The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.
Hello and welcome to today’s webinar on using one-on-one meetings with employees to drive success. I’m your host, Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance, and I think we’re gonna have a great conversation today around one of the most important things that you can be doing as an agency owner to set your business up for success and get the most from your team.
So before we jump into all of the substance of today’s conversation, I do want to share a couple of housekeeping items, as I usually do at the start of these webinars. First of all, the replay will be available for SAGAPro members, on the website. So if you’re a member, go ahead and access it there along with all of the other webinar replays that we have.
If you’re watching live, you can participate in the q and a session. That we have here, just use the function at the bottom of your screen to submit your question, and I will take all of the questions at the end of the [00:01:00] formal presentation. The q and a on this is available for live attendees. If you are watching this on replay as a SAGA Pro member, and you have questions that you’d like to ask or if you’re watching live and just want to ask something confidentially, Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to answer your question there, or you can ask your question in the SAGA community on Slack.
It’s a great place to get feedback, not just from me but also from other agency owners and leaders. If you’re talking about this webinar on social media, I would encourage you to use the hashtag agencyleadership so other folks can find it easily. And if you’re looking for additional resources, webinar replays, books, downloads, articles, and all that sort of thing, as well as a list of upcoming events that you might be interested in attending. Just visit smallagencygrowth.com. So with that, let’s talk about what we’re going to be covering today. And the first thing we’ll do is we’ll talk a little bit about why one-on-one meetings are so important.
And if [00:02:00] you’ve listened to me for any period of time, you’ve probably heard me talk about this a lot. Because I think it is really one of the, the fundamental things that makes a big difference in the success or failure of many agencies. We’ll talk about your org chart and what the relationship is between these one-on-one meetings and how you set up that org chart.
We’ll talk about how you schedule these meetings effectively. Of course, we’ll talk about the actual substance of those sessions to make sure that you’re getting the most out of the time that you have with your direct reports. We’ll talk about how one-on-ones play into a performance review set up that works and actually improves the performance of your team members.
And finally, we’ll talk about how you create a one-on-one meeting culture throughout your agency, particularly as you’re continuing to grow and not everybody is reporting to you. So let’s dive right in and let’s start talking about why one-on-one meetings are important. And I, I think it starts with the fact [00:03:00] that it helps with communication. And the irony is that PR, marketing agencies, we’re all about communication. That’s what we do for our clients. We help them to communicate their messages more effectively to get the results that they want. But my experience is that many agency leaders and many agencies themselves are very poor at internal communications with their own teams.
And so one-on-ones are the tip of the spear. This is how you really get out there and make sure that you are communicating effectively with your team and not just one way communication, but two-way communication. And as we talk about how I suggest that you set up these one-on-one meetings, it is very much an employee-driven scenario.
So you’ll be hearing a lot if you’re doing them correctly. They also serve as an early warning system. It helps to give you, as the manager a heads up on things that are happening within your organization with your clients in a way that you might not find out otherwise. So both good and bad, it can tip you [00:04:00] off to things.
And one of the things I always tell employees of my own is that I don’t like surprises. I don’t want good surprises. I don’t want bad surprises. I want to make sure that if you’ve got information that tells me something is about to happen, or could happen, I want you to share that with me so that I am prepared for it and I know how to handle it appropriately.
These one-on-one sessions will also help you with retention and we know how difficult it is to recruit staff, particularly right now. And so if you’re able to set up a system that helps you do a better job of holding onto your best talent, you want to do it. One-on-ones are a great way to do that, and we’ll talk specifically about how to do that with how you’re structuring your meetings.
They are of course good for performance. I think this is probably the, the most obvious thing, and the thing that people tend to think about the most when they think about managers meeting with direct reports one-on-one is it’s about performance, and it absolutely is. But it’s not simply about sitting there and trying to hold your team members accountable or telling them what [00:05:00] needs to be done.
There’s a lot more to it than that, and we’ll talk about that in the actual agenda of the session. And then finally, these sessions can really help you with efficiency because it gives you an opportunity to make sure that you’re consolidating all the little questions that might come up by email or in separate conversations over the course of the week.
