How to Energize Your Organization with One-on-One Conversations
You can’t lead and neglect people at the same time.
Busyness that distracts from people is deadly to organizational energy.
Don’t let paperwork and meetings prevent you from quarterly one-on-ones with your team. People aren’t the problem. How to maximize your time with them is.
Moving the ball down the field is your secondary concern; players are the first.
- Create positive energy.
- Eliminate distractions. We all have tendencies to waste energy by getting off target.
- Demonstrate belief. You must believe in people to influence them in positive ways.
- Release passion.
- Focus talent. Good people may end up spread too thin.
- Strengthen respect. Don’t worry about people respecting you. Show respect to them.
- Move the ball down the field.
One-on-ones, when done well, energize organizations. Not because leaders are so wonderful, but because everyone wants to succeed and feel good about their role.
One-on-ones are opportunities to help others maximize their contribution.
Evaluate your leadership by how well you energize others.
Good people are hard on themselves. Compassion frees you to focus on another’s talent, passion, and contribution.
Conversations often turn toward negatives, even when you ask for positives.
- “What do you want,” is often met with what they don’t want.
- “What would you like to do,” often initiates conversations about things that didn’t work.
- “What are we successfully doing,” may be met with descriptions of what isn’t being done.
Allow people to explore what they don’t like. Don’t solve it. After they explain an issue, fuel energy by asking the same questions again:
- What do you want?
- What can you do? (Think observable behaviors.)
- How might I help?
- What’s next?
The danger of problem-solving is it may distract leaders from what matters – maximizing people.
Successful one-on-ones are two way conversations, not performance reviews or inquisitions.
Resource: 20 possible questions for successful one-on-ones.
What makes one-on-ones a waste of time?
What makes one-on-ones successful?
Formal quarterly meetings are fine, well and good. But conversations about the workplace should be frequent and cordial, too. You cannot learn to play the piano if you only hear the notes every once in a while and good leadership is good feedback. Peters and Waterman’s concept of MBWA remains a good one and the old “water cooler”kinds of interactions most definitely affect the organizational culture.
I read that workers that operate remotely, not in the office, have much more contact with the managers than workers who are IN the workplace. Get off your seat and on your feet and DO have some contact with people to talk about issues and opportunities that occur. Get people in the habit of sharing ideas openly and conversing about the goals and expectations.
People are a critically important part, still and regardless of how much robotic process is happening, so try to treat them as part of your organizational family.
Thanks Dr. Scott. You are so right about consistent conversations about the workplace. I just mentioned our quarterly meeting to two team members I work closely with. Frankly, we are talking about the organization and maximizing their role/performance all the time. I’m always watching for energy. They are always monitoring their energy.
Very useful insight. I’m glad you brought it out!
John Le Carre: “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”
Thanks for this, Dan. Just happen to be working on a better structure for my team’s one-on-ones, especially as we don’t have a consistent companywide setup (i.e. no quarterly performance reviews).
Thanks James. I’m glad to contribute to your thinking. If you think of it, I’d love to learn where you come out on this. I’m working to find a set of questions that I use for these conversations. But, thinking about the overall goal comes first. Why meet in the first place?
I’d enjoy seeing these topics explained from more of a ‘distributed work environment’ perspective. I worked in corporate software companies from 1990 – 2002 (think offices for big wigs and cubes for little guys, then all cubes and glass conference rooms), owned my own printing/manufacturing business for 10 years along the way, and back in the software industry since 2009.
The challenge I’m facing (and would love insight into) is how to work effectively in a 100% (not kidding) remote office environment. There is *no* HQ. We *all* work remotely. And I love it. So while I’ve experienced what y’all have talked about regarding ‘get up and go visit’, it doesn’t fit my current (and hopefully until retirement 🙂 world.
Obviously phone calls are important. We also use texting, e-mail, and Skype (audio and video). We do have everyone travel to one location once a month for some face time. We have weekly staff meetings by phone and I have weekly one-on-one video calls with those on my team. We also are trying to make sure we do some fun gatherings once or a twice a year.
Would you mind incorporating thoughts that would speak to this area along the way in 2016? Really appreciate your work and efforts!
Thanks Tavieallan. This topic grows more and more important as time goes by. I work with an organization in Europe that functions very similar to what you describe.
As you describe your situation, it seems like you have plenty of contact. What do you feel could be better?
It’s important to define the win. If things were going “perfectly,” what would it look like? Feel like?
Ah, that’s a great question. We actually don’t have any issues and I’m pleased with how things are going. I tend to be more of a ‘look-ahead-er’ so that’s why I was asking. One of my favorite mantras is: Not-smart people don’t learn from their own mistakes. Smart people learn from their mistakes. Really smart people learn from *other people’s* mistakes. (And I want to be really smart.)
