The late, great fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld once remarked, "I don't do meetings." And if you were Karl Lagerfeld, you didn't have to. For the rest of us, however, meetings are a part of getting work done, even if they often feel like an interruption of our real work.
No matter what you think of meetings in general, having regular, focused, and productive one-on-one conversations between a manager and her direct reports are vitally important. These meetings are an opportunity to:
- Provide context for the work being delegated
- Offer guidance on how to get the work done
- Share the impact that the direct report is having on you and others
- Provide updates -- in both directions
- Share your vision of the future
- Motivate and inspire
- Teach critical skills
- Coach on development areas
- Offer empathy
- Have career-path conversations
- Generate buy-in
- Really listen
- Brainstorm and problem-solve
- Clean up loose ends
- Share personal-life updates
- Build rapport
- Give and ask for feedback
Nevertheless, supervision meetings are often held with unclear expectations, minimal planning, and even less enthusiasm. Sound familiar? If you'd like to transform these conversations from boring and unproductive into meetings that really matter and make a positive difference, here are three things to stop doing:
1. Delivering a monologue
Of course, you have updates to give, tasks to delegate, and feedback to offer. But if you're the only one talking, you're missing a critical opportunity to learn something. Like what? Like what's keeping your colleague up at night, what they're excited about, what they want more of or less of, and much, much more.
One of the best ways to make sure that your conversations are indeed a two-way street is to let your direct report know in advance that you expect them to contribute to the agenda. The next best way to make sure that you're having a dialogue rather than a monologue is to really listen (rather than planning your response) while your colleague is talking. As Malcolm Forbes remarked, "The art of conversation lies in listening."
2. Gossiping or complaining about other people
"Gossip? I don't gossip!" you might be thinking to yourself. Hold that thought. Consider how Passing the Word: Toward a Model of Gossip and Power in the Workplace authors Nancy B. Kurland and Lisa Hope Pelled define gossip: "informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present."
In other words, if you're using the time in your one-to-one meeting to complain that your boss is too busy to approve your budget but not too busy to take two-hour lunches, you're gossiping. Likewise, if your direct report brings an outside person into the conversation to complain about, and you join in on the bashing, you're gossiping. You may think of this as a bonding experience, but it won't be too long before the bonds of trust between you and your direct report start to fray as she wonders to herself, "Is my boss also talking about me?"
3. Rushing or canceling the meeting
It might seem like your one-one-one supervision meetings are "nice to have" rather than "need to have." It might seem like these conversations are important but not urgent. It might seem like taking care of your external stakeholders is more critical than attending to your internal stakeholders. Yes, it might seem that way, but those mindsets, more often than not, are a mistake.
Research shows that when managers commit to having regular and frequent development conversations with their staff, employees are more motivated and engaged. Rushing through, frequently postponing, or just canceling these meetings gets noticed, and not in a good way. Commit to making these internal conversations as high a priority as any client-facing engagement.
One-on-one meetings can be an opportunity to show how invested you are in the growth, learning, and engagement of your employees. Maximize your impact by not minimizing these conversations.