It allows you to make sure that you’re doing a better job of getting your messages out to your team and helping everybody to organize their time more effectively. So there are so many benefits to one-on-ones that you really need to be doing them on a regular basis. And if you’re not, you’ll find a huge difference once you start to do them because it, it does have all of these benefits and it really does drive a lot of success in other areas.
So I mentioned the org chart in the agenda, and the reason why the org chart is so important to one-on-ones is because they work in tandem with each other. If you have a [00:06:00] bad org chart, a disorganized org chart, it makes one-on-ones very difficult to schedule and have regularly. And this is in particular true of a lot of small agencies where I see an incredibly flat org chart where perhaps everybody on the team reports to the owner, and if you’re two or three employees, that’s fine.
Everybody can report to the owner. If you’re eight or nine employees, you shouldn’t be doing that. You should have some sort of layered management structure that allows you to work effectively. like to advocate for what I call the one hand rule, and that means that you can have up to five direct reports if you can’t count all of the direct reports on one hand, you have too many. And so this allows you to have a manageable number of direct reports. And if you have a manageable number of direct reports, you can actually have weekly one-on-ones with every single one of them. If you’ve got eight or nine, it becomes more difficult. And it’s one of the pushbacks that I tend to get from agency owners when I say you need to have one-on-ones without fail
with [00:07:00] all of your direct reports. They tell me that’s not possible. I would just be in meetings all week. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’ve got, if you’re following that one hand rule and you don’t have more than five direct reports. So you want to think about your org structure and how that fits into these one-on-one meetings.
It also helps because if you, if you’re focused on one-on-one meetings and a proper org chart, that means that employees have clarity over who they’re reporting to. And if you’re an agency where you have a partnership structure, or you have multiple senior people in addition to the owner, there are often times where in small agencies we say, we don’t need all of the red tape. We don’t need to have one of these layered org charts like a larger organization does. But the reality is you need to have every team member understand who is their manager. And if you’re having a one-on-one with someone on a weekly basis, it’s clear that that is your manager. And the org chart should reflect that.
it allows you to [00:08:00] be in a position where you don’t have ambiguity and confusion amongst team members, which can cause problems in the long run. And we, we don’t want to, to bog our businesses down with red tape when we’re small. We don’t want to be all wound up in bureaucracy and that sort of thing, but we do need to have that kind of clarity in order to get the results that we want. And particularly as you’re growing as you’re trying to scale, the more confusion that is sown, the more difficult it is to do that effectively. And finally, having a good org structure helps you to improve awareness and responsibility of the team. Everybody knows what their role is.
Everybody knows ultimately who is accountable for certain tasks. And if you’ve got a good org chart, it helps to drive that. It helps to remove that confusion, as I said before. But more importantly, it helps people to understand what their role is. So that they know what they have to do. Because anytime you have a situation where multiple people believe that they [00:09:00] have responsibility for a certain function, whether it’s because it’s been implied or because you’ve specifically said, I want the two of you to be in charge of this, if two people are in charge, nobody’s in charge.
It’s simply human nature. I will assume that someone else who’s been partnered with me that they will be taking care of something. And if we’re both assuming the other is working on it and focused on it, then nobody is. So we need to have those single person responsibilities. And the org chart helps you to do that.
And the one-on-one management meetings are what drive you to have the tactical implementation of that on a weekly basis.
So let’s talk about this scheduling. Obviously, I’ve said numerous times here, weekly, it should be a weekly conversation. It should be something that happens without fail. You should put it on the calendar and it should be held in place.
The only thing that you should consider doing is rescheduling it if you absolutely need to. Certainly there are client needs that come up. You know, maybe someone’s out for a particular day, maybe [00:10:00] something you’ve got a new business meeting. These things happen, but make sure that you’re rescheduling, but not canceling these weekly one-on-ones.
They are incredibly important and they’re the kind of thing where, from a timing perspective, a duration perspective, you know, the, the more often that you are doing them, the shorter they become. So going to the concern that that is often raised with me about the amount of time that we’re spending in meetings, and if I do these on a weekly basis, that’s just one more meeting that we have to do.
