Leaders Develop Leaders. (So How Good Are Your 1-2-1s?)

I wish I had a pound for every time a leader said to me “I’ve had to skip a 1-2-1 with one of my direct reports today as we had a very important customer meeting to deal with.” What does that statement say to your direct report? Three very important things:

  1. The customer is more important than you are
  2. You can also skip your 1-2-1s with your direct reports, as they are always moveable
  3. 1-2-1s are just not that important to our business

It’s frightening. The 1-2-1 really is one of the most important things a leader should be doing with her people.

It's good to talk...

So, what exactly are we talking about here and how does it fit in with the Appraisal process in your business? There are numerous versions out there, so I will stick to some sound principles that the best leaders follow.

There are three things that should always be present in eachof the four types I will describe below: how are they doing against their goals/objectives/targets (their job), how well are they living the values/ethos/standards of the organisation and, finally, how are they growing and developing as a person?

Feedback reinforces your leadership principles, your organisational values and enhances your credibility as a leader; a lack of feedback does exactly the opposite.

Fundamentally, the reason to have a 1-2-1 with a direct report is because everyone needs to know how they are doing. It should be frequent, regular and both informal and formal. Feedback reinforces your leadership principles, your organisational values and enhances your credibility as a leader. The agenda/content for the discussion must come from both parties involved. In my view, there are three types of 1-2-1:

The ad hoc, timely moment

You see something happen. Perhaps it’s a great pitch to a client, an internal presentation or a report and you get straight on it. This is your opportunity to praise the person or to give constructive feedback. It must be specific and timely.

It is no good whatsoever saying to someone that you had a great week or that you thought the pitch was good. That’s lazy leadership, something I wrote about earlier in the year. (This was also the subject of a podcast and did with Ben.)

You must say why the pitch was good or what specifically was useful in the report. Otherwise, you’ve left them to guess. Praise has a huge effect in a business. In his book, Big Potential, Shawn Achor shares the research that if you give four praise points to someone over year, the amount of praise they give doubles.

Ad hoc, timely moments are also for honest negative feedback. Do not be tempted to dress this up in what is called the “shit sandwich.” However you do it, the person will still feel bad; it’s probably unavoidable. However, this is not about the person, it is about a moment in time when he did something that was not up to standard; either behaviourally, or lacking in knowledge and understanding. The person must understand that they are a valuable member of the team, but on this occasion they fell short.

The Weekly 1-2-1

This is an informal walk or coffee for about half an hour. It must be frequent and regular. There should be no surprises because of the regularity. The conversation must be about the most important thing that you should talk about today. It could be business or personal, it could be a challenge or an opportunity. As the leader you might also have something you want to update the person with that week that will affect them.

The Monthly 1-2-1

This will be a slightly longer version of the weekly session, with a longer view of how your report has been performing over the past month. It will cover the three areas I mentioned earlier: how well they are doing their job, how well they are living the values of the business and how well they are developing their skills. This last one has been discussed by many people. Dan Pink says in his book, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, that people are motivated by three things: mastery, autonomy and purpose. We are talking about mastery here. As I’ve said many times in my blogs, podcast and book, you can’t grow a business without growing your people.

The second luminary of leadership who spoke about developing skills being critical is Steven Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where one of his habits is ‘Sharpen the Saw.’

The Annual Appraisal

Once a year, you will have the more formal Annual Appraisal with each of your direct reports. It will provide a chance to reflect on the whole year. How well did he or she achieve set objectives, goals, and targets? How well did he live the organisation’s values? How much did she develop and grow through the year? This is also the time to look forward and decide what the following year will look like, although the setting of the new year’s objectives, goals, targets along with a personal growth and learning plan is likely to be set at the start of the following year in a separate meeting.

Developing your people will show you care, allow you to challenge and support them and ultimately grow them, you and your business. Never miss them out, they are a key ingredient in your role as a leader.

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