The most significant gift that any manager can give is the consistent commitment of quality one-to-one time with others. Most of us know that quality time is a necessity in the home, and the principle applies equally to any significant relationship — including in the office.
We all are stretched for time, juggling the oversight of employees with their own operational responsibilities. However, we can maximize our relational impact with those that report to us. It’s called “putting credit in the relational bank,” and it comes in the form of a consistent commitment of time with key employees. And it doesn’t take that much time.
Here are practical suggestions on how to experience the power — and returns — of one-on-ones:
Prepare. It doesn’t take a lot of preparation to conduct an effective one-on-one. Even a few minutes of preparation will make the session feel like the most effective hour (or half-hour) you spent all day. Review your notes from the last meeting. Think of one opening question to launch the conversation (“What is the most significant thing we need to talk about today?”). Or briefly scan the employee’s file for a focus or competency you’d like to encourage.
Coach. Remember, coaching has less to do with telling or correcting (if any) and a lot to do with self-discovery and skill development. Focus on what is going right, on the obstacles that are standing in the way of progress, or the strengths that can be improved. A good approach to coaching is what is called the “coaching conversation” in which you establish goals, promote discovery, determine a plan of action, empower, and then summarize. If you’ve never read any of the good books on learning how to be a better business coach, now is the time to buy one.
Listen. As a manager, adopt the rule that you will listen three times more than you will talk. When employees know that when they come into your office they will be heard, they’ll look forward to the opportunity, not fear it.
Mentor. Mentoring is different than coaching. It is the sharing of experience and experiences, and it allows you to reflect on the wisdom you’ve gained from your successes and failures. Mentoring is often done in the context of a shared experience, so feel free to get out of the office, visit a client together, observe a business process, or work through a management issue together.
Schedule. Good intentions are usually sacrificed on the altar of the urgent. Few managers intend to ignore their subordinates week after week, but unless you discipline yourself to a regular frequency of one-on-ones, time will slip away. Schedule your one-on-ones the same time each week or month, or make it a habit to end each session by agreeing together on the next date and time.
Record. As best as we may try, it takes a Herculean memory to remember the issues discussed in the last one-on-one. So do yourself, and your employees, a favor and jot down simple notes of your conversation as you talk to cue your memory the next time. A simple way to show others that you care is to follow up on previous discussions, and there are many issues that take more than one session to address.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out your calendar right now and schedule your first one-on-one with each of your direct reports. Even if it takes a month for you to find room in your calendar, your commitment of time and undivided attention will become the most powerful gift you can ever give those that you depend upon.
Kent Wilson is a business practitioner and leadership specialist. He is still running companies after 30 years and just earned a doctorate in management and leadership.