One on Ones: The Best Way to Give a Damn

February 23, 2016

Talent Management has recently produced an offspring of software solutions around employee engagement. One solution might offer badges for superior performance, another automatically gifts a card to an employee’s favorite coffee shop via email.

“Engaging” employees has little concern around automating rewards and badges. At its truest core, it’s about relationships: a real relationship between a manager and his/her direct reports. Trust, respect, fear, vulnerability, and faith — just to name a few — mash together and create a bond sacred to the individual participants. Spending more time with office colleagues than our family should place significant priority on the quality of these relationships. Yet, too many managers forget their first job: let their teammates know “I give a damn.”

“I care about your development.” “I’m focused on your path to success.” “Your future is something I constantly think about.” “I give a damn about you!”

Demonstrating you care happens when we spend quality time together. In the professional world, this is performed through weekly one-on-ones.

We are all busy. As fires come up, one-on-ones are the first meetings that get pushed to the “Land of Laters.”

One-on-ones are a weekly or bi-weekly meeting, 30-minutes long with a set agenda between the manager and the direct report. It’s what really good managers do.

Note: One-on-ones are not performance reviews.

How does a manager make sure their one-on-ones are productive and even happen? There are 3 very simple steps.

1. Preparation.

The one-on-one is for the direct report. To make the most out of this sacred 30 minutes a week, they need to be prepared as much as the manager. A best practice is to have the direct reports send over an agenda of the one-on-one 24 hours before it takes place. Understanding the structure of the one-on-one beforehand will provide clarity in topics to cover. At Rivalry, we subscribe to Manager Tools’ 10:10:10 philosophy. 10 minutes for the direct report. 10 minutes for the manager. 10 minutes for the week ahead. A well prepared one-on-one will have a set agenda reviewed by both the manager and the direct report before entering the meeting. Both parties will be ready to discuss follow up items from the last meeting, current items of the moment, and game plan the week ahead.

2. Execution.

Assuming proper preparation has taken place, the manager and direct report have a sound idea of what will be discussed in the weekly one-on-one. The art of leadership is leveraged to its greatest point in the physical meeting. One-on-ones are meant to build relationships. Sitting down and reading through a prescribed agenda helps frame the conversation, but it does not dictate it. Does an actor or actress on stage read their script while performing? No and either should you. Listening to your direct report is the only way to understand. A well-executed one-on-one has the first 10 minutes squarely focused on whatever the individual report would like to discuss. Reciprocally, the second 10 minutes revolves around the manager’s priorities for the individual rep. Lastly, a strategic game plan is set forth for the upcoming week ahead.

Structure your one-on-ones using the 10:10:10 rule and you’ll wish you had another hour.

3. Follow Up.

Discipline is a requirement of leadership. Holding yourself and direct reports accountable to the agreed up actions of the week if extremely difficult. Good managers have it documented somewhere, great managers remind each direct report what is expected before the next meeting. Following up from a  one-on-one is even harder than having them. Hopefully your  one-on-ones are scheduled on the calendar. Following up on agreed upon deliverables takes a degree of weekly routine and discipline not found with many managers.

At the end of each weekly  one-on-one, a group of deliverables should agreed upon. The direct reports states, “this is something I will get done” or vice versa from the manager. Two individuals have expectations an action item will get done before the next meeting. 4 days after the meeting and 3 days before the next  one-on-one, a manager should check with each direct report on the status of that deliverable.

Simply put, great managers follow up.

One-on-ones are the greatest communication platform a manager can provide to their direct reports. Scheduling time and prioritizing one-on-ones is the first step in giving a damn.


Jon Birdsong is the CEO of <a href="">WideAngle</a>. One on One Meetings are the best way to provide stronger communication, greater alignment, and deeper team engagement. WideAngle is <a href="">One on One meeting software</a> used by companies including General Electric, IBM, AT&T, Google, and many more to make sure One on Ones happen, are productive, and documented. For any questions about Rivalry please call us at (404) 921-1620.