Author and entrepreneur Kim Scott writes in her book Radical Candor
that the purpose of one-on-one conversations with your direct reports is “to listen and clarify – to understand what direction each person working for you is headed in and what’s blocking them.”
She offers the below 6 guidelines to make sure you and each of your direct reports are getting the most out of these conversations:
1. Your Mindset
To get more out of the one-on-one session, stop viewing it as a meeting, and instead treat it as if you were having coffee or lunch with someone you want to get to know better.
Scott tries to meet with each of her direct reports for 50 minutes every week.
But this isn’t possible for many managers in large organizations. In those cases, she recommends the following: if you have 10 direct reports, meet with each of them 25 minutes every week; if you have 20 direct reports, aim for 25 minutes every other week.
3. Actually show up
She points out that this is probably the most important advice for your one-on-one conversations: barring an emergency, do not cancel these meetings.
4. Employees set the agenda
Your direct reports should own and set the agenda for each conversation; your role is to establish expectations (e.g., whether the agenda is sent in advance, whether it’s structured).
5. Effective follow-up questions
Ask each of your direct reports the below questions to help “identify the gaps between what people are doing, what they think they ought to be doing, and what they want to be doing.”
- How can I help?
- What are you working on that you don’t want to work on?
- What are you not working on that you want to work on?
- What can I do or stop doing that would make this easier?
- How do you feel about the priorities of the teams you’re dependent on?
6. Encourage new ideas
The one-on-one conversation should be a safe context to explore new ideas “before they are submitted to the rough-and-tumble of debate.”
Here are some questions to help nurture new ideas:
- What do you need to develop this idea further so that it’s ready to be discussed with the broader team? How can I help you?
- I think you’re onto something, but it’s still not clear to me. Can you try explaining it again?
- I understand what you mean, but I don’t think others will. How can you explain it so it will be easier for them to understand?
Are you failing as a boss?
For Scott, one-on-one conversations can also serve as a test to find out if you’re failing as a manager. Here are the signs to look for:
- Your direct reports cancel the one-on-one sessions
- The conversation consists only of updates that could have been emailed
- You hear only good news
- You don’t receive any criticism
- There’s no agenda