Guide to Truly Effective One-on-One Meetings

Many say an occasional “one-on-one” (aka 1:1) with your employees will build your relationship with them and help you get to know them better.  You may have thought of this practice as a “nice thing” to do when possible…

I think 1:1 meetings are SO much more important than that.  These meetings, when held consistently, can become a fundamental building block to build trust, and achieve more together at work.

These meetings can be an important part of your work, but are a vital part of your employees’ work (their engagement and development).

 It is very possible, even likely, that these 1:1 meetings are more important to your employee than they are to you.  

Think about that for a minute…

Here are my  tips for 1:1s, and some good resources I have used & shared:

Clarify the “rules of the game”

  • Don’t assume  basic details.  Almost everyone will have a different view of these meetings.  The most important part is that you two understand together what they mean.
  • Questions to clarify:  What is the purpose of these meetings?  When will they be held? Who will schedule the meeting?  How often?  Who decides the agenda topics? What might those topics include?

Continue reading

The Most Important Phrase in Performance Conversations

For many, July represents the time of year for “mid-year” discussions regarding performance.  Some call them “mid-year appraisals” or “mid-year assessments” or “mid-year performance reviews”.  This can be a stressful, frustrating experience for Managers and Employees both.

I would recommend one quote that helps in making these conversations much more effective:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

– Maya Angelou

So, how do you ensure that an Employee will “feel” good about the conversation?  Here’s the first step:  Decide what the purpose of the conversation is.

  • Are you doing it because you are mandated by ‘Corporate’ or HR?  Are you fulfilling some other type of requirement?  If so, that will come shining through to the Employee (and spoiler alert:  it probably won’t go well!).
  • Are you truly trying to help the Employee achieve more, find more success?  Think of that.  Tell them – let that mindset drive your conversation.
  • If you are trying to improve poor performance, that is a great reason to have such a discussion.  But beware, this purpose needs another level deeper:  why are you trying to improve performance? performance discussion Is it to fire them?  Because your boss told you to?  Because you need a scapegoat for something that was missed?  As in other cases, the true reason will come shining through, and will definitely be felt.***
  • If you can’t even explain the purpose yourself, the Employee will definitely feel it.  This is the most common cause of frustration and poor conversations.

After you understand your purpose for the conversation, the next step is simple to say, but harder to do:  practice.

I don’t mean stand in front of a mirror and rehearse what you are going to say.  I mean create opportunities for Performance Conversations more frequently.  Share with your team the reason you are doing it.  That reason is simple: because you want to be better at giving good, helpful information about their performance (something they will want from you as well).  I am confident they will be helpful and understanding as you do this, as long as you both keep the purpose in mind.

With a solid purpose in mind, and a little bit of practice, your Employees will feel good about Performance Conversations.  And you will too.

***I wrote more about coaching underperformers here.


3 Actions to Build Real Trust

There are a lot of good books and materials written about the importance of trust.  It has a huge impact on culture, engagement, and company performance.  More importantly for an individual Manager, it represents the secret ingredient to true success.  I share a visual representation of the effects of trust here, which helps explain why increased trust can be so important for Managers.

So where do you start to build trust?  Here are three first steps to build real, genuine trust (a process that takes time):


Always remember:  trust, and leadership, is about people.  The first meaningful act as a leader should be to truly listen, understand, and empathize with those you lead.  Demonstrate this over and over.  Don’t just listen with an intent to respond.  Listen to truly understand their perspective, their concerns, their insight, etc.

As Stephen Covey teaches in “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”:

 “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Leaders – especially new leaders – commonly want to assert themselves, showing they have the ‘chops’ to be a good leader.  This usually means  Continue reading

When you SHOULD be a Micromanager

The label “micromanager” is dangerous… but not for the reason you might think!

Over time, I have developed a negative opinion of the word “micromanager” or “micromanage”.  But the potential danger and toxicity of this word actually lead me to a different conclusion than you might think…

micromanaging boss1

typical micromanager…

I’m guessing that in almost all workplaces, Managers at all levels are deathly afraid of the label “micromanager”.  That word has become so negative – a flaming arrow to shoot at your boss, calling them “a micromanager”.  Nothing stings more.

Therein lies the problem: sometimes the actions which we label as “micromanaging” can help an employee improve their skills and performance.  In other words, micromanaging is exactly what a manager should do.

What a minute.

Am I saying that a Manager should, at times, be a ‘micromanager’?

Yes. Absolutely.