You can start with these, and I generally advise starting with 30 minutes for one-on-ones. You may have certain direct reports that you need to have a longer one-on-one with, but generally speaking, I think 30 minutes should be sufficient. And if you’re having them regularly on a weekly basis, many times it will get down to 15 or 20 minutes per direct report and that’s a very manageable amount of time. As far as when you schedule ’em during the week. That’s something that you need to figure out what works for you and what works for your direct reports. [00:11:00] Some folks I know will do these all batched up and so you’ll take your five direct reports and you’ll have them back to back to back on a Monday or a Friday or something like that, and you just have that as your team meeting block.
Others prefer to spread it out and if you’re following that one hand rule, you can have one direct report meeting every single day and spread them out over the course of the week. There’s no particular magic to this. It’s really figuring out your own meeting style, your team’s meeting style, and what works.
Morning, afternoon, same thing. How do you work best with your team? What works best as far as not having the need to consistently reschedule? Because the more that you can have this at a set time, generally speaking, the better it’s going to be for everybody to make sure that it actually happens. From a location standpoint, obviously if you’re virtual, you’ll probably be doing them as we are today by Zoom, but there are other opportunities if you are in person. If you’re in person, maybe you do it in a conference room, maybe you do it [00:12:00] in your own office, but you can also think about at least periodically taking it out to a coffee shop or some other outdoor location. Maybe make it a walk and talk meeting.
Sometimes, depending on the employee that you’ve got, it can be really helpful to get them outside of the office environment to get them to open up and talk with you more candidly, and really you want to have candid conversations in these one-on-ones. These are not status meetings. We’ll talk about that when we get to the agenda piece of it, but it’s, it’s all about building rapport with your team member and making sure that you understand what they need and how you can help.
So these are all things that you want to think about as you’re scheduling them. Make sure that you are having them consistently, though that is the absolute most important thing. If you have them consistently, good things will happen.
So now let’s talk about that agenda. How do we set up these meetings so that they are successful?
The first and most important thing is that they really have to be driven by the individual employee. So this is not your classic [00:13:00] one-on-one that I know I experienced when I was getting started in the workforce 30 years ago, where you would sit down and the boss would say, okay, where do we stand on this, this, this, and this, or you need to be focused on this.
You need to do that. You need to get better at that. This should be something where you as the manager are doing more listening than talking, more asking questions than directing. This is your opportunity to become a coach and mentor for your team member. It’s an opportunity for you to help figure out how you can remove roadblocks for them so that they can be successful. That’s your role as a manager overall, but it’s particularly your role in these one-on-ones. So start by having them be the one who is driving the conversation. They need to be the ones who are setting the agenda. That doesn’t mean that you can’t cover things that they didn’t bring up that you want to address.
Of course you have that opportunity, but really put it in their hands and encourage them not to be providing status reports. You’re probably already getting that in other places, whether that’s by [00:14:00] email or weekly reports that they may be providing, or team meetings that you may be having, or just the day-to-day interactions that you have.
These one-on-ones are about identifying what’s standing in their way, what kind of feedback do they need, what kind of approvals do they need, what kind of challenges are they having with clients or other team members that you can help solve? Or maybe you can’t even help solve, but you just need to be aware of them.
So really have them take the controls and really drive this conversation so that they’re getting what they need. This is something that will take time. Most employees do not feel immediately comfortable with this out of the gate. So if you’re just getting started with this process, you’re probably going to need to prompt them and ask them specific questions like, what kind of obstacles do you have?
What have I not given you that would be helpful to you? What have you sent to me that I had sitting in my inbox but haven’t gotten back to you about that you need my approval, feedback, edits, whatever. So make sure that you are [00:15:00] drawing this out of them if they are not initially starting out and providing the direction to the meeting that they need to be giving in order to have this be successful. As you go forward, it’ll become easier and easier and it’ll become habit for them to come in and say, okay, this is, this is what I have, this is what I need. And you really want to encourage your team members to challenge you and provide you feedback on what you are doing.
So that’s a critical part of these conversations, so that you can improve, not just by addressing the obstacles that they may have within the business or with clients, but also so that you can improve your own performance. As owners, we have a very difficult time getting feedback that’s reliable. These one-on-ones are the best way that we can do that from our own team members.
