Are one-to-one’s part of your leadership tool kit?

Authored by Chris Hall, Manager, Human Resources

People having coffee

People talking over coffee

Are one-to-one conversations part of your leadership tool kit?

Great leaders understand the value of having regular one-to-one conversations with their direct reports. Making time for these discussions sends a powerful message that leaders care about their people and are committed to enabling each team member to perform at their best.  There really is no substitute for the kind of rich conversation that can result if one-to-one’s are done well, and there is much leaders can do to create an environment where this happens.  Before we discuss what leaders can do to set the stage for meaningful one-to-one conversations, lets take a look at some of the benefits that come out of having these regular touch points with staff.

Three benefits of conducting one-to-one’s with your staff

  1. Opportunity to reflect on recent happenings –  Leaders might frame this in the question of: ‘what is going well, and what isn’t going so well?’.  This kind of open ended question can lead to many possibilities including coachable moments where leaders can help employees to stretch and develop their problem solving skills.  These conversations are also a natural conduit for leaders to encourage others in their professional and spiritual development. An added benefit is that leaders will get a sense of whether or not staff are aligned with the broader goals and objectives of the charity.
  2. Strengthens working relationships and rapport –  Active listening skills can help leaders to build credibility with their staff in that they truly ‘get it’ when it comes to the challenges and opportunities they encounter in their lives and day to day work.  For example, leaders may be able to connect employees struggling with mental health issues with resources (e.g. Employee Assistance Programs) sooner, potentially reducing the amount of lost time from work.  As Christians, leaders have the opportunity and privilege to also use this time to pray with staff members over specific needs and concerns they may be struggling with.
  3. Detect and action employee disengagement sooner – A Gallup poll in 2014 found that just over 31% of workers in the United States were engaged in their jobs.  That means that almost 70% of those employees were either not engaged or actively disengaged in their work!  Having regular one-to-one conversations gives leaders an opportunity to pick up on lack of employee engagement sooner and the chance to do something about it.  For millennial employees it could be as simple as giving them the opportunity to work on something they find interesting and challenging.

Setting the stage for meaningful one-to-one conversations

Openness and transparency

One-to-ones provide a means for leaders and employees to pro-actively understand how each prefers to give and receive feedback, equipping both parties with tools for navigating conflict and relational challenges when they arise.  Leaders that are open and transparent about how they prefer to give and receive feedback, and take the time to learn about the work styles of their employees, will spend less time navigating relational challenges and more time advancing the charitable purposes of their organization.

Make the time

It can be all too easy to allow the urgency of the day to keep one-to-one conversations from happening, and while this is sometimes unavoidable, leaders who schedule the time are much more likely to follow through and make these touch points a priority. If a meeting needs to be cancelled, immediately re-scheduling signals to staff that their leaders continue to see this time together as important.  Choosing a meeting location where you won’t experience any interruptions and resisting the urge to check your smartphone allows leaders to really be present in the moment.

Introducing one-to-ones to your charity

The best time for leaders to introduce one-to-ones is when a new employee joins the organization. While there is no one standard when it comes to length and frequency, consider the length of time between conversations if a meeting gets missed, and plan accordingly.  Most of the leaders I have worked with tend to favour shorter more frequent meetings over longer meetings that are spaced further apart.

If one-to-ones are new to your organization, employees may need some help to get a feel for what these meetings are all about.  From this perspective, leaders will often have several open ended questions they can ask to help get the conversation going.  Here are a few that may help to get you started:

    • What gets you out of bed in the morning?  Is there something you are working on that you feel particularly passionate about?
    • What is it that keeps you excited and engaged in your work at our charity as opposed to deciding to work somewhere else?
    • Where would you like to grow and develop professionally and spiritually over the next year?
    • Are you encountering any roadblocks in your work that you need my help with?

Closing thoughts

Leaders that don’t conduct regular one-to-ones with their staff may be unintentionally operating with a blind spot and will not be as effective in their roles as those who make this practice a priority. These conversations allow leaders to understand and tap into what truly inspires and motivates their team members.  While there may be times when there is nothing new to discuss, this is usually the exception to the rule, as most employees (especially those working remotely) truly value having this time with their leaders.  One of the greatest legacies a leader can leave behind is that of enabling and developing others, so why not schedule some time with your staff members today?

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