Rule 2 – Individual (not leader) owns the agenda

(This is the second blog in a series outlining the key rules for making one on ones work.  Here is a link to the first:  Rule 1 – Be in the same room together)

I stood in front of a group of human resource professionals and asked them Whats the #1 reason leaders would resist a regular one on one schedule? Their answer – Time.  It is a reality that another commitment, especially one that takes preparation, is going to be an issue.  This is one of the key reasons that Rule #2 exists.  While this time together requires presence from the leader, it requires only minimal preparation because the agenda is 100% driven by the individual.  Here are two reasons why.

First, the number one need for people at work is knowing what is expected of them. Gallup created a twelve question survey they could use to assess employee engagement at work.  They called it the Q12, and the very first and most important question was I know what is expected of me at work. Each day, new problems or opportunities arise in a business, and with each comes an event that could change the nature of the work that someone has to do. The key to a one on one is doing the five R’s around work duties:  refine, revise, reorder, reinforce, or remove.  Since it is a fundamental need for every person to have some level of focus in their work, they will have the strongest desire to own any activity that helps them achieve that.  The one on one is that activity.

Secondly, it addresses one of the top issues with any leader, the ability to effectively delegate work. The #2 best-selling Harvard Business Review article of all time is Management Time:  Who’s Got the Monkey? Leaders have long struggled with taking on too much work from their people.  The inherent question from the leader in the one on one conversation is –What do you need from me? There are four basic needs a leader has to be ready to address.  The need for . . .

  • A listening year
  • Encouragement to overcome a frustration
  • Coaching to see/define other options for getting through a barrier
  • Help prioritizing/re-framing an overbooked to do list

Notice your work is not on the list.  There will likely be some commitments for a leader after a one on one, but most should revolve around working with other leaders to deal with competing organizational priorities.  There is a natural need for leaders to take on the work of their people (for that perspective read the article).  The one on one all about helping the individual achieve a state of 3 Mores/1 less:  MORE focused, MORE autonomous, MORE  successful, and LESS stressed.  In that state, everybody wins, especially the leader.

More to come on one on ones.  If you are interested, here is a sample template for getting started.