I benefit from the posts where you say ‘the best way to mess this up is…’ since that helps me know what to avoid as much as it helps when you say ‘the best way to get there is…’.
I like the ‘what would it look like if it were going perfectly’ question. For the moment, I can say it would look like ‘right now’ – yay! I’ll keep reading posts being on the lookout for what might rock our boat in the future 😉
Thanks Tavie. Love your approach.
I think feeling connected is part of this conversation. It seems easier to become disconnected when we lose physical presence. However, as we all know, we can feel alone even when people are around.
I’ve raised the idea of connection. What other issues seem to be important for distributed teams?
With connection also comes the issue of boundaries. That is one area we have learned much about in the last 6 months as we’ve grown our teams. Different time zones, different work habits (early morning, late night, etc.), different comfort levels with video cams (some OK with workout clothes and pony tails, others refuse to be on video without full makeup and ‘office clothes’ so they will only do audio sometimes) all play a part, and the biggest one we’ve hit so far – focused people working with interrupt-driven people. This can be especially difficult when it’s the boss that has the interrupt-driven personality. While this exists even in normal office environments, it’s a bit more exaggerated in a distributed company because the use of ‘instant messaging’ is appropriately prevalent. Boundaries must be put in place so resentment doesn’t start and grow. Our solution that has worked well is for the interruptors to always start the chat with ‘boi?’ – which is short for ‘busy or interruptable?’ Then the person has been given the freedom to respond with a ‘b’ if they’re busy and need to stay focused or an ‘i’ if they can be interrupted. Just that simple boundary and freedom in response has worked wonders in relationship.
Thanks Tavie. Your comments continue to be so helpful. I’m particularly stuck by the importance of negotiating the relationship. As a coach, I do this all the time. It’s interesting that boundaries provide freedom. Your experience is so valuable.
Solid post! I would add that solving other’s problems also inhibits or even eliminates growth. By allowing people to struggle with and solve their own problems leaders encourage personal and professional growth. That can result in a steady stream of new leaders.
Thanks Michael. It so interesting that being helpful, when taken too far, is unhelpful. We need to get real clear on what compassion really looks like. Propagating helplessness isn’t helpful.
I love to see football analogies in leadership and use them whenever possible depending on the “audience.” The quarterback is usually the key leader on the field – but he could not play or score alone and so a combination of effective leadership and teamwork is vitally important for overall success. Good post!
Thanks SGT. The first thing I thought of was how quarterbacks are so dependent on everyone, especially the front line. 🙂
We might think that leaders are independent. But, in some ways, leaders are the most dependent people in the organization.
Dan, To contribute to the conversation… I use these 3 questions from a HBR post by Anthony Tjan.
Ask the coachee to list of their “top 3-5 business priorities/ goals.” Have a chat so that you both have a clear understanding of what they really mean.
You can then combine the coachee’s personal values, beliefs, and aspirations with their professional role values, beliefs, and aspirations, and with the company business goals by asking…..
“Which of these 3-5 priorities/ goals
(1) interests you the most?
(2) are you most likely to be successful with?” and
(3) do you think has the greatest impact on the business?
The real magic happens when these 3 questions give the same answer. That is, the goal that most (personally) interests them and is (professionally) capable of achieving success with aligns with the item that has the most impact on their slice of the company business. (I think this process works best when you ask the questions in that order)
The other conversation you are likely to have deals with the challenge that, as you may expect, that there is little conscious or formal alignment between the 3 answers.
And it’s here that your coaching skills will shine.
Thanks Mark. I absolutely love the approach you share. I regularly work with leaders to help them develop their coaching skills. Your comment along with Tajan’s insights offers a powerful option to powerful conversations.
Dan great topic. Besides with your current staff, an overlooked value of One-On-One conversations is in the hiring process. Resumes, whether on-line or on paper, get too much emphasis. And many firms use group interviews, which can help screen, but, in my eyes, not hire.
My former, very successful boss hated to read so resumes were not part of his process. But he spent a lot of time talking to candidates for critical jobs to try to get to know them as people. My own interview, for the number two financial job, included a discussion of the YMCA Indian Guides program (my son was the right age to start) and the fact that we both owned a Shetland Sheep dog. Very relaxed and nothing technical. He focused on hiring quality people that he knew would probably end up as a quality employees.
Thanks Brad. You remind me that we may over-value the technical stuff and undervalue things like conversations about Shetland Sheep dogs. By the way, we had one as well. Great dogs.
I have lots of conversations where people are wondering what I’m up to. In the end, I’m having a conversation. There is no agenda.
Thanks again for sharing your experiences and insights.
I think that a good one on one is powerful. Else, it can be de-motivating