We also want to make sure that we’re taking this opportunity to have the employees tip us off to things that they are concerned about, that we should just be aware of. You know, they’ve heard that a client is thinking [00:16:00] about, you know, some budget cuts. We want to make sure they’re surfacing that in these conversations to you so that you’re aware of them.
You can perhaps take steps to address it, but at the very least, you’re not blindsided if they come to you and say, Hey, we need to cut the budget by 10% for the year, and we need to figure out where that comes from. Make sure that you are in the loop as much as possible, that you’re encouraging your team member to share what they’ve heard, whether it’s rumor or fact.
Anything that they can share with you is helpful. But it’s also your opportunity to get early warning about issues that the individual may be having. To start getting some of those signs that maybe they’re thinking about moving on to a new opportunity or that they’ve got something going on in their personal lives that might be applying pressure to them at work that you just need to be aware of.
And obviously you want to be careful here. You, this is not an area where you want to pry, but you want your team members to feel comfortable sharing as much as they feel comfortable sharing. in order to give you the information that [00:17:00] you need in order to work with them better. And part of this is because particularly in today’s workforce, we really need to customize how we work with each individual team member, and we need to understand their personalities and do they respond better to gentle coaching? Do they respond better to asking questions and allowing them to come up with the answer to feel like they have ownership over the solution to a challenge.
Would they prefer just to be simply told, this is what you need to do and this is how you need to do it. One-on-ones are a great chance for us to really get to know the team members so that we can provide the kind of management and mentorship that will get the most out of them. And it does need to be tailored to their own particular personality and work style.
And that may frustrate some of us old timers, but it doesn’t matter. It’s what we need to do in order to get the results that we want, and it’s what we need to do in order to make sure that they feel comfortable and happy in the environment that we have, because we really do want to use [00:18:00] these as a retention tool.
Now, of course, that doesn’t remove the need to provide constructive feedback as necessary. There’s no employee that couldn’t improve in certain areas, and we do need to use these one-on-ones to provide the kind of feedback that will help them to get there. We need to obviously figure out what the best way to do that is for each individual.
And so oftentimes that may be saying, okay, last week we had this event that you were running. What would we do differently next time? Not necessarily better, just differently. What kinds of things would we do differently on the next press release? There’s a lot of different things that you can do in order to try to prompt them, but then come in and say, well, have you thought about doing this or that the next time?
And all of that turns into the coaching that will help you to get the most out of them and provide them with the constructive feedback. Sometimes you just need to be direct though. If it turns out that they are not completing work on time, or [00:19:00] that they’re frequently having typos in things that go to clients or whatever it is, you absolutely need to express that to them, and this is your opportunity to do that in a constructive, useful way.
But you also want to solicit that feedback from them of you. When I was doing one-on-ones regularly with team members, I would frequently ask them at the end of the meeting, what could I be doing better? How could I be helping you more? And those are the kinds of things where most of the time employees will say Nothing.
I’m good, I’m all set. But often enough they will say something that is actually useful and valuable, that you should continue to prompt this from your team members so that you can continue to improve as well. And finally, these one-on-ones are an opportunity to share news and information that you want to share in a one-on-one fashion.
So maybe this is where you share that there’s going to be a new employee joining or that an employee is leaving. Sometimes you want to do that in a group setting. Sometimes it’s better to do the [00:20:00] one-on-one, and this is your venue for doing that. So by all means use this one-on-one meeting as a chance to share the information that the team member needs in order to do their job well, or at least so that they’re not surprised because we should remember that that employees don’t like to be surprised anymore than we do as owners, as managers.
So take advantage of this opportunity to communicate that as well. If you do all of these things, it will become a very efficient meeting that allows you to get things done that allows you to have your team members freed up so that they’re focused on what they need to focus on, and that you are out there and you’re, if you think about it in American football terms, you’re sort of the blocking back that’s out there clearing the path for them so that they can be effective in whatever role you have put them in.
These meetings are also, as I mentioned, an opportunity to focus on performance and they fit into an overall performance review structure that I think agencies need to [00:21:00] contemplate. And while this session today is not about performance reviews specifically, I do want to touch on how one-on-ones feed into an effective annual performance review process.
