How to lead effective 1on1s, every time.
Edition 31 of Forward+
1 big idea worth considering.
1on1s can be incredibly valuable, an incredible waste of time, and everything in between.
When leaders view them as an unstructured meeting that simply touches on the topics they’re already engaged in - pipeline, customer updates, etc. - this is where wasting time tends to creep in. If 1on1s are simply extensions of existing conversations, they lose their potential power and leverage in areas beyond the tactical.
With a few simple tweaks to the structure of your 1on1s, they can become spaces that drive insight and growth by design. Structure gives your employee clarity and breathing room by knowing what to expect, and it gives you both a shared language and shared lenses to view the work through.
Below are 5 key areas and questions to focus on in 1on1s that will naturally lead to better meetings and better outcomes.
Don’t think of the questions below as boxes to check. Some 1on1s you might spend in just one area, and some 1on1s you might be able to focus on all 5. Regardless, by focusing on any of these areas, you’re moving beyond the day to day of the work, and getting into higher leverage areas where you can coach your employee, gain more clarity, and continue pushing toward growth for everyone involved.
The questions below will be useful as-is, but they’re just starting places. Workshop into language that is yours and that you’re comfortable delivering. The context following each question is the intent, not the question itself.
“In our last 1on1, you committed to X. How is that going?”
Oftentimes in 1on1s, commitments are made but not followed up with. At least, not in any sort of structured way that leaves people with explicit timelines and expectations. 1on1s should be a space where commitments are made and held.
By starting 1on1s with updates on previous commitments you give the meetings a rhythm and inherently make the timelines and expectations clear, because everyone knows part of the space held in 1on1s is for accountability to these commitments.
“Where do you need more clarity in your work?”
This question is intentionally broad, because it forces your employee to think about where they’re stuck or confused. Ambiguity and confusion run rampant in companies, and great leaders seek out these areas.
Product updates, team members, strategy changes, new tools, process changes. These are just scratching the surface of the ways in which your employee can be misaligned or misinformed, and without addressing it directly, that confusion lives on until it hits a breaking point or has a negative impact on their role or the business.
“What do you think is the biggest pain and biggest positive for the team right now?”
Get to the root of what is going well and what isn’t. This gives you insight into where you can coach or empower the team, and it allows the employee to give voice to where you as their leader can help them get unstuck or improve.
You will also naturally begin to pattern match the feedback you’re hearing from your team, giving you signal into which topics and areas are most pressing for you and them.
“6 months from now, what skills or areas do you hope you’ve grown in?”
Orient them in the future and help them get specific about where they’re trying to grow. By getting specific on the where, you can direct the conversation to the how by making commitments to that growth area.
You can also approach this conversation from a career perspective. If they know what type of role they want to grow into (I.E. sales rep —> sales manager), you can anchor in those career ambitions for driving clarity about the skills and milestones needed between where they are currently and the position they hope to grow into.
“Are there any commitments either of us should make between now and our next 1on1?”
Oftentimes commitments will come directly out of the growth conversation. When you can both agree on the skills or milestones important for their growth into aspirational roles, help them brainstorm commitments they can make to close that gap.
But commitments aren’t exclusive to your direct reports. In conversations about the team and any misalignments or ambiguity, you should also be comfortable with your own commitments to help unblock those areas.
2 Kindle highlights worth considering.
Effortless Inversion means looking at problems from the opposite perspective. It means asking, “What if this could be easy?” It means learning to solve problems from a state of focus, clarity, and calm. It means getting good at getting things done by putting in less effort.
If you bring forth what is in you, what is in you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what is in you will destroy you.
3 links worth exploring.
🎧 How to feel gratitude for the present moment. (Eckhart Tolle)
🛠️ Initiative Assessment (Forward Coaching)
That’s a wrap for this week’s edition of Forward+.
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