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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published October 31, 2004

One-On-One's: Your single Most Important Predictable Success™ Interaction 

It’s my long-held conviction, based on years of observation, that the single greatest tool for any organization trying to get to (or stay in) Predictable Success” is the one on one meetingIt’s my long-held conviction, based on years of observation, that the single greatest tool for any organization trying to get to (or stay in) Predictable Success™ is the one on one meeting.

As an organization grows in size and complexity, employees become disoriented, disconnected, and ultimately, disengaged.

Managers, previously in close day-to-day contact with everyone and passionately involved with the organization’s overall goals and objectives, become increasingly remote, issue-focused, and over-worked.

As a result, team-work suffers, true two-way engagement declines, and the quality of information and communication is impoverished (sometimes to fatal effect, if senior management becomes starved of ‘real-world’ perspectives and begins to drink it’s own kool-aid).

Usually, this is a slow process – senior management doesn’t waken up some day, and discover it has ceased to function as cohesively as it once did. Instead, over a prolonged period, morale, creativity and employee engagement all decline to the point where eventually, someone ‘sees it’.

It might be a rise in ‘griping’, or just a general sense that people don’t pull as hard as they used to, but one way or another, it becomes clear over time that all is not what it should be – or used to be.

The answer must be “fun”!

And here’s where the big mistake often happens: Often, management’s response is to try to put the genie back in the bottle – to re-enthuse managers to go back to the way things were before – to be more ‘happy-go-lucky’ – more freewheeling – more involvement with the employees. “Let’s put some fun back into working here” is a common cry. We re-instate the events committee, hold barbeques, invite spouses, have “dress-down Fridays”, mix it up…

And guess what…it doesn’t work.

Sadly, complexity beats fun every time…people are just too busy, too harried, too disoriented, to unfocussed – darn it, just too concerned to have fun. So, after a quick burst of semi-committed activity, the social events cease, and before you know it, everyone is back where they where previously, except now they’re even more disengaged than previously, because the “let’s have fun!” initiative didn’t work.

Beat complexity with process, not fun

This doesn’t mean that the organization cannot regain a sense of fun again – just that the chronology needs to be right.

The way to beat complexity is not with fun, but with process.

In practical terms, this means that managers need a process to re-engage their employees, to regain that sense of focus, commitment and energy.

Instead of wishing and hoping that the ‘good old days’ will return when ‘we all just got along’, it’s vital to put in place a process that systematically re-injects employee engagement. And that process is…

The one-on-one meeting.

Going to the gym

It is vital for managers to recognize that they cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

You’re never going to find a block of time suddenly opening up for you to address your team’s engagement and commitment – you have to make the time – formally and consistently, every week, for the rest of your management career.

It’s like reaching a certain age and realizing that I’m never again going to ‘naturally’ stay fit and healthy. It’s just not going to happen – now, I have to go to the gym every week – and if I don’t plan it, it won’t happen.

One-on-one’s are just that – the weekly gym visit that keeps your employees healthy and fit for what they do.

And guess what – once we’ve achieved that, we can start to have fun again… smile

Read on for guidance on how to initiate and conduct one-on-ones, and what to expect from them.

Next: The Goals of an Effective One-On-One…

The Goals of an Effective One-On-One

The goals of a one-on-one meeting are straightforward:

1. To improve morale, by acknowledging the contribution the employee makes, and demonstrating that what he/she does is both relevant and important to the organization;

2. To increase productivity by establishing and reviewing their medium- and long-term goals;

3. To demonstrate respect and concern, by taking an interest in their professional and career development;

4. To increase performance, by discussing barriers to successful performance and developing plans to overcome those barriers;

5. To build rapport and trust by asking for input on the team’s processes, operations and overall direction, and by giving (and seeking) regular feedback.

Next: How Often Should You Have A One-On-One?…

How Often Should You Have A One-On-One?

I believe it is most effective to commit intially to two 20-minute sessions per month, with each of your team members or direct reports.

For someone with an average of seven direct reports, this means investing a total of just under 5 hours per month (7 times 40 minutes) to your teams’ personal and career development, and their productivity and performance.

Some people find it more effective after a while to combine these meetings into one session of 40 minutes per month, which is fine. But to get started, I suggest beginning with the two shorter sessions, as they are easier to keep focussed and content-filled. Shift to the single 40 minute session when you feel you would both benefit from a longer single session.

Next: A Suggested Agenda For Your First One-On-One…

A Suggested Agenda For Your First One-On-One

Below is a suggested agenda for your first one-on-one (of course, you should and must customize this to suit your specific circumstances).

I also recommend that you make the draft agenda available to your employee ahead of the one-on-one meeting, and ask for their feedback and suggestions for any amendments.

Don’t feel that you need to ask any or all of the questions I’ve listed – they’re just indications of the type of question you should ask.

Finally, it isn’t necessary to cover all areas in each meeting – you might want to cover only one or two topics in one meeting, and a different set of topics in the next:


Suggested questions:

  • What are the key projects you are currently working on?

  • What questions do you have about this project?

  • How can I help you with this project?

  • What concerns / suggestions / observations do you have about how we are addressing this project?

  • What have you learned while working on this project?

  • What would you do differently next time?


Suggested questions:

  • What do you have coming up?

  • What do you want to achieve?

  • How can I help you achieve it?

  • How will you approach this challenge?

  • What would you like to do, but don’t have the time or the resources?

  • How can I help you find the time or the resources that you need?


Suggested questions:

  • What do you feel good about in your role at present?

  • What are you unhappy about?

  • What do you want to achieve this month / quarter / year in terms of your personal and career development?

  • How can I help you attain those goals?

  • What would you like to know from me?

  • Is there anything I can be doing differently to help you?

Finally: A Suggested Email To Your Staff

A Suggested Email To Your Staff

Here’s a suggested text for an email to your staff, letting them know about your decision to start having one-on-one meetings. Feel free to cut and paste it – but, please, treat it as a draft – you must amend it to suit your own style and situation.

Hi {firstname} –

I’ve decided to introduce a series of one-on-one meetings, primarily to give us both the opportunity to step back a bit from the hurly-burly of everyday activities and review progress from a broader perspective.

These meetings will last approximately 20 minutes, and will be held every two weeks. Here are the dates and times for the first 3 meetings:

Meeting 1: Date / Time:

Meeting 2: Date / Time:

Meeting 3: Date / Time:

I know we talk / phone / email everyday – often multiple times, and you may wonder what an additional meeting can add to the picture.

The fact is is that most of our day-to-day interaction is reactive – they’re usually about issues – tasks on hand. I want the one-on-ones to be more proactive : to give us an opportunity to plan, and to think creatively about how we can do things differently.

I also want you to have a regular opportunity to talk with me about anything that might improve your understanding of what we are doing as an organization (and why we are doing it), and about your personal and career development within the organization.

Finally, I want to make it clear that these are not performance assessment sessions – the goal of the meetings is not to ‘grade’ you on your performance, but rather to informally explore ways in which we can improve and develop both as individuals and as team members.

I’ve attached a draft of a proposed agenda for our first session – please feel free to return it to me with any comments, additions or suggestions you might have.

{your email ‘signature’}


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