One Simple Tool Consistently Used By All Successful Leaders

Do you want to be a more purposeful leader or business owner? One who creates better results for your organisation and the people you lead? If so, focus your efforts on this one simple tool – one on ones.

Did you know that leaders who create engaging, meaningful, and supportive environments to help develop those who work there enjoy 21% greater profitability

So making one on ones a priority as a leader is well worth your time. 

Of course, there are a number of tools available to create an engaging, growth orientated environment for your people and yourself. 

But one of the most valuable and simple tools you can deploy is to create a regular structured approach to one on ones with those who work with and for you. 

Why Leaders Hesitate To Use One On Ones

Sure, this is not some ground-breaking new tool. And it’s true – so much has been written about them before now. 

But what I’ve discovered after coaching leaders and businesses at all levels is that very few people have a consistent cadence for one on ones. Plus, many of their one on ones are just not as effective as they could be. 

So why don’t people use this simple but valuable tool more? Especially when research from leaders and companies clearly shows it creates positive returns for everyone involved – the individual, the team, and the organisation?

Let’s look at a few reasons you might be holding back on using this valuable tool:

  • Busy, busy, busy – urgent work takes priority over one on ones. If the ‘work’ doesn’t get done, you won’t have jobs for people.
  • You’re unsure how to set up or run an effective one on one or even what to discuss.
  • Too many meetings in place already – WIP’s, standups – but are those really adding value to the growth and development of your people?
  • You don’t feel confident talking to your team about development
  • Why do you need to invest more time in them? Can’t they just get on with it?
  • You’ve tried one on ones a couple of times before but either had nothing substantial to talk about or nothing happened as a result of the conversations
  • What if issues come up during the discussion that you don’t know how to deal with?
  • Some or all of your employees work remotely. How are you supposed to meet with them?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good flavour of what I hear from my clients.

What Happens Without Regular One On Ones?

On the flip-side, after working with companies of every size from start-up to multinational, I can attest to the effects of not investing in regular one on ones. 

Such as:

  • A lack of alignment between what your employee focuses on (now and in the future) compared to what you want them focused on.
  • Employees who don’t understand how what they do day-to-day fits in with their long term development and the vision of the company.
  • Staff may not feel comfortable voicing uncertainty regarding lack of experience in other meetings or forums you’ve set up for them.
  • Employees don’t feel there is a purposeful investment in their development relevant to the challenges they face every day.
  • You’ll find quarterly, six-monthly, and annual discussions around performance rewards and development opportunities much more challenging if there haven’t been regular conversations about performance.

Think of it the same way you think about building a relationship with your customers. Of course, you consistently invest in and develop approaches to make their experience with your product or service better. 

In the same way, investing time and effort into improving your employee’s experience with you and their work environment is how you create an extraordinary organisation or team. 

You wouldn’t leave a project or customer challenge untouched for the length of the engagement. Nor should you neglect your employee’s journey with you and your company. 

In a fast-moving environment, regular one on ones with your team members about the challenges they face allows you to move and pivot quickly. This prevents an individual’s issues (not just the work or projects they’re on – but them) from going too long unseen.

One On Ones For Remote & Hybrid Environments

Businesses where some or all employees work remotely can offer a special challenge. But in these environments, regular one on ones are more important than ever. 

It’s easy for remote employees to feel disconnected from their team and leader. So finding a way to connect with them regularly is key to keeping them engaged with you and their team as well as optimally productive. 

You can still use the same cadence and process with your remote employees, just plan ahead a little more and make a point to meet via video conference if all possible. 

Ensure there will be no distractions on either end so that you can focus on each other and move through your meeting just as if you were together in person.

How To Get Started With One On Ones

Okay, so we know it’s valuable. But if you’ve never had one on ones in place, where do you start? 

Use this simple approach to build your own one on ones.

Context: Build meaning and reason

Define why it’s important and how it moves you toward the individual, team, and organisational goals.

This might be as simple as creating clarity for yourself about why you want to build a rhythm of one on ones with your team. 

Example: “I am interested in understanding more about Sarah and where she feels there are in gaps in her professional development in the next 3 -6 months” or “It’s important that I understand the capability and skill strengths and opportunities of each team member to help them progress in their roles”

Structure: What might success look like?

Create a simple process and framework for one on ones that makes it easy to plan for and repeat.

For example:

  1. Cadence: 1 x a month for 30 mins
  2. Preparation: Both you and your team member prepare for the one on one by answering some agreed questions (see examples below) prior to the session to discuss at the one on one
  3. Session: 30 mins with 5 mins at the end to reflect on what was most valuable and confirm each other’s commitments to next steps
  4. Notes: Both you and your team member prepare your individual notes from the session and share them following the session to ensure alignment.

Example Question Ideas:

  • What one thing are you most proud of and where do you need more support or development?
  • Take me through a recent win and one recent situation you wish you had handled differently?
  • How can we help you improve your day-to-day work?
  • What area (skillset, tool, mindset/approach) do you want to concentrate on developing and actioning next month?
  • What do you need from me in order to achieve your goals?
  • Are there any skills you would like to acquire in the short term?
  • How do you find working with the team? Is there anything you think we could do to improve the team culture/ dynamics?
  • Would you like more or less direction from me?
  • How are you doing outside of work?

Effectiveness: How will we measure its impact?

Define some key success factors that will allow you to assess whether you, your team member and the organisation is benefiting from the one on ones. This might be as simple as setting a few evaluation questions that you both use at 3-month intervals.

Set yourself and the team up for success.

I would recommend prior to kicking off any new approach you take your team through a simple overview to communicate;

  • the meaning, reason, and context for the one on ones – what you are hoping that they achieve and how they support other key structures in the business (such as reviews, KPI’s, OKRs. 30-day plans etc)
  • how they are going to run – cadence, session length, location
  • and how they can best prepare – the overview of the questions and any preparation work
  • the outputs – what you will both be committing to from the sessions

Using this structure, you can then review and iterate over the next few months to work out what is working and what can be improved. 

Perfection Not Required

Finally, it’s important to remember that your one on ones do NOT need to be perfect. 

The key to a good one on one is remembering that it’s the employee’s meeting rather than the leader’s meeting. Don’t overthink it. You just need to begin the dialogue.

If you would like help creating a solid one on one program for your business or team, consider my coaching services. Whether individually or as a business, I can help you develop the leadership skills you need to achieve your goals. 

Learn more about coaching options here.

Deep active listening skills

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