Leaders whose direct reports submit regular (e.g., monthly) status reports on progress, problems, and plans should consider re-working their approach to include more frequent (e.g., bi-weekly), one-on-one, real-time meetings to discuss progress and to collaborate and align on how things are going, priorities, and next steps.
Specifically, top leaders ask each direct report to prepare and submit a day or so ahead of meeting one-on-one:
- An update on progress since last meeting, including a read-out of measures previously agreed upon to track progress.
- A list of the top three or so things s/he is working on, and for each:
- What s/he seeks to accomplish
- What has been done so far to accomplish it
- What has happened as a result of what has been done so far
- What has been learned from above
- What s/he plans to do next.
- What s/he needs from their leaders and/or from others in the organization to be successful.
- Prepared materials are submitted ahead so that they are well thought-out and not just what comes to mind while meeting. Failure to prepare and submit ahead of the meeting generally leads to the time in the meeting being used to prepare what should have been submitted leaving little or no time to thoughtfully process what has been prepared.
- Performance measurements are published and reviewed ahead of meeting so that meeting time is not spent revealing and absorbing new data that is best taken-in, absorbed, and reflected upon to reach a point-of-view ahead of time.
There will be variability in level of detail (too high-level or too detailed) across direct reports. The leader iterates with each to get her/him to the right level based on experience, training, ability, situation, and resources all relative to her/his assignment. It is not critical to get each to be like the others though patterns, standards, and best practices will likely emerge over time.
The one-on-one process as described invariably improves performance because most people are so busy doing their jobs that they do not have time to get clear about what is most important even though being clear about what is most important correlates highly with success (as explained so well in the first of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits for Success: First things First).
One-on-Ones are a structured, systematic way for a leader to do the one thing that is most likely to lead to the best performance: get themselves and their direct reports absolutely clear about what is at the top of each to-do list.
Keep in mind
It is harder than it seems for a leader, let alone direct reports, to determine what is most important to do next. When they collaborate on the to-do list, leader and direct report form a team of two working together to apply their relative strengths to accomplish the same thing, in the same way, for the same reason, and for mutual success; all of which leads to improved clarity, alignment, better choices, and, most likely, also to better results.
Starting the one-on-one with what has happened on what was agreed upon last time instills accountability and increases the odds that what was agreed will indeed be acted upon. Use the Meeting Record template to memorialize each session and to set up for the next. Agreeing on what measure to watch increases focus, accountability, and the odds of success. Collaborating to find the right measures to watch clarifies what the person is to accomplish and ensures everyone is on the same page. Remember: You can’t manage what you don’t measure!
Requiring direct reports to think through, organize for discussion, and turn-in prepared summaries ahead of meeting requires them to step-back, reflect, and consolidate what is going on as opposed to coming up with something of the fly. The result is less time in the one-on-one figuring out what is going on and more time working towards results.
Leaders that stay present and in a collaborative mindset (without taking over) create the opportunity to clarify, do, track, and report on what is to be done, ask good questions that lead to breakthroughs, giving advice and artifacts that increase the odds of better results, sooner.
For more on how to turn good ideas into action see: Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change the World.