The biggest mistake managers make

The biggest mistake I see managers make is that they repeatedly bail on one-on-ones with direct reports. They set up the meetings, then a big clients comes in from out of town, or someone from head office calls, or the project is behind schedule and… I’ve heard all the excuses. They don’t fly.

It’s a mistake to ditch one-on-ones because:

1. When you bail on one-on-ones you send a message.You inadvertently tell people that they are unimportant, unseen, and unappreciated. 

Don’t think it’s all that bad? Think about how you feel when your boss sets up a meeting with you to talk about your progress and then pushes it because something else came up. That feeling right there is the same feeling that your team members feel every time you bail on them. 

And if you repeat the mistakes of your managers, your employees will repeat them too. Now we are talking about more than one disappointed employee, we are talking about a corporate culture that disrespects employees and stifles potential. It’s serious.

2. Issues are best handled when they are fresh. When people get into the habit of checking in, they learn to trust that issues can be dealt with – that they don’t have to become a big deal. When you don’t check in regularly with your staff you allow for issues to fester, multiply, or get to the point where they seem so big that no one knows how to talk about them, let alone fix them.

3. The weakest teams are often held back by people who can’t be fired because they haven’t been given adequate warning or opportunity to change their behaviour. Regular one-one-ones give managers ample opportunity to communicate the need for change, encourage growth and then facilitate exit strategies for people who prove themselves to be in the wrong job.

4. The strongest teams know what they are doing right, and they repeat it. They also know what they need to do better, and they work at fixing it. When you postpone opportunities for feedback you postpone great achievements.

One-on-ones need to be hard scheduled into your calendar. If you know that you are going to have a conflict, reschedule the one-on-ones well in advance and stick to it.  Depending on the nature of the work and your team you may need 20 minutes per person per week, or 1 hr per person per month. There’s no perfect amount of time. Commitment, consistency, and the quality of your engagement are the keys here.

Too often managers ditch one-on-ones because they are uncomfortable giving feedback, or because they don’t know what they are supposed to say in the meeting.

One-on-ones are not project meetings. And they aren’t for downloading tasks. Your job in one-on-ones is to make sure the person is empowered to do the best work they can do under your supervision.

Top 4 things to cover in one-on-ones:

1. Follow up on what you talked about in the last meeting. Any developments? Further questions?

2. Ask your direct report what is going on in their world right now. What are they proud of? Challenged by? Concerned about? Needing help with?

3. Tell them what you see. Where can they improve? What talents have you seen emerge? What course corrections do you need them to make?

4. Make sure they know how their contribution is fitting into the bigger picture of what is needed by the team.

You know you are on the right track if they are doing 80% of the talking. Try to get comfortable asking them questions, listening, and feeding back with focused coaching or direction.

This article was originally published in Chris Obst’s monthly e-newsletter. Sign up on the side.

Category: All, Good Management Habits, Manage your People, Managing Conflict, Managing high performers, Team building, The Leader's Toolkit
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