Scott Johnson is the Founder and CEO of a leading employee engagement and recognition software, Motivosity.
I’m what you would call an “accidental” manager. I didn’t go to school for management, and it’s not what I saw myself doing in the long run.
But, as I advanced in my career, I eventually got to a place where management was the only option. I stumbled into it and for many years, I struggled to feel like I was an effective manager.
One-on-one meetings were one of the things that I always found challenging. In hindsight, I’m kind of embarrassed at how many times I sat down over the years and said, “I know there’s something I wanted to talk to you about. I’ll let you know if I remember it.” Then, to deflect from my lack of preparation, I would ask, “What do you want to talk about?”
And then I’d finish up the meeting with, “Sounds like things are great. I’ll see you whenever our next one-on-one is.” During some meetings, I wouldn’t even schedule a follow-up. The way I saw it, I was with my team every day anyway, so why did we need to take the time for a meeting?
Fast forward nearly 20 years, I’ve learned something that changed everything for me. As I came to appreciate how important the employee experience was, I discovered a formula for meaningful manager-employee meetings. It still improves my performance as a manager, it improves the experience of my employees, and, best of all, involves only three simple steps.
1. Create and share an agenda.
Rather than barraging my team with random topics on Slack all week about things I think they should address, it’s better (and far less stressful) to use those topics as agenda items for a great one-on-one. Then, in preparation, it’s a lot easier to make notes on the agenda items rather than having a million small conversations throughout the week.
Don’t forget to make it a collaborative agenda. A one-on-one should be a collaborative meeting, so the employee is involved in making meeting plans. This can help both parties show up more prepared and eager to have an effective, constructive conversation.
2. Have a dialogue rather than giving a monologue.
The best one-on-one meetings will be a conversation, instead of a speech from the manager. Encourage the employee to engage. Ask open-ended questions and practice active listening when they respond. Give your employees a chance to share their thoughts and feelings, and you’ll be surprised at the insights they can provide.
If the employee raises an issue during the meeting, don’t interrupt them. Instead, listen. Make notes and, if applicable, offer solutions or let them know you’ll work on it and report back. If you need to provide performance feedback, make sure it is specific and constructive with actionable steps that can be taken. Help the employee understand why something is a problem and show them what the better approach looks like so they have the opportunity to learn and progress.
3. Recap, establish priorities, and say thanks.
When the meeting is over, take a minute to review and recap what was talked about, along with any action steps that either of you need to take. Similar to starting your meeting on the same page with a collaborative agenda, identifying priorities for moving forward allows you to end the meeting on the same page. Sharing the recap with your employee will help make sure there’s no miscommunication.
When you end the meeting by reviewing the current top priorities for the next few weeks, you help your employees understand expectations and know what resources to allocate. One of the most important things to do after your meeting is to give genuine thanks to your employees for their hard work and the time they spent with you. The manager-employee relationship goes two ways, including recognition.
How next-level management reshapes the employee experience
As beneficial as this all may be for me as a manager, the real impact was for my employees. When I invested time and effort into helping them understand expectations, building relationships and coaching them in their careers, they could see that I genuinely cared and it transformed the way they thought about that portion of their work experience.
When 70% of the employee experience is tied to managers, you can’t take it lightly—you need to take this seriously. Being an accidental manager doesn’t make it acceptable to be an absentee manager. Your one-on-ones are key to creating a great manager-employee relationship. Take the time to prepare for and facilitate these meetings effectively to show those you manage that you value what they do and that you want to help them succeed.
If you manage managers, you need to make sure that they have the training and accountability that will take their management to the next level. Help your managers develop the habits that will keep them focused on valuing and empowering those they oversee. Research shows that 65% of people believe they would be more effective at their jobs if they had a better boss. That’s either exciting or terrifying depending on your current situation. Investing in your managers results in better productivity across the entire organization.
Taking the step to become a next-level manager will cost you some time and—if you want to take advantage of today’s top technology tools—some money. However, if that turns you off to the idea, consider the cost of doing nothing. Bad managers cost U.S. companies $960 billion per year.
When it comes to managing your people, doing nothing doesn’t equate to losing nothing. If you can only improve one thing when it comes to manager development, focus on empowering your employees throughout the organization with great one-on-ones.
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