In our coaching conversation, one of my clients was lamenting the work her people were doing. She questioned: Was it the right work? Was it the work that they had agreed to? Was she happy with it?

She had done all the right things; key performance indicators (KPI) were in place. But she still didn’t have a good sense that her people were getting on with the job at hand. Her team was dispersed all over the country, and she hadn’t quite nailed the non-face-to-face meetings yet.

My client was not alone. Many female leaders feel this way.

Right work vs passion projects

An organisation’s culture depends on whether its people are focused on the “right” work or on what I call “passion projects”. A passion project has not been mandated, but it’s a project the individual is interested in. It vaguely matches their work, so they do this project on the side. This is when KPIs start to “drift”. Even if they had been rock solid, over time, KPIs can drift into the abyss, and no one remembers how they ended up “here” (unless they have great documentation).

The problem is, their accountability hasn’t been kept in check.

When I drilled down into how my client held her people to account, we realised she was not doing effective one-on-ones. You know, the meaty ones where you get to the heart of what staff are working on and figure out whether it matches what has been agreed on.

Ineffective one-on-ones can suck the life out of you

As a leader, you can feel as though you are banging your head against a brick wall. Well, guess what? The same is true for the staff who are suffering through them, my friend!

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can have one-on-ones that leave you and your staff feeling energised.

So, my client and I agreed to get her back into a system of great one-on-ones.

Effective one-on-ones

I recall managing a team that had been largely left to its own devices. I had been asked to step into this role, and the team was not pleased about it – and told me so.

I learned many lessons from this time in my career, but the most important one was to support my team in a way that worked for them and to perform regular one-on-ones. We soon got to a place where they loved their one-on-ones because I was giving them value, and they were being heard and supported.

Here is a process that works for one-on-ones:

1. Break your meeting into thirds
2. Questions
3. 24 hours in advance

1. Break your meeting into thirds

Your one-on-one can be broken into thirds: a third for them, a third for you, and a third for anything else that comes up.

The first third should be about checking in with how the person is doing from a personal perspective. Give them the space to bring up anything they may not feel comfortable discussing in front of their team, or simply give them a few minutes to chew the fat. The second third is when you ask the person some reflective questions (see below). The final third is about discussing anything that’s been raised and the next steps.

2. Questions

Your one-on-one should include some questions for the other person to reflect on. Here are some examples:

• What are you working on right now?
• How does that compare to your KPIs?
• What’s getting in the way?
• What do you need from me?
• Do you have some feedback for me?

These questions help keep the conversation focussed but remember to only use them in the “your time” portion of the conversation.

3. 24 hours in advance

Why 24 hours in advance? It’s pretty simple. Giving the other person 24 hours’ notice of the one-on-one gives them time to think through the issues with a guiding hand. It also gives you time to prepare.

The whole point of a one-on-one is for your team member to discuss the things they need to, and for you to check they are on track and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.

Low on time? Make the time

One-on-ones are often the first thing that drops off the agenda when people get busy. The ramifications are that our people don’t feel supported and they don’t feel as though they’re a priority.

Warning: if you have not done one-on-ones until this point, think about how you will introduce the one-on-one concept. You may get push back from your people, so think about how it will be a win/win situation. How can you communicate this to your team?

For more resources on effective one-on-ones, The Effective Manager is a terrific book that goes into great detail on doing them well.

What about you? Do you do decent one-on-ones, or are they sleep inducing? Do you need some help to get better? Perhaps you need some accountability. Reach out and we can chat.

I’m Emma, and I’m a business and executive coach who believes wholeheartedly in the potential of women. My coaching philosophy is simple- taking action leads to results- and I love working with women in business and in corporate roles to take their passion and drive and transform their professional and personal lives.

Be enthusiastic, optimistic and energetic, every day.

Em x