Because I know that many of you are struggling with those performance review sessions. You know that you need to do them. You find them difficult or challenging to do. Maybe you let them slide a little bit. You’ve got team members who are asking for them, mostly because they’re trying to associate them with pay raises.
And, I’ve got articles where I talk about why you really should not tie performance reviews directly to salary conversations. But from a performance review standpoint, these one-on-ones feed into it because if you’re doing your one-on-ones effectively, performance reviews should be easy, they should be boring.
They should feel repetitive for both you and the employee. And the reason for that is because you’ve already got such strong communication and you’ve already got such strong feedback going in both directions [00:22:00] that the performance review allows you to step back and look more at the longer term. And how, how do they fit into the long term plans for the agency?
How do they fit in? How do you fit into their long-term career plans and how can you help each other through that? And ideally that’s what you want a performance review focused on. If your performance review is bringing up new issues that you haven’t already discussed with your employee previously, it means probably that you’re either not doing one-on-ones on a weekly basis with them, or you’re not conducting them in the right way with the right subject matter. Because there shouldn’t be a single thing that surprises somebody in their annual performance review, it should all be things that have come up both positively and negatively in the conversations that you have with them on a regular basis. And do keep in mind in those one-on-ones, you need to be sharing that positive feedback in addition to the constructive feedback that allows them to continue to improve.
A lot of employees benefit from being told, hey, you did a great job on this and [00:23:00] we really appreciate it. And we need to remind ourselves as managers that yes, we have certain basic expectations, but it’s okay to acknowledge that they’ve met those expectations and when they exceed it, we should really call that out and be clear that, that we’re proud of them. We’re appreciative of their work and it really means something to us. So all of that positive and negative should be known already before the annual performance review. So you can use the annual performance reviews and how they go as a measure of how well you’re doing your one-on-ones. Because if you have surprises coming up, it’s a cue to you to take a look at the process at the agenda and make sure that you’re finding ways to continue to improve it. The other thing that you need to keep in mind is that in order to have effective performance improvements by team members, that happens in real time. That happens through these one-on-ones. If you wait six or nine months until you have the next performance review to share feedback, [00:24:00] that means that you’ve gone through a long period of time where you knew there was a problem. You hadn’t communicated effectively to the team member, you hadn’t found a solution to it, and now you’re trying to wrap it all up into an annual performance review to say, Hey, here are the things that you need to work on.
And that’s not the best way to get performance enhancement because the longer an employee goes on continuing to do things in a way that you don’t find up to your expectations, the harder it’s going to be to get them to course correct. So make sure that you’re using your one-on-ones to get those adjustments to performance right then and there.
And frankly, my experiences when I’ve looked at a lot of performance related issues in agencies, it ties back to the level of communication that took place. And a lot of times we expect employees to continue to improve simply because we’ve hinted at or nudge them in the right direction for improvement, but we really need to be explicit and direct.
And those one-on-ones that we [00:25:00] have are a great opportunity to do that because we’re building that rapport and that comfort level between us and our direct report so that they’re in a place where they’re more likely to be receptive to that kind of feedback. If you’re not doing one-on-ones and you’re simply coming in and, and calling them into your office to have a conversation about something and say, Hey, I need to talk to you about this. It elevates it to a level that could have been dealt with more handily, more easily, more amicably if it was in the context of a regularly scheduled one-on-one.
And frankly, that’s one of the things that your employee can do too. There are things that don’t rise to the level of they would send you a, a single email or ask for a specific meeting that they will share with you in that one-on-one about their own performance, about your performance, about a client that just wouldn’t happen otherwise if you were not having these. So if you can have good communications, that likely will lead to better performance. Doesn’t mean that you [00:26:00] won’t have any performance problems, that you won’t have employees that you still need to part ways with, but it increases the odds for success by creating the right kind of environment for it.
And as I mentioned earlier, you need to make sure that you really are tailoring the feedback that you’re giving to how the employee works best, what their style is, how direct they like it, all of that kind of thing. That goes for both the one-on-one as well as the annual performance review. And so to the extent that you’re doing all of this effectively, you will start to get much better performance out of your team and you will find out what you truly have as a resource in front of you.
