Two designs for your one-on-one meetings with staff

Recently, there has been a lot of press about companies and organizations walking away from the annual performance appraisals. I believe there are many factors contributing to this, but I think the most important – and maybe surprising – is the employees themselves. Most people want to know how they are doing in real time rather than waiting six months or a year for a review. They also want to feel a connection to their boss, and that often means talking often enough so that difficult conversations are few and far between.
This idea works well with a recent article that argued for calling these one-on-ones conversations instead of meetings. Since I’m trying to get all meetings to be seen as a series of conversations, I love that idea. The value of one-on-one sessions is that they can truly be a back-and-forth, give-and-take discussion that leads to transparency, clarity, and progress.
To be truly effective, these conversations need to be “filter-less.” By that I mean both manager and staff member agree to speak openly as well as respectfully. Here are some guidelines that you might include in your organizational culture to promote greater levels of candor and permission and to provide the context and tone for your one-on-one discussions.
Let’s be straight with one another…

If you are ever curious or concerned about anything…ask. I’ll tell you the truth.
If I have concerns about your performance or hear any concerns from anywhere in the organization, I’ll tell you within one week.
If something isn’t working for you, let’s discuss it.

Let’s be accountable to one another…

Let’s avoid unfulfilled expectations by being clear and specific when we discuss goals and action items. If it’s not clear… ask.

 Let’s be fair with one another…

Decision making will be transparent and open to input and review, yet not everyone will be involved in every decision. Ask for the level of involvement you need.
Let’s give one another the benefit of the doubt… and when we make a mistake, let’s have it be no more than a mistake.

Two Designs for One-on-One Staff Meetings
Here are two one-on-one meeting formats that clients have put into practice with wonderful results. Both are initiated, designed, and led by the staff member, not the manager. While that’s not necessary, there is a powerful level of ownership gained by having the employee be responsible for the meeting.
The Standard Checking-In Meeting
 Action required of employee:

Request time on the manager’s calendar.
Share proposed agenda two or more days in advance of the meeting.

 Agenda Format:
For each topic:

State the issue or topic to be discussed.
Provide enough background or context so issue is clear.
State the desired outcome for this conversation.

Agenda discussion path:

Review recent circumstances and actions
Discuss ideas, concerns, issues.
Review next steps: Who will do, What, by When.

Action the next day:

Employee sends follow-up e-mail to summarize the meeting, if appropriate.

 The 30-60-90: One-on-One Check-In with Team Members
Providing clarity about the future and the focus required to achieve it are important elements of managing people. Three time frames are important—30 days, 60 days, and 90 days—so that longer-term issues get equal attention. These meetings are usually done once each month.
Initiating action required:

The staff member sends responses to the questions below to the manager at least one day prior to the meeting so the manager has time to reflect.

Questions to be answered:

What has happened recently?
What are the desired 30-day outcomes?
What are the desired 60-day outcomes?
What are the desired 90-day outcomes?

Discussion path for the meeting:

Review prior action items.
Discuss ideas, concerns, issues.
Review next steps: Who will do, What, by When.

As you would expect, this format sets up excellent, purposeful discussions which add to the relationship. In addition, the manager can see where he or she might help team members by clearing roadblocks, selling ideas, or obtaining resources.
One final comment: I’m a big fan of having employees design and lead the meetings they have with the boss or with managers higher in the organization. Managers often don’t have time to think about one-on-one meetings ahead of time, and they sincerely appreciate employees who come into each meeting prepared. It’s another way for you to come across as remarkable.