Effective One on One Communications

Written Feb 14, 2011 by Steve Bell.

After 20+ years of managing and working in corporate America, no one will argue that communicating with your direct reports is not important. One on One communications is the life blood of coaching, mentoring and developing the boss/employee relationship. Why is it, that many managers fail at this? Or employee’s just don’t want them? Could it be that the sessions are just not effective? Over those 20+ years, I hate to think how many of those one on one’s I have led or attended as the direct report. I do know I have had some great, good and terrible one’s.

Here are my very simple steps to making sure that these sessions are effective:

Agenda’s set in advance: Normally the one on one was the employee’s meeting (in my last employer) and they had to have an agenda. I have found that agenda’s are the first critical step. Know what is going to be discussed sets up the meeting in the right way. Some of the worst one on one’s were those that had no agenda. One point that I would make is, the agenda needs to be sent to the manager at least 24 hours in advance. This way, the manager has time to prepare.

Be prepared: Both the employee and manager need to be prepared! Prepared to discuss what is on the agenda without holding back. When the discussion is guarded, no one wins. Having the agenda ahead of time, helps the manager to be prepared to discuss in more detail. Being put on the spot sometimes can be damaging to the relationship. The one explain that really used to get me fired up as an employee was… My question would be something like, “how is my performance to date?”  The answer back, “keep doing what you are doing.” Two things come to mind… First, my agenda was probably not looked at ahead of time because the manager was not prepared… Or worse, this manager has no idea what I am doing – I have basically been goofing off the past month…

Set up meeting frequency regularly: Maybe it is me, but having a regular cadence and basic discussion topics insures successful discussions during the one on ones. Basic discussion topics are overall performance, professional development, help needed, coaching and general discussions. Not every topic can be accomplished every time.. Set up the meetings in the right cadence (every 2 weeks maybe) and have certain basic topics preset..

Listen: Better yet, effective listening… Make sure that this meeting is really about your direct report. This is one of those critical times where you as the manager get to really learn and help develop the employee/manager relationship. Listening helps you learn!

Follow-up: Sometimes the one on one will be so successful that the employee and manager may have some stuff that needs to get done outside of the session. Don’t forget to follow-up! Successful sessions get people excited and really to take on whatever is in front of them. Forgetting to follow-up, just demonstrates the words were just that words… Actions speak much louder!

Sounds simple, it truly is.