So finally, I want to touch base on how you build an actual one-on-one meeting culture within your organization. Because it’s not enough to simply tell all of your managers that they need to have one-on-ones with all of their direct reports.
Obviously you need to do that. Obviously you need to make sure that your org chart is set up so that they follow the one hand rule and you can [00:27:00] make sure that it’s set up so that all of your managers can be successful by having the right number of reports in order to have these meetings on a regular basis.
But you also need to make sure that your managers understand the importance of it and maybe have them watch this webinar or share the key points with them so that they understand why the one-on-ones are so important and what the value is. But it also comes from how you are handling your own one-on-ones with your managers.
And so if you are not doing them on a weekly basis, if you’re not having them drive the conversation, if you are not providing constructive feedback in those sessions, All of those things are cues to your team members, to your managers, and they will follow that example. So if you cancel regularly, they’ll feel comfortable canceling regularly with their own direct reports.
You need to make sure that you are modeling that good behavior so that they will do the same thing. You need to make sure that you’re also providing the training and mentorship that your [00:28:00] managers need in order to be successful, not just in one-on-ones, but more broadly. And most managers in small agencies don’t have a lot of experience managing employees.
Many don’t have any experience managing any employee ever until you gave them that responsibility. And so you need to help coach and mentor them through that process. And so your one-on-ones with them, part of that will be what challenges are you having with your team? How can I help you to get more from them?
How can I help you to communicate more effectively with your own direct reports? So make sure that you are really providing that level of guidance, because as your agency grows, your role as a coach and consultant to your own team increases substantially. And you need to embrace that. You need to lean into that because that’s how you get the most from them.
If it’s not something that you’re comfortable with, then you may need to have an HR advisor or some other outside professional who can help you to provide some of that so that they are in a [00:29:00] position where they can be effective as managers and grow to be the kinds of leaders that you need in order to take your agency to the next level.
And finally, you need to ask all of your own managers for feedback on how things are working. How is the org structure? How are their meetings going? How are their meetings with you going? How could you be more effective? But you also need to go a layer below that, and you need to make sure that you are talking to all of your managers direct reports, not on a weekly basis.
That’s not feasible, but you should be on a regular basis. If you’re only 10 employees, you should be talking to all of your employees probably on a monthly basis in a one-on-one conversation. As you get a little bit larger, 15, 20, maybe it’s only once a quarter or once every six months that you’re having one-on-ones.
And then as you get even larger, then you might think about setting up small group conversations so that you never become removed from the rank and file of your business. Because that’s how you continue to stay in touch with your team, [00:30:00] with the industry, with the clients that you serve. And all of that is beneficial by having as many of these conversations as you can reasonably do.
So make sure that you’re getting feedback from your employees about you, from your employees about their own managers, from your managers about you and their direct reports. It needs to be a continuous 360 degree feedback set up in order to get the results that you are looking for for your clients, the results that you’re looking for for your business, and to get the most out of all of your team members.
Because after all, as agencies, we are all about the talent that we have within us. We are a human capital based business, and if we don’t have the best human capital possible, it makes it really difficult for us to succeed. So with that, that brings the, the formal presentation here to a close. The key points, though, one-on-ones weekly basis without fail.
Only reschedule, never cancel. Make sure that it’s employee [00:31:00] driven. Make sure that you’re asking questions. Make sure you’re being an active listener. Make sure that you’re trying to understand your team members and how they will respond best to feedback and how you can get the most out of them so that you can have great results, high retention rates, and a lack of surprises. With that, I hope you have enjoyed the formal presentation. In just a moment, we’ll be moving into live q and a for those folks who are watching us in person today, well, not in person, but live. And if you’re watching us on replay, I would invite you to send emails to email@example.com with any questions that you may have or as I mentioned earlier, feel free to chime in on the Slack SAGA community where you can ask not just me, but other agency owners and leaders about the things that are on your mind and get feedback from all of us. So thank you again for joining us and in just a moment after I grab a sip of water here, we will start the live q and a.