I spent nine years in educational leadership before discovering the concept of 1:1 meetings.
1:1 meetings are regular, 30 - 60 minute sessions between supervisor and direct report. During the meeting, the direct report is encouraged to talk while the supervisor listens.
Despite the simple concept, I had never seen these meetings modeled nor had I been invited to participate in regularly scheduled conversations with my boss.
A few years ago a colleague introduced me to a book called Radical Candor by Kim Scott. In her book, Scott discusses the importance of 1:1 meetings. She contends, "One on one conversations are your must-do meetings - your single best opportunities to listen to the people on your team to make sure you understand their perspective on what’s working and what’s not working."
Engaging in meaningful, ongoing conversations was an idea that made a lot of sense so I implemented these conversations the following year. As a principal, I arranged meetings with assistant principals, department chairs and my secretary - a total of 15 employees.
Uncertain of how our employees might react, I eased into this process by scheduling quarterly meetings with each employee. I was nervous heading into my first round of meetings, afraid they would be a waste of time. “What are we going to talk about?” I thought to myself.
However, each time I met with an employee there was always plenty to discuss. Employees appreciated having the opportunity to share their concerns, successes, and ideas. Most of the time the conversation focused on professional topics, but sometimes we would discuss personal matters. Regardless of subject, the conversation was led by the direct report.
I emerged from each meeting feeling good I had taken the time to meet with each individual. Our employees gave similar feedback.
The positive feedback I received as a principal gave me the confidence to implement these meetings as a superintendent. During my first year, I completed 1:1 meetings with all seven administrators and my secretary. Furthermore, I increased the frequency of these meetings to once a month.
Last summer, I furthered my professional learning on 1:1 meetings by reading a book introduced by another colleague called The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman. One of my favorite quotes is as follows: “The single most important (and efficient) thing you can do as a manager to improve your performance and increase retention is to spend time getting to know your direct reports. The most efficient way to know your team is to spend time regularly communicating with them.”
I learned so much from this book that I gave a copy to all of my direct reports. We soon expanded the group of 1:1 meetings with to include all five of our directors and increased the frequency of the meetings to once a week.
The connection I felt with our employees has improved dramatically as a result of weekly 1:1 meetings. Not only do have a better understanding of their work and their needs, I also feel a stronger relationship to them as individuals.
Here is a list of tips to remember if you plan on implementing 1:1 meetings:
Employees Run the Meeting: Allow the employee to control the conversation. This is their time, so keep your items for the last part of the meeting. I always start each meeting with, “What’s going on in your world?" and go from there.
Keep Time Sacred. Some individual may push back on these meetings and say they don't have time. Don't give in. Odds are these individuals are your weaker performers. If a meeting has to be missed, reschedule rather than cancel completely.
Keep notes. Keeping notes during these meetings is vital. I keep notes in a Google Docs folder that is shared with the employee. Over time I have created a color-code system so the employee and I are clear on action steps agreed to during the meeting.
Evaluation: By the end of the year you will have dozens of pages of notes for each individual. Use these notes to guide your employee evaluation. I attach my notes to his or her performance review.
The impact of 1:1 meetings has been remarkable. In fact, many of my direct reports have started to do 1:1 meetings with their direct reports. It is said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so our employees must be finding relevance in these meetings.
If you are a manager who does not yet utilize regular 1:1 meetings, what are you waiting for? Give these meetings a try. If you have questions feel free to reach out to me or read Radical Candor or The Effective Manager.
I promise you will not regret adding 1:1 meetings to your regular routine.