That’s exactly what I’m saying. Continue reading

Questions to ask in a Stay Interview

(Note: these questions are not intended to be a programmatic “list” or prescribed set/order.  Browse through the questions to get some ideas of what topics to cover, then pick the ones that you feel are most in line with your own leadership style.)

1.     Overall/General

Purpose/passion or “life” type questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • If you won the lottery and didn’t have to work, what would you do? What would you miss about working here?
  • What did you love in your last position that you’re not doing now?
  • What do you think about on your way to work?
  • Do you feel that you are part of a bigger vision and mission? Why or why not?
  • Do you believe that your work has meaning?
  • Do you respect the amount and kind of leadership that you receive from the senior managers?


2.     Current Work Situation

 ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Annoyances’:

  • If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about your work, your role and your responsibilities?
  • If you changed your role completely, what would you miss the most?
  • What things would you like to change about your team or department?
  • How happy are you working here on a scale of 1-10 with 10 representing the most happy?
    • What would have to happen for that number to become a 10?
  • What contributes the most to your job satisfaction?  What would make your job more satisfying?
  • What talents are not being used in your current role?
  • What would you like to learn here?
  • Have you ever thought about leaving the company? If so, what caused you to consider leaving? Why did you decide to stay?
  • Have you actively job searched in the past year? Why were you thinking of leaving?
  • Do you feel that you have the necessary control over your job to perform most successfully and productively?
  • What things would you like to start or stop doing?
  • Do you have suggestions about how we can improve as an organization?
What about your job makes you want jump out of bed and come to work? What about your job makes you want to hit the snooze button?
What makes for a great day at work? What’s bothering you most about your job?
What do you like most about working here?

What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?

What do you like least about working here?
What keeps you working here? What might tempt you to leave?
What do you like most about working in our organization? What do you like least about working in our organization?
What do you want to keep the same about your job? What would you like to change about your job?

Manager-specific questions:

  • What do you feel are your specific strengths at work?  How can I help you build on those?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • What can I do more of (or less of) as your manager, to help you succeed?
  • How do you like to be recognized?  What kind of recognition would be meaningful to you?
  • How can we work together to make your work more meaningful?
  • What type of feedback would you like to receive about your performance that you are not receiving now? From me? From coworkers?
  • What style of communication and leadership do you respond to best?
  • What kind of coaching and guidance would you like from me?
  • What skills and talents would you like to contribute every day?
  • What new things would you like to learn this year?
  • How are we helping you learn and further develop your skills?
  • What are your current job and career goals? What can I do to support your goals?
  • As your manager, what can I do to help you be more successful and happier at work?
  • Is there anything else that is important to you that we did not cover during this meeting?


3.     Future Work Situation

  • What would you like to work on in the future?
  • What would you like to learn?
  • What projects might be interesting to you?
  • What other departments would you like to learn about, or spend time with?
  • Are there other areas in the company that you would want to transfer to, in a “next career move”?
  • As you look forward, what will be important to keep you engaged in the future?

Leadership in a ‘Road Closed’ sign?

You might not expect the process of moving from one house to another to bring an epiphany about leadership, but that’s exactly what happened to me.

In 2013, we purchased a house that is right across the street from my old one. Logistically, it was a really interesting challenge. How much should we box up, or not box up? Should we even rent a moving truck? It is right across the street.

We decided to cart our belongings to our new house, but traffic concerned us. As a solution, we requested – and received – a permit from the city to close down a section of the street and reroute cars. On the day of the move, we put up two “road closed” signs, facing opposite directions. Further up the street, we placed detour signs to clarify the new/temporary route; I thought this would be enough to deter traffic. It wasn’t.

road closed

While we were moving, several cars drove around the signs. This happened many, many times.  As one vehicle slowly approached the “road closed” sign I stopped the car politely to talk with the people inside. I explained we’d blocked the road off for a few hours so we could move our stuff across the street. They nodded and the driver turned his car around to look for another route.

Then it occurred to me the only reason people weren’t paying attention to the traffic signs is because they didn’t understand why they were there. They didn’t see a gaping hole in the road or any construction workers, so they thought “there’s no apparent danger… no need to obey this sign.  I think I’ll just drive around it”.

As leaders, what can we learn from this experience?

Continue reading

Building High Performance

<originally written in July 2015>

The HR field is abuzz over Performance Management it seems.  Even at the 2015 National SHRM conference in Las Vegas, many speakers and sessions were littered with such topics as “killing performance ratings” or “new and improved performance management” and other similar topics.

