Despite such immense investment, our most recent data suggests that only about 50% of 1:1s are reaching their full potential. So, what can leaders do?
The best leaders recognize that 1:1s are not an add-on to their role but are where leadership happens in a meaningful way. Here are some tips for elevating your 1:1 meetings for all involved: managers, direct reports, and organizational leaders.
Talk less, listen more. The biggest predictor of ineffectiveness in a 1:1 was a manager talking more than the direct report. The ideal balance involves the direct report speaking between 50% and 90% of the time. While the agenda will dictate some of this, the manager should avoid talking more than their direct. This is not as easy as it sounds: We talk about ourselves because it feels good. But resist the temptation.
Find the right cadence. Research mostly favors a weekly or biweekly cadence. More than two weeks between meetings usually makes feedback and conversations less timely. With monthly meetings, for example, there is a tremendous recency bias that leads to discussing only recent events, rather than anything earlier in the month, which may be just as important. Finally, 1:1s are most effective when they build off each other in a timely manner, as you can create momentum and alignment around developmental areas or desired actions.
Avoid the “status update trap.” Falling into the typical “status update trap” comes across as another form of micro-managing. When selecting discussion topics, periodically commit to weaving in longer-horizon items like career planning and growth opportunities. A few strategies for starters:
Dedicate 5 to 10 minutes at every meeting to non-work-related topics.
Dedicate one meeting out of every four to longer-term topics.
Consider using a meeting template that contains longer-term topics.
These approaches ensure that your 1:1s cover a range of topics over time and do not become predictable or stale.
Remember personal needs. Every person wants to feel respected, seen, and heard. The ideal 1:1 process balances these needs. Meeting practical needs but failing to meet personal needs disturbs this balance, and results in a loss. It is akin to getting a great product, but with horrible service. The opposite is also a loss: akin to getting great service with a bad product. To address personal needs, remember to:
Listen and respond with empathy.
Be kind and supportive.
For direct reports
Know what you want.To get the most out of your 1:1s, first know what you want. What are your top issues or concerns? What are your most pressing needs? Don’t get bogged down by superficial topics, or items you think you should discuss. Identify your most meaningful short- and long-term needs and goals. Your clarity of purpose will help you prioritize and organize the conversation, increasing the chances the meeting will truly offer what you need.
Take all feedback well. Hearing negative feedback is challenging, even if you’re open to receiving it, but there’s a way to train yourself to see it as a helpful tool. Those who are adept at receiving feedback—good or bad—begin by thanking their counterpart for sharing. Next, they ask questions to dig into the issue being raised while understanding not everyone is great at communicating feedback. Relatedly, they avoid speaking when agitated, which can make conversations spiral in a negative direction. Remember: You don’t have to address every single thing you hear, but it’s important to at least acknowledge it and avoid appearing like you don’t care.
For organizational leaders
Get data to managers to create self-awareness and level-up skills. Managers think they’re better at conducting 1:1s than what their direct reports say. Thus, organizations need to create systems to address the blind-sport otherwise they will continue to wallow in suboptimal meeting practices.
The best way is to introduce a system for assessing the effectiveness of 1:1s in real time and across time. The ideal approach is an easy-to-use platform (e.g., Kairos) that integrates with the calendar to promote assessments of 1:1 meetings and then creates a dashboard the manager can monitor. Besides providing insights into what is and is not working, this enables leaders to test and track new approaches based on data. By measuring, we motivate positive change.
These types of meetings remain critical, especially with the boom of remote and hybrid work. Meeting 30 minutes per week with a team member takes about 25 hours over one year. Given the proven engagement and success returns these meetings can produce, it’s well worth the time, for all involved. These meetings are the perfect opportunity to support others, and ultimately thrive as a human.