How to have an effective one-on-one meeting

For the uninitiated, a one-on-one occurs, most
commonly, when a consultant meets with their direct manager to have a ‘closed
door’ discussion about the progress being made against agreed targets.

 

The most common foundation for these discussions is
the KPI Report (or Activity Report). This report details what key activities
have been completed in the most recent reporting period (typically a week) and what
activities are scheduled for the current or next period. A discussion of
current vacant jobs being worked on (the sales pipeline) is also normally a
part of this discussion.

 

These one-on-ones have the opportunity to be highly
effective and important in improving performance. In my experience, this
outcome is frequently not achieved.

 

Why? Because almost always, the leader/manager does
not know or clearly understand the ideal outcomes that are required to be
accomplished in the one-on-one and then, how to actually accomplish these
outcomes.

 

One-on-ones accomplish their purpose when the
following occurs:

 

1. Accountability  : The consultant is held to account for the things they have committed
to (eg activities, results, behaviours).

 

This can only be done effectively if there are
unambiguous expectations (in writing) of the activities, results and behaviours
and evidence as to the accomplishment (or lack thereof) of the commitments. The
evidence is most effectively provided by a system-generated report.
Self-generated reports from consultants are notoriously unreliable, as they are
usually completed in arrears by people with a large amount of self-interest at
stake.

 

2. Feedback/Motivation  : As part of this accountability, the consultant is given feedback about
what they are being held accountable for (eg ‘you are doing exactly what is
required, keep going’, ‘these financial results are unacceptable’
etc).

 

This feedback needs to be accurate and delivered in a
way that is unambiguous. eg. ‘Your performance in the area of X is
unacceptable’
was what I was taught to say as a new leader so the
consultant was under no illusion as to their performance in an underperforming
area.

 

This feedback also needs to be heavily weighted in the
positive, even if the person’s performance is lacking in results. The positive
side should come out in the leader’s expressed belief that the consultant has
what it takes to succeed. If the leader doesn’t have this belief, then they
should stop wasting everyone’s time and exit the consultant from the business.

 

3. Focus/clarity  : The final part of the one-on-one is ensuring that the consultant has a
clear and specific focus for the period ahead (eg arrange 5 client or prospect
visits by 5pm on Wednesday).

 

The most common mistake in this part of the one-on-one
is to burden the consultant with too much to think about or to do because as a
result, the risk is that the consultant becomes overwhelmed, panicked and
doesn’t do any of what was agreed. This will de-motivate a consultant faster
than just about anything else.

 

To ensure that the one-on-one has the maximum chance
of accomplishing these outcomes, the preparation process of both the leader and
consultant is critical.

 

This preparation should ideally include:

 

1.      An agenda

2.      Any reports or documents needed as reference points

3.      A list of specific questions to ask

4.      Anticipating and preparing for the reaction of the
consultant to any difficult or negative areas of the conversation

5.      Identifying the most important outcome from the
meeting

 

A final point; one that has stuck in my head many
years after being given to me by a mentor who helped me improve the
effectiveness of my one-on-ones: ‘Ross, just because there’s been a lot of talking  
in the meeting it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s been any actual communication  .
Always check with the other person what they have understood from the
conversation. And, most importantly, ask them to conform what they are now
committed to doing,  and by when’  
.

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