Well, I’m excited to be working at a place where we are already making some of those significant changes.  We aren’t just modifying or simplifying “Performance Management”.  We aren’t just changing our rating scale or forcing the organization to go through a tedious process that doesn’t add value.

We are building something.

What are we building, you ask?

Well, we are building High Performance.  Results that benefit the employee and the company, delivered in a way consistent with our values. Continue reading

There’s Nothing Better Than Birthday Cake… or is there?

Birthday Cake

One of my very favorite books is “Drive” by Dan Pink (summaries of the concepts discussed can be found here and here).

I am fascinated by the idea of motivation, and what motivates a person at work. I have thought a lot recently about what types of “extra” (rewards, prizes, money, etc.) can be given – and how they should be given – to truly motivate in a way that is meaningful, effective, and lasting. I still haven’t arrived at the perfect blend of what that looks like, but I have arrived at one thing it definitely is not: birthday cake.

That’s right, good old fashioned birthday cake (usually accompanied by some meager attempt by co-workers to sing happy birthday). This could expand slightly to include cookies/treats, ‘team birthday lunch’ or something along those lines.

Put yourself in the shoes of the well-intentioned department/team manager, for a moment. You probably think something like, “hey, so-and-so will LOVE to be praised on their birthday, it will be fun for us all to have some cake and celebrate!”

Fun? Perhaps.

Meaningful for the “recipient”? Absolutely not, in my humble opinion.

The well-intentioned manager is not getting nearly the return on investment he/she thinks.

Why, you ask? Continue reading

Coaching Challenges: Under Performing Team Members

<originally written in July, 2014 – during the World Cup of soccer>

If you’re a manager or supervisor, the topic of “performance management” or “performance improvement” is likely a topic that makes you cringe. Working through awkward conversations with woeful under-performers and providing negative feedback is something that doesn’t come naturally for most leaders, and can be a painful topic for many employees.

Do you feel this is an area in which you can improve? When in doubt, think like a coach!!!

coaching challenges

Brief consideration of how Jurgen Klinsmann (U.S.), Joachim Löw (Germany) or Alejandro Sabella (Argentina) coach their teams during the World Cup may give us a clue. It is a common occurrence to see them, or almost any other coach, on the sidelines, yelling instruction and feedback, giving constant encouragement, and constantly scanning for improvements and strategic corrections.

On the field of competition, it is clear the coach and players are on the same team; they very clearly want the same goals. Is that always the case in your contact center? Are supervisors, managers and quality coaches clearly seen as “on my side,” or are they seen as something of an adversary?

Let’s examine some ways the coach of your favorite team helps improve performance, and demonstrate that we are all on the same team: Continue reading

Leadership: Building Trust through Stay Interviews

Many buzzwords in the world of employment – “engagement” “retention” “turnover” “employee satisfaction” – are really revolving around the basic concept of how an employee feels about his/her job.  Does he/she like it?  Hate it?  Want something better?  This is the great mystery for companies trying to reduce retention, increase engagement, or just improve productivity and performance by keeping their top employees.  To accomplish this, I frequently share my favorite ‘leadership tool’ – a very simple idea that has an amazing ability to help leaders view things differently, take action in a meaningful way and help keep the best employees engaged.  It is called a ‘Stay Interview’.

First, consider the fairly common practice of an Exit Interview.  This will typically include questions like “why are you leaving?” or “what might have kept you here?” in an effort to understand what could improve or change to improve employee satisfaction, and curb future turnover.

I see a couple few problems with that practice:

  • The employee may or may not be share complete truth.  (The problem is, we don’t ever really know.  We likely will second guess everything, because everything they say might be either “too negative” or “too positive”).
  •  Because they are leaving, they no longer have a vested interest in actual improvement.
  • It’s likely too late to “save” them.  That time has passed… trust has likely diminished, they have mentally checked out and moved on.
  • This information is usually shared with HR, who is one step removed from the all-important Manager/Employee relationship, where understanding, communication, and trust are critical.

and the list goes on…

Now, am I advocating to stop doing exit interviews?  Nope.  They have a good role and purpose in the overall picture… but I do advocate considering an additional leadership tool – a Stay Interview.stay interview

A Stay Interview takes a very similar conversation and brings it into the midst of the person’s employment.  Find out why a person stays with the company, what keeps them here, what they might suggest to improve, etc. Continue reading