What to Focus On in 1-on-1s

Managers know they should do 1-on-1s with their direct reports, but they don’t often get much guidance about how to make those 1-on-1s worthwhile.

The most natural move is to dive right into the employee’s current work. That’s easy to have a conversation about, but it usually ends up in the weeds, problem solving short-term stuff.

Worst case, this is a recipe for micromanagement. Best case, it’s a missed opportunity.

The best 1-on-1s get out of the weeds and make it possible for both the manager and the employee to add more value. Here’s how to have that kind of 1-on-1, either as a manager or as an employee managing up.

Managers that want to empower their people (that’s you, right?) still need to do three jobs for them: Create Clarity, Increase Capability, and Improve the System. Those three jobs form the core agenda items for an empowering 1:1 meeting.

3 Jobs for Empowering 1 on 1 meeting

The first job is to Create Clarity for your direct. Ask “what do you need to know from me in order to be successful?” The answer may relate to strategy, vision, values, or expectations.

The second job is to Increase Capability for your direct. Ask where your direct wants to grow? How can you support them in that growth? One of our favorite tips here is to find something that is a “4% stretch” for them—not so difficult that it’s stressful, but not so easy that they can just turn the crank. If you want a systematic way to help your direct set personal goals that are a good 4% stretch, check out our Goal Setting online mini course.

The third job is to Improve the System. Ask “what’s keeping you from being in flow?” There may be some system improvements, especially personal systems, that your employee can improve on their own. They may need your coaching there. But there are likely broader systems that you have more influence or ownership over as a manager. Help improve the systems to keep your employee in flow more often.

If you’re a manager, use these three agenda topics to help you stay out of the weeds in your 1:1s. If you’re an employee but not the manager, you can manage up by suggesting these three agenda items for your next 1:1.

This topic is one we cover in Humanizing Work’s new Leadership Intensive. The next cohort begins soon, click to learn more.

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