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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Aug 5, 2018

In this episode we explore monthly 1 on 1 meetings that work - where both the leader and their direct report turn up prepared to discuss performance, priorities, support, and development.

What is the person currently doing well?
What do you think the person needs to work on?

What are the current priorities for this person?
What goals need to be added, removed or updated?

Manager Support
What’s getting in the way at work? 
How might this be addressed by the manager or direct report?

Training and Development
How is the development plan progressing?
What training and development experiences or programs might be beneficial?

Anything else to discuss?

Action Items
Review action items from previous month
Add any new action items for the manager or direct report



Welcome to episode four of the Leadership Today podcast. Each week we provide practical advice to address some of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at monthly 1 on 1 meetings that actually work.

It’s no secret - People hate performance reviews. They are one of those 'must do' activities that both managers and team members tend to dislike.

To counteract this, we often focus on the performance appraisal process and content. Making sure we look not just at results ('what' people achieve), but also 'how' the person approaches their work and interacts with customers and colleagues. We might try to gather feedback from multiple sources. We might even try to balance discussions about the year past with time to think about the year ahead. But we still tend to run into some pitfalls:

  1. The appraisal becomes a high stakes 'event' which tends to add pressure on both the manager and team member
  2. The manager and team member haven't had a chance to build a strong relationship, which tends to reduce the quality of feedback and the likelihood of acceptance
  3. There's a lack of focus and unclear goals around the job - by the time we discover this during the annual appraisal it's too late to do anything about the year that has gone by
  4. It becomes a one-way conversation with too much pressure placed on one person - who is typically the manager - to drive the process
  5. Feedback isn't balanced - we either focus way too much on the positives or way too much on constructive/corrective feedback

It’s probably not surprising then that a number of high profile organisations have decided to ditch the performance review altogether. In most cases they’ve actually replaced that with more regular performance conversations, which I think is a great way to go.

You see, I think the answer is actually pretty simple. It's about having 1:1 meeting structures that make performance discussions a more frequent occurrence, and that address the issues and pitfalls that I highlighted earlier. 

I recommend scheduling monthly 1-1 meetings in calendars and ensuring they take priority over the other day-to-day issues that might come up.

The following structure for 1:1 meetings is what I've found to work with people and teams that I've managed. You might want to vary this structure, but hopefully it will provide some ideas for you to think about.

The first topic is around performance. And I have the individual prepare for that, along with myself as well as their manager. Get them to think about what they’re currently doing well, and also what they need to work on. With both people bringing that information together it’s a great opportunity to clarify performance - what’s going well, what needs to change.

The second topic is around priorities. Talking about the current priorities for the person and any goals that might need to be changed or updated. Sometimes the team member might highlight a priority the manager isn't aware of. Sometimes the manager might be able to clarify a priority that the team member isn't placing enough emphasis on. 

Another topic of conversation in those 1:1 meetings is manager support. Looking at those frustrations and the things that are getting in the way at work, and what you might be able to do as the manager to fix those or help. 

The next area is around training and development. This is a great chance to check in with the development plan - see how that’s progressing - and also think about training and development experiences or programs that might be coming up in the coming months that could be beneficial. 

I include a topic called ‘other’. Just covering anything else the person might want to discuss. And that will bring up some interesting things - maybe around work life balance, or perhaps some things that other organisations are doing. It’s good to include that to cover any other areas that might need to be discussed.

And finally action items - an opportunity to review action items from the previous month, and add any new action items for the manager and team member. 

I recommend capturing notes from each meeting to share with team members. As these notes grow through the year, they become a major input into that final performance appraisal discussion. By doing this, the annual performance appraisal becomes little more than a confirmation of what had been discussed through the year. Any areas that weren't clear had already been discussed. You will find it reduces the pressure on you and your team members. It helps you to explore career and development opportunities on a more frequent basis.

I’ve included an outline of those monthly 1-1 meetings at the website. If you’ve found this episode helpful, remember to share it with others and to rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts. Next week we’re going to be looking at an approach to transform the way you provide feedback to others. I look forward to catching up with you then.