Staying on Course with One-on-Ones

December 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

Airplanes are off-course 95% of the time on any given flight. Think about that – 95% of the time planes are heading in the wrong direction! In order to arrive safely at the intended destination there has to be constant course corrections.

One-on-Ones: Staying on Course for attaining clear objectives

As the plane veers off-course – up or down and left or right – it needs to constantly be evaluating its position relative to where it’s headed. In order for this to happen it must have a clearly defined flight plan, accurate computer programs, and a competent pilot.

In the same way, managers are tasked with keeping their employees on course.

In my previous posts on setting clear objectives here and here I discussed how important it is to anticipate the obstacles that might hinder successful goal attainment. Now I want to address the most important tool for keeping your people on course.

Staying on Course with One-on-Ones

The singular most important tool to keep your people on course is the one-on-one meeting. One-on-ones are essential to attaining your objectives and to evaluate where the employee is on the project relative to producing the intended outcomes.

Successful one-on-ones are based on your “flight plan” which is your documented objectives. Just as the flight plan is critical to a plane reaching its destination so objectives need to be written down and followed to keep your people on course.

Warning: Do not consider your documented objectives as simply paperwork you have to file with HR.  Use them! And use them throughout the year to guide your one-on-one discussions so you can focus on your people staying on course.

How to Stay on Course with One-on-Ones

Here’s a basic agenda for one-on-one meetings:

Pick 1 or 2 objectives to review at each meeting (of course, you can ask the employee for input as to which ones need review):

Let the employee know which objectives you will be reviewing and ask them to bring a status of the project:

  • What is on course and why?  What are they doing to drive this success?  Recognize and thank them for their hard work.
  • What are they struggling with?  What are some obstacles that are getting them off course?  Work together to figure what could be done to get things back on course.
  • Is there anything about this objective that needs modification?  Is there an unforeseen external force that requires we re-think this objective?
  • Inform them of any organizational announcements or changes that may affect their work.  Leave plenty of time for them to ask questions.
  • Take a few notes on what you discussed.  In particular, write down what they are doing well and any agreements you made for a change in approach.  You’ll want these notes for your next one-on-one check-in and for your year end summary.  (I’ll cover that in next week’s blog)

As you can see you will be providing employees with a lot of feedback during one-on-ones, so don’t miss next month’s topic on how to give extraordinary feedback. (Be sure to sign up with your email address so you don’t miss any updates)

Frequency of One-on-Ones

So how often should you have one-on-one meetings with your employees? That depends on the experience level of the employee.

You’ll want to meet with individuals with less experience more often, so that they don’t get off course or stalled for too long.  What you will find is that they’ll need several little course corrections.

People with lots of experience need to meet occasionally to discuss major concerns or obstacles they’re running in to.  They also need to be informed of any major changes in the organization’s direction.  A minimum rule of thumb is once a month.  For really new people – as much as once a week.

Other One-on-Ones

I also find it helpful to schedule some ‘special topic’ one-on-ones.  One-on-ones that are not about objective completion but about:

  • Development Planning
  • How the Compensation System Works
  • Planning Change Initiatives
  • Creating a Great Place to Work Environment for this person
  • And even getting feedback on your own management style

All these topics I’ll cover in upcoming blogs.

Your Assignment This Week

Get one-on-ones scheduled for all your people – schedule them for the rest of the year! Then start having them and share with us how it is going.

Remember: In the long run it will be a lot easier to meet with people consistently throughout the year – encouraging them, complimenting them and “course correcting” rather than waiting until a project is about to crash!

As my Dad said, over and over and over to me when I was growing up:  “Remember the Seven P’s:  Proper Prior Planning Prevents a Pitifully Poor Performance.”

After all, that’s what objective setting and monitoring clear objectives through one-on-ones is all about!

Question: How have one-on-ones helped you keep yourself or your people on course?