Although there is a backlash against meetings in some quarters—Intel used to order executives to calculate before a meeting how many processors would have to be sold to cover the portion of participants’ salary being spent in the meeting—there is a system of meetings that can produce remarkable results. The system involves regular, planned meetings that leaders have one-on-one with subordinates that support seven important processes:
- Effective, supportive relationships
- Targeted management development
- Solid delegation
- Strong accountability
- A high-performance culture
- Continuous improvement
A disciplined One-on-One Meeting System will not only increase productivity but will help your direct reports become better leader-managers. Your employees will see what great leadership looks and feels like, and the experience will be a game changer.
Unfortunately, leaders in most fast-paced, mid-market companies typically become caught up in the wave of day-to-day work and devote little thought to one of their most significant leadership opportunities: growing performance capacity. A business keeps growing, but the people don’t.
There are three common adversaries that hold companies back in their quest to stay competitive:
Keep doing the same thing
“It’s still working, so why should we change?” is something we hear in businesses that do not actively look for ways to improve performance. A surprising number of mid-market companies have that exact mind-set. The problem is generally that leaders don’t know what they don’t know and won’t venture into areas where they have no knowledge. Change has not become an ally.
This means not digging deeper into understanding people and systems, and their impact on business results. Spending time with direct reports addressing performance opportunities usually only occurs when a problem arises. Even then, there is often little preparatory work.
In our humanity, we struggle to keep our good habits going—the bad ones. . . not so much. What is good for us often loses to competing demands that are easier to deal with. (I often cite exercise and diet as examples of difficulty in staying the course.) We often embrace a new process for several months until some crisis throws us off course, then go back to old patterns.
As with just about anything in life, the quality of the outcome of the One-on-One Meetings depends on the quality of the preparation. In this system, the direct report is charged with preparing the agenda and providing it to the boss in advance of the meeting. (You should assist your direct reports; over time, you will all get better at creating agendas that support high-impact meetings.) We suggest regular consideration of the following kinds of subjects:
- Budget status
- Action plan progress – status of key projects
- Growth and development
- Issues of concern
- Developing people. Who are the stars? Who needs coaching?
- How you are developing your successor?
- Systems improvement initiatives
- How you feel about your job and our working relationship – what could be better? Am I giving you enough support?
- What can I be doing to support your growth and development?
Authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman reported some jarring information about managers in their book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, for which they interviewed more than 80,000 managers in 400 companies:
First, on the down side, managers were usually the reason someone left an organization. It wasn’t compensation or benefits that, as a rule, caused people to leave their companies. It was the kind of manager they worked for. People generally stay in their jobs if they like or get along with their managers. A poor manager will usually cause good people to leave. The big downside is that poor managers allow poor performers to keep them company.
Second, the managers who ultimately became the focus of Gallup’s research were those who excelled at turning each employee’s talent into performance. And performance is usually dependent on three critical factors – talent, knowledge and skill.
Accordingly, we believe that mid-market companies have a significant opportunity to improve performance by developing their managers.
As a CEO, I was often satisfied with good performance because I had not yet gained the knowledge about what would turn good performance into great performance. To achieve the best outcomes, leadership issues need to be addressed, and One-on-One Meetings will help you do that.