While having dinner with my parents at a cozy Italian restaurant, my Dad excused himself to say hello to a former work colleague. As he left the table, I asked my Mom, “What’s the one thing you can tell me about Dad that I don’t know?” Her response: “I learn something new about your father every single day.”
This was on the evening of their 40th anniversary.
People are complex. If you’ve ever taken a personality assessment test, you know well we all have different propensities, values, drivers and motivations.
As managers and leaders, how can you get the most out people in the workplace? What are ways you create cohesiveness and trust? How can you adapt and adjust to different people problems with dynamic solutions?
One highly controllable component is to have individual meetings. They allow you to connect with your employees and build a stronger team, one person at a time.
If you justify not having these because of your hectic travel schedule or too many people reporting to you or the demanding needs of your clients for not having time, you’re not the leader you thought you are. If “I do have individual meetings” is your response, good for you. But test your mettle against the steps below to see if there’s a nugget or two that may help.
Step One: Designate time on your calendar.
As much as I’d like to say that you should have them at the same time every week or two, that is not always realistic. From personal time to client crises, yes, schedules can be challenging. However, the designation of time and commitment to schedules can instantly build morale and loyalty simply by valuing the development of staff and understanding their challenges and needs.
Watch out for the backfire. Bruce is a senior manager at a successful healthcare company. In a leadership program my firm was conducing, he mentioned that his staff would always bet whether or not he would make their meetings. After a while, they stopped betting because they knew the answer.
Bruce’s message and impact was clear: “Meeting with you is not a priority. Therefore, you are not a priority.”
Designating time to your staff should be as important as a meeting with your boss. By booking it on your calendar regularly, you can learn, teach and mutually benefit in a non-distracted atmosphere.”
Step Two: Be mutually prepared.
To save time and increase productive outcomes, be certain both parties have submitted their intended discussion points and outcomes prior to individual meetings via an e-mail or quick discussion. This is more than just an agenda – it involves objectives, updates, challenges, solutions and walk-away duties. Having both parties submit this prior to the meeting keeps everyone in the game and allows both leader and team member to be accountable.
As the meeting begins, be sure both parties have the agreed-upon checklist to follow so your schedule is tight and results-focused. It also makes sense to clarify what was exchanged at the beginning of each meeting, so you are both aligned with a roadmap. This framing can allow for quick additions or adjustments.
Step Three: Make personal connections every few meetings.
All too often, the only issues discussed in group and individual meetings are processes, procedures and quotas. Understandably, it is, in fact, a business meeting. But, you’re meeting with people who are driven by personal goals, values and passions. People have a need and a right to be asked how they are doing. Otherwise, crucial areas for performance growth may be ignored.
Let’s say you had individual staff meetings once a month, but once every three to four meetings you asked some or all of the following questions and did every check points on their answers:
What are you motivated by?
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?
What can I do to help you bring your performance results to the highest level?
What are your aspirations or goals over the next couple of years?
Many leaders don’t ask these type of questions because they lack awareness or view these as unnecessary, or they make wrongful assumptions that they know the answers. But the misalignment between what leaders believe employees want and need, vs. what they actually do, is frighteningly pervasive.
In group meetings, these questions can be too intimate and personal. One on one, these give team members a chance to open up, be heard and educate you on how you can lead him or her to a performance where everyone wins.
Step Four: Document and follow up.
Many leaders are influencers and drivers. If you’re one of these, beware. You may be charming, enthused and a consensus-builder, but that can all be lost if you don’t keep your word. When team members bring an idea or ask for support on issues and you don’t follow through and get back to them on issues discussed, you can erode trust and team dynamics.
Unfortunately, many leaders do not intend to hurt or offend team members. They simply don’t capture, confirm and clarify what was exchanged. (This is not to say team members are not responsible, but this is about what you can do to be better in leading people for results).
It is important to review and clarify what was discussed at the end of each meeting to align accurate understanding. Then, create joint accountabilities for follow up so all parties know the timeline and deliverables due and on which date. This discipline keeps positive growth in perpetual forward motion. Key behaviors here are timely follow-through and response. Or, as we’ve all heard, “Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.” That’s simple but profound.
Bonus Step: Get feedback on your leadership.
It’s funny how annual reviews offer the boss authorization to evaluate us, but doesn’t apply the law of reciprocity. It may be a checked box in some HR circles, but the truth is most bosses don’t get the truth.
Individual meetings provide you an opportunity to create a safe atmosphere, one team member at a time, and get validated lab results on your effectiveness in management. The pushback many leaders will voice is “employees won’t be honest because they fear retribution.”
While some of this may be true, it depends on how the message is delivered. For example, if I say, “John, give me honest feedback on what I should do better,” and deliver this with an aggressive tone, sitting 2 inches from him while staring at him like psychopath, I’m unlikely to get helpful feedback.
If I speak with a friendly tone and say, “John, I was hoping you could provide me some feedback on how I can be a more effective team leader. However, let me first say that the only negative that could come out of this is that I don’t improve because you weren’t honest with me. I’d really appreciate your suggestions.” Wouldn’t this situation be more conducive to open honesty?
The great leaders check their ego and apply this practice a few times a year because they know that feedback is a gift.
Individual meetings are a phenomenal opportunity. Even if they have to occasionally be done by phone, make time for the one on one, which can build your team in expedient fashion. The outcomes can show up in the areas of stronger talent management, crisp communication, confidence, loyalty, and inspired performance.
About the author:
Joe Takash, founder of Victory Consulting, is a business consultant and keynote speaker who specializes in leadership, motivation and selling skills. His forthcoming book from Wiley, “Results Through Relationships: Building Trust, Performance and Profit through People,” will be out in 2008. To learn more, visit www.joetakash.com or call: 888-918-3999.