How to ask for a One on One meeting

When it comes to managing people sometimes the simple things are the easiest to implement and reap the benefits. For example, ‘face time’ is quite simply providing your staff with face to face time to resolve issues. Face time is also synonymous with a One on One.

Let me give you an example:

Ian was a bright entrepreneur who had worked a few years for a multinational in marketing, only to save up his cash and follow his dream and launch a really cool application that would videotape athletes – professional or amateurs in a variety of outdoor sports such as marathons, downhill skiing and other race-type sports.

As CEO, Ian was really good at finding ambitious co-founders and smart IT types to make this application happen.

The business took off with large sporting event organizers. The application had won accolades in Western Europe at an innovation fair and as a result, Ian was offered tax incentives from a few cities if he moved his business to Western Europe. This move would also enable him to have access to a larger group of angel investors and private equity firms.

Ian moved his unstoppable business to Western Europe and since then Ian has had the ‘wind in his sails’.

At one point the initial co-founders were not able to dedicate as much time to the business since they all had full time jobs. It was one thing to become a co-founder in a cool start up but it was another thing to manage the business.

More and more deadlines were not being met and Ian grew increasingly frustrated with his founders. He then focused his attention on hiring full time staff to replace the founders that had occupied some functions such as Finance and Marketing.

I was called in to help Ian move from ‘startup’ mode to a ‘scale up’ mode.

When I asked Ian what was frustrating him the most he replied: “Paul I have regrouped the best possible talent in terms of founders and the brightest people in IT and I don’t understand why they don’t get things done as per agreed deadlines. In fact, I need to spend half of my time to follow up with them”.

In Ian’s view if you were bright and talented this implied that you would get the job done.

I then asked Ian: How often would you follow up?

“Only when deadlines are missed’, he said.

Ok I said, and how much time do you spend with each of the direct reports?

“Aside from our weekly team meeting and crossing them in the hallway, I would call them only after I knew that a deadline was not respected”, he replied.

Then lastly, I asked: Do you set aside some time say on a weekly basis do a ‘face time’ meeting or One on One over the phone?

Ian replied: “No because I’m too busy and I don’t have time to dedicate a one-hour discussion per direct report”. He had 8 direct reports.

Do you see a trend here?

After highlighting what was obvious to me and not so obvious to Ian, we implemented one simple change:

A One on One (One/One) meeting every week, without fail with each direct report.

I explained to him that it was impossible for any direct report to always meet deadlines – no matter how bright they are. What was missing was a communication link between the direct report and Ian to provide a status and solve issues as they arise.

I emphasized to Ian the importance for direct reports to have discussion time with the boss in order to move things forward.

A few simple rules:

  1. The purpose of the One on One meeting was for the direct report to bring up business issues such as updates, staffing problems, solutions to problems and to get some advice from Ian. Once the business issues were out of the way personal issues would come up such as travel schedules, expenses, and holiday requests.

Then and only then would Ian raise the subjects he wanted to discuss in this One on One. Why? By enabling the direct report to cover his/her points he/she can get closure and advice from the boss. Once current tasks are discussed and resolved then the boss can delegate additional responsibility. This focused, one-hour meeting enables the direct report to get the job done and to progress.

How often do we as leaders forget this? Our job as leader is not to do the job but to remove obstacles for our staff in order to carry out the task – no matter what level they are. The moment we start intervening, micro managing and start implementing solutions on their behalf is the moment we become inefficient as leaders.

  1. Ian did not have to prepare anything for these meetings – the direct report had the agenda set. Why? It’s self-evident because it’s their meeting. Besides, by providing face time meetings you get a view of what is going on and intercept before deadlines are missed. Then if deadlines are going to be missed then you can adjust, cancel or add more resources – hence removing obstacles.
  2. Ian could not cancel or postpone these One/Ones. Why? If the boss doesn’t take these meetings seriously, then why should the team member take them seriously?

The sheer investment of one hour per week with a direct report pays off tenfold by avoiding multiple calls/ emails and text messages through the next seven days. You are essentially empowering the employee to act based on your guidelines. Empowering employees motivates them; it gives them a sense of accomplishment and it frees you up for more strategic tasks. I call this Win-win-win.

The result of implementing this solution?

  1. A higher awareness level of the importance of follow ups – yes even for a CEO!
  2. Less time firefighting with missed deadlines.
  3. Higher trust level for each direct report.
  4. It freed up Ian to meet investors for the next round of funding which was critical in his business.

As we can see the One/One is your opportunity to get ‘face time’ with your staff members. You don’t need to prepare anything – this is their meeting. If you meet them for one hour, you don’t need to meet again till the next One/One.

In a sales environment, sales bosses usually like to discuss 3 things:

  • Sales progress and are account managers meeting sales targets? If not, why not and how do they intend to correct the issue holding back sales?
  • How does the next month/quarter or revenue pipeline look like? Again, will they meet the target? If not, why not and what’s the action plan to correct this?
  • What are some of the issues they are currently dealing with? This is about solutions to problems and how they plan to fix this issue. At this point you can provide some advice. If the direct report doesn’t have a solution – proceed with yours.

It’s very important for your staff to come to these meetings not with problems but rather with solutions to the problems. Staff also need be respectful of your time. If you planned one hour – do not go over unless you say it’s ok and the staff member has more topics.

Other benefits:

  1. The One/One is a way to save time for both of you.
  2. By empowering your staff to make decisions, you’re effectively delegating.
  3. Face time means that you don’t assume anything and you clarify issues while they’re hot.
  4. It’s a great way to follow up on actions that were agreed to.

You can use this time to clarify HOW you should communicate (phone, email, sms) and WHAT you should communicate and WHEN (i.e. before a decision/during or after a decision has been made).

  1. You get closer to your staff as opposed to drifting away which is a sure sign of problems to come.
  2. You both learn things.
  3. By getting together on a regular basis they essentially ‘manage their boss‘ which is what you want, i.e. they give you what you need.

One more point. This is not the only example of an executive telling me:

“I don’t have time to do One/Ones with direct reports”.

When I hear this, a red flag pops up.

I then dig deeper and discover that the executive is overwhelmed with work and hence cannot meet his people weekly. It’s a vicious circle.

I then ask the CEO: “What you are not delegating that you could be delegating? In fact, why aren’t you delegating everything?”
To which I receive a blank look of confusion or they’ll tell me “look my staff are busy: I can’t delegate more to them” – a common misconception in my opinion. We all think our staff are busy like we are, which as it turns out in most cases, is inaccurate.

To which I reply: How do you know?

I’ll push this even further by agreeing to do a test with my client for the next 4 weeks:

‘’For the next 4 weeks of One/Ones I want you to delegate just about everything” is my challenge.

If the employee doesn’t come back to tell you: “STOP I can’t take any more tasks” then you’ve got your answer: You haven’t been delegating enough till now.

Realistically speaking, how many times have your team members asked you to give them more work? Similarly, team members are not likely to ask you for empowerment. These are the skillful tools of an effective leader.

Lastly, the One/One is an great tool to communicate, delegate, empower and follow up – yes even for smart people as we’ve seen with Ian’s example.

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