from me.

Many times it’s coaching them through the options or removing barriers they weren’t able to cover on their own. And just because I’m asking them this question doesn’t mean I’ll jump in and solve it all for them. It means that I’ll be aware of the problems they’re seeing and can help them navigate through them.

The last portion is when it switches from them driving the conversation to me sharing what I have for them.

This is my chance to call out anything that I wanted to talk about that wasn’t addressed yet. This is where I do all the other manager must-do’s like give feedback, coaching, delegate and develop. A few times a year, I’ll even schedule additional time during our O3s to talk about their career desires and development. I can even call out the O3s that I want to serve a special purpose like when I want an hour session to review their end of the year performance review or their mid-year review.

If your calendar doesn’t currently have reoccurring one-one-ones with your employees, or you want to learn how to make them more effective, contact us today or join one of our leadership courses to learn more.


By Joe Nabrotzky

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