One-on-One Meetings: One of the Most Effective Leadership Tools by Urs Koenig

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

One on Ones for Better LeadershipDuring his tenure as CIO of Swissair (the former Swiss Airline) my dad applied for the top job at the Swiss Disaster Relief Agency. During the interview, he was asked to define leadership. He responded with a one liner (and was expected to present a thesis and as a result didn’t get the job…): “Being a leader means getting things done through your people.”

While I like his definition for its brevity, the question remains: how do you get stuff done through your people? You engage them, you inspire them, you listen to them, you set goals for them and you hold them accountable.
And what is one of the most effective and efficient ways to engage, inspire, listen, set goals and hold your people accountable?

You guessed it: Conducting regular and meaningful one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.
As with so many of the things we coach our clients on, conducting regular, productive and meaningful one-on-ones is a very simple concept but not always easy to pull off.

Why have yet another meeting and what if I don’t have time?

If you are like 90 % of the managers out there, most of your interactions with your people occur in an ad hoc manner — during team meetings (even if many of the people present don’t need to be part of the conversation), in hurried emails and voicemails, in passing in the hallway, or when a big problem desperately needs attention.

While all of these often interrupted, incomplete and hurried interactions are one-on-ones, they are seldom the most effective ones. Often there is no logic to the timing of these conversations. In fact, they are usually random, incomplete, and often too late to head off a problem or solve it before it grows large.

Regular one-on-one meetings will get you ahead of this curve. Not only will your people prepare for the time they have your undivided attention, they will discuss issues they won’t bring up in a group meeting or in impromptu discussions: their dissatisfaction with part of their current role, interpersonal challenges or other problems that could keep them from succeeding at work.

One on OnesIf your direct report is falling short, the one-on-one setting enables you to communicate in no uncertain terms what changes you need to see happening. Following the principal of praising in public and criticizing in private, you can be firmer and sterner during a one-on-one than during a team meeting. Think of the perfect one-on-one meeting as hybrid of an information gathering, planning, coaching and accountability meeting.

Like any meaningful meeting, not having it will cost you an expensive multiple of the time you would have spent in the meeting. Having it will save you time and headaches in the long run. There is one more important, not often talked about benefit to regular, meaningful on-on-ones. By sitting down with your direct reports and demonstrating true interest and concern not only for their productivity but also for their input, opinions and development, you build a more committed and engaged team which leads to all sorts of well documented soft benefits (e.g. increased job satisfaction) and hard benefits (e.g. lower turn-over, lower recruiting and training costs).

But how do I best do them?

Schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports at least every other week, better every week. Make it a regular, re-occurring meeting. Don’t use travel as an excuse not to have it; conduct a phone meeting instead.

Keep a file for each of your direct reports where you gather all the none-time sensitive questions and issues you need to discuss with them. So rather than interrupting your folks constantly whenever you think of something, drop it in the file for discussion during the one-on-one. Take notes of issues raised in the one-on-one and agreed upon courses of action.

Here is my suggestion for a standing agenda for your one on one meeting:

1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
2. What is going well?
3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
4. Action items going forward

Once a quarter, I recommend you go ‘bigger’ and cover the following:

1. Where are we going (the organization)?
2. Where are you going?
3. What are you and your part of the biz doing well? What are you proud of?
4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your part of the biz, for yourself)?
5. How can I help?
6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me?

Have the one-on-one meeting primarily driven by your direct report. Make this a coaching conversation by asking lots of questions and listening well. Provide guidance if it’s needed but do not fall into the trap of filling the time with your own talk. If you are taking up more than 30 % of air time, you are talking too much.

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Effective Managers Say the Same Thing Twice (or More) by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

“If you want something done you need to say it 150 times, seven different ways.”

I must have said this so many times (maybe 150 times) that some of my clients have quoted me back.

I am proud to announce that empirical research (quoted in the 2011 May issue of the Harvard Business Review) is now backing my statement:

”A team lead by Professor Tsedal Neeley (from Harvard) and Professor Paul Leonardi (from Northwestern University) shadowed 13 managers in six companies for more than 250 hours, recording every communication the managers sent and received. The research discovered that one of every seven communication by the mangers was completely redundant with a previous communication using a different technology. They also saw that the managers who were deliberately redundant moved their projects forward faster and more smoothly.”

When the researchers asked the managers if they were surprised about their redundant communication the reaction was this: “Seriously, you think this is interesting? This is how it works. Of course I follow up with yet another message.”

Two key take-aways from this research for you:

  • If you want something done, plan deliberately to communicate the same message several times using different techniques such as instant communication (face to face meetings, calls, Instant messaging) or delayed communication (emails, voice mails).
  • The most powerful way to move the needle on a project or a task is to start with an instant communication (preferable a face-to-face meeting, second best a call) and then follow up with a delayed message (such as an email). The instant communication ensures motivation and buy-in. But the follow up via email is to remind people of their commitments so that it does not fall off the radar screen.
  • Do not use email first (delayed message) and then follow up with a face to face (instant).
For more leadership tips and resources, visit www.redpointcoaching.com.

How to Delegate Effectively By Urs Koenig, MBA, Phd, Principal Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

by Urs Koenig, MBA, Phd, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Is This You?

Learn How to Delegate EffectivelyJoe is the managing partner of private equity firm. He has tons of balls in the air at any one time. He is generally good at delegating projects and tasks. Yet when his stress level rises, he feels the urge to re-engage in projects he previously delegated and ends up frustrating his people. Joe is micro managing and getting overly involved with his subordinates’ projects.

Susanne is the Senior Vice President of Operations. She has a background in sales and enjoys nothing more than building relationships. Because of her position, she gets bombarded with requests for meetings and calls. By her own admission, she finds herself too often spending time with people who should be talking to her sales force instead of her. Susanne is engaged in tasks that be done effectively by someone at a lower level in the company.

Recognize yourself or one of your managers in the above behavior patterns? If so, read on!

Delegate More of The Right Stuff

Most leaders we talk to feel that they need to do a better job at delegating. Indeed, effectively delegating might arguably be THE hardest leadership competency to master. While the majority of leaders and managers need to delegate more, it’s not just a question of delegating as much as possible but delegating the right stuff. It might actually be that your people need you more and not less involved in certain areas.

Ask Your People

Our advice is simple. Sit down with each of your direct reports and ask them the following questions (credit to Marshall Goldsmith) about each of their areas of responsibility:

  • Are there areas and projects where you believe that I am too hands-on and can let go more? Are there projects where I need to get more involved and provide you with more guidance?

During the course of this discussion you will inevitably find that you are micro managing in certain areas and that more delegation is needed there, while more of your involvement is asked for in other areas.

Then Ask Your Direct Reports:

  • Do you ever see me working on tasks that someone at my level doesn’t need to do? Are there areas where I can help other people grow and develop, and give myself more time to focus on strategy and long-term planning?

I will virtually guarantee you that your direct reports will come up with great suggestions for you on things a person in your position should not be doing.

Ask yourself and your people these tough questions. The responses will most likely be eye opening and will save you time, energy and make you more effective. All the things good delegation is supposed to do!

Following our coaching philosophy we encourage you to commit to concrete action steps to your direct reports on how you will improve your delegation and then check in with them on a regular basis on how you are doing.

And remember the ‘D’ in LeaDership stands for Delegating!