The very, very, very first 1-to-1

You’re more than just a number……..

You’re more than just a number……..

I was working with a client recently, training their management and staff on how to hold great 1-to-1's. The goal of a 1-to-1 is to engage staff in a positive way to increase productivity and ultimately create an environment where they can reach their highest potential. During the course of our conversations I emphasised that the very first 1-to-1 is the most crucial. It sets the tone for everything that follows and you only get one chance at a first 1-to-1. Below is my personal 10 steps on how to have a great first 1-to-1.

1. Be optimistic - you may have mixed feelings about 1-to-1s due to your own experience or just the social anxiety of meeting someone new. It's time to face that anxiety with positivity. Instead of thinking of the negatives, focus on the potential. Write down all the amazing things that could come out of the 1-to1; engaged staff, leading to better performance, leading to a great atmosphere, leading to happy customers and colleagues, leading to . Yes, that promotion you want or the increase in profit will start at this 1-to-1. Feel motivated and optimistic now? Good!

2. Give warning and give them a heads-up - nobody likes being ambushed so book time in their diary and be clear on how long you expect it to be. I would suggest book 30 minutes but allow for 45. That way if it runs over you can give your staff the time they need. Give them a topic to think about too - "I just wanted to introduce myself and get to know you a little better and find out how you got to working in this department" - this will give them certainty in what is expected and certainty is the first step to psychological safety.

3. Place and position - arrive before them and ensure that the coffee/water is there. You don't want to waste time ordering a latte when you should be focusing on them. Also put your phone on silent and stick it in your pocket or bag. They are your focus for the next 45 minutes - no distractions allowed. Position matters too so don't sit opposite the person. It can be a bit intimidating and you shouldn't be going for an interrogation vibe. Try to sit a little more side-on to build trust and connection and show you're on the same team.

4. Start simple - prepare your small talk and ask them something simple to start with; the weather, the holidays, the traffic, the fact that you just gave up coffee - something benign and topical that they can comment on. Then thank them, genuinely, for giving you the time to talk with them. Begin with giving a brief synopsis of yourself first "So I can imagine you are wondering how I got to this department I began my career in blah, blah, blah......" - Practice this and keep it to 5 minutes MAX. Add a bit of colour and be honest with them about how you're feeling about the new team (if you've just taken over). If this goes well, they'll engage and start talking; great, you've opened the conversation well.

5. The opening question - now it's their turn. My favourite opening question is "So tell me everything that happened after you took off your school tie?" - this will bring them to chronologically index their career. The highs and lows and the crucial decisions they took. It may be a long time since they thought about their career from the beginning so be patient. This is a great way to expand their mind as you bring them back in time. It helps the conversation because now you have brought them to view things as a bigger picture.

6. Listen carefully - as they outline the basics of their career journey you will get hints at what they liked and disliked. This may be the first time in a long, long time that someone has taken the time to listen to them properly; take that responsibility on as a duty of care. Listen with intent to understand and not with intent to respond. If you listen really carefully you will get to the heart of them as a person. Their values, behaviours and also their own image of themselves in the context of work. What leader wouldn't want to know all that!

7. Show you're interested - there are three ways we can show we are really listening. The obvious two are verbal and non-verbal signals. As they speak show interest verbally by asking connector questions such as "Oh really? That must have been exciting and then what happened" or "Wow, that is a big move. What made you take the leap then?". You, the listener, are facilitating their story. Non-verbally you should nod, lean in, make eye-contact and smile - not too much and not all at the same time of course; you'll look crazy and nobody likes being stared down by a smiley, nodding crazy person! The last tip is to take notes; if they say something that you want to remember don't be afraid to say "Oh that's great; do you mind if I write that down?". This lets them know you think what they feel, do or think is important. This shows that we are engaged and that is the first step to getting them engaged.

8. Focus on the present - how are they feeling about their career/the role right now? An easy way to establish this is to ask them to rate their satisfaction on a 1-10 scale. If they say 7 then ask what the 3 points are being dropped for. The things they say might seem small or insignificant to you but I guarantee you'll find gold in what they say. After you have 1-to-1s with all your staff you'll have compiled a list of quick wins that could make your work place a more engaging place to be.

9. Finish on the future - Always bring the conversation to the future before you finish. A good question to ask is "Do you like where the company is headed?". You'll get a sense of their understanding of the strategic objectives and it has the added bonus of bringing them into the bigger picture again. Don't forget to ask what are they hoping for in their career. If they have plenty to say that's great but a lot of people may not have a clear view of this yet. That's great; now you know how you can help them as a leader "well maybe I can help you define that in the coming months, would you like that?"

10. Playback and follow up - to show them that you really listened, give a bit of a recap on maybe two or three major points they raised with you. Thank them for being so open and let them know you're looking forward to meeting again. Then it is really important to follow up on actions agreed. Lots of leaders have great 1-to-1s but lose engagement because they don't follow up on actions agreed. The staff member begins to feel that the whole thing is a tick box exercise and you'll have done great work for nothing. Imagine how engaged and important they will feel when a week after their 1-to-1 you send them an email saying "Thanks so much for meeting last week. Just to let you know I spoke with HR straight after regarding that item you mentioned and they would love to hear more. Can you free up some time to talk with them?

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Thank you for reading.


Stephen Naughton