In The Effective Manager, Mark Horstman shares data on the value on one-on-ones. In their research, which has been replicated multiple times, they found that results and retention improve by about 10% when managers implement weekly one-on-ones. Another finding is that managers who are consistent with one-on-ones with their people tend to get promoted at a much higher rate than those who don’t.
Horstman urges us to remember six key points to getting better one-on-one results.
1. One-on-one meetings are scheduled.
When your meetings are on the calendar, it shows you care. Make sure they aren’t the first commitments to get cancelled when your schedule gets busy. Hold one-on-one time as sacred in order to get the full benefit.
2. One-on-ones are held weekly.
There are more details in the book, but Horstman has done extensive research on the impact of weekly one-on-ones versus bi-weekly or monthly. Other intervals get measurably fewer results.
One of the side benefits of the weekly meeting is the reduction in interruptions. When you know your next meeting is in less than a week, you save topics up to discuss in a few days rather than interrupting your direct report with each item. Longer intervals don’t save that time.
3. One-on-ones last for 30 minutes.
While not every meeting will last the entire thirty minutes, setting that time aside keeps the meeting from being rushed. When a meeting is rushed, a subordinate may censor themselves by holding items back to save time. That’s the opposite of what this meeting is for. As the leader, you want to build the relationship and get all current thoughts on the table. No surprises.
4. Have one-on-ones with all of your direct reports.
When building relationships, your people need to feel important. If you only meet with “key” people, that will hurt the engagement and motivation of the others. Consider everyone as a key player.
5. Keep the issues of your direct reports primary.
This is important: when you, the boss, speaks first, you inadvertently set the agenda. This could cause the employee to hold back. Always give your direct report the first word, and let them dictate the first half of your conversation. Never require an advance agenda or share yours with them. Begin with what’s on their mind.
6. Take handwritten notes.
When listening, take notes. If you don’t, the employee may assume that words are going in one ear and out the other. We’ve all had leaders who didn’t truly listen, and we suffer from bias because of previous situations. Listen well, and take handwritten notes on regular paper. There are two reasons to stay away from devices while note-taking: 1) there’s always a suspicion you’re looking at something else, and 2) there’s something physical between you and your employee. Keep a notebook for each employee. This gives you good records and makes your people feel important.
My one-on-one notebooks are simple. I use one page for each meeting. At the top of the page, I write the date. During the week, as items occur to me, I jot them on the bottom half of the page. Then, when the meeting comes along, my employee speaks first, and I keep my notes on that conversation on the top half of the page. When it’s my turn, I have an informal agenda that I’ve created since the last meeting. Most of the time, some of those items were already covered by my employee, but she controlled the initiative on that exchange.
I think one-on-ones are my favorite and most recommended management tool. I have found that employees have welcomed me using an iPad, Apple Pencil and OneNote for my 1/1s. It’s still handwritten but also digital and searchable. I agree with your feedback if notes are taken clickety clacking away on a laptop. Too distracting and I would favor paper over that. Have you had different feedback? I’d be willing to go back to paper if someone’s done more research than just my experience.