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Executive Corner – Please – STOP Having Bad Meetings

Michael Clegg | 02/02/2022

Most leaders understand that a 1×1 is important.  Why are we so bad at them?  Bad 1×1’s lead to disengaged employees which become turnover and low retention rates.  This in turn is hurting your ability to attract top talent and if you do attract top talent, it hurts your ability keep them.

I understand how hard it is to juggle the number of tasks that we are all taking on.  I know most of us really care about our direct reports.  That is why you especially owe them to provide great meetings and guidance. 

I am going to help you understand why they are so important and what the framework is.  First, let’s discuss what a bad 1×1 looks like:

Bad 1×1:

  • Lacks regular frequency: 1×1’s should be at least once a month with your direct reports, and I prefer weekly based on the competency of the employee.
  • Becomes a status update: most information discussed in 1×1 are data that is easily accessed.  This is not the time for your employee to regurgitate information that you have.
  • Impersonal: all business and no rapport building.  Employees have a lot of choices today, treat them like the rare commodity they are.
  • Lack purpose: these meetings are supposed to benefit your employee.  If you don’t know how to help them, you need to seek training.  You do not want them dreading this time.
  • Lacks direction: you can set a light agenda and help your employee know what to expect.  However, the 1×1 is for them.  NOT for you.

Common statements if you are conducting bad 1×1’s:

  • “There is not a lot to catch up on from our last meeting”
  • “Don’t worry about me, I’m good.  I’m sure you have other more important things going on”
  • “Nope, I think I have everything I need.  We can skip today”
  • “No new updates”

Gallup has been studying employee data since 2000.  They have the most data on this subject.  They say employees that meet regularly with their boss are 3 times more engaged.  Considering Gallup says that only 1/3 of employees are engaged.  You should meet more often with your employees based on that statistic alone.

There were more meetings in 2021 due to the remote workforce and a lack of trust.  If you are having bad meetings that are not productive you are wasting thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the size of your company.  However, I am 100% a proponent of having 1×1 meetings with your direct reports.

Bad bosses are usually good people.  Most of their intentions are good.  Unfortunately, we are judged on our actions, not our intentions.  Lacking good communication and development causes a lack of process control which typically leads to bad habits and delivers poor outcomes.

If you say or hear “I don’t have anything important today” or “nothing has changed since we last spoke” you are driving a valueless relationship.  These comments lead to cancelled 1×1’s which leads to a lot of negative outcomes.

Impact of not having regular a 1×1:

  • Losing key employees
  • Loss of trust or worse, never gaining it
  • Lack of accountability and performance
  • Chasing being liked vs respected
  • Being disconnected from issues

Ben Horowitz, the author of The Hard Thing about Hard Things said, “Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.  Things always go wrong.”

Framework of 1×1

  1. Performance
    1. KPI reviews ->this is an opportunity for you to make suggestions and teach.  NOT to just review the data – review the outcomes
    2. Are they meeting their goals? (Disengaged employees often are not)
    3. Make sure to incorporate some strategic value in this portion of the discussion so that it is not 100% tactical each week
    4. Please make sure to take good notes so that you are following up on discussion items
    5. What commitments are they working towards?
  2. Professional Development
    1. Create a development plan for each direct report
    2. That plan should be a discussion that is part of every 1×1 and work towards achieving those outcomes
    3. What are new skills that they hope to learn -> Introduce them to new mentors that they would like to learn from -> Understand key accomplishments they would like to achieve?
    4. Leaders should be asking for feedback on their performance as well – don’t settle for ‘nothing’.  Push the conversation.  Let the employee know that next time you will not settle for ‘nothing’ as a response 
  3. Relationship
    1. Have a plan – know what’s going on in your direct report’s lives
    2. Ask them how they are feeling – engaged employees are significantly more productive
    3. What excites them – What are their passions – What are their dislikes?

In the framework itself, I personally divide the meetings to be 60-30-10 on an average day. 

  • 60% is Performance
  • 30% is Professional Development
  • 10% is Relationship

There will be days when it might make sense to change that up based on what is going on in the life of your direct report. 

Andy Grove, the famed Intel CEO who grew that company in 30 years from nothing to over $20B, said in his book “High Output Management”, “Let’s say you have a 1×1 with your subordinate every two weeks, and it lasts one and a half hours.  Ninety minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinate’s work for two weeks, or for some eighty-plus hours, and can also upgrade your understanding of what they’re doing” If it is good enough for Andy Grove, it’s good enough for me

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