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Weekly 1:1 meetings make a big difference for your agency

It’s no secret that Chip rants about the importance of weekly 1:1 meetings between agency managers and their direct reports.

So he and GIni dedicated this episode entirely to the topic — including why they matter and how to run them correctly.

This isn’t simply a checkbox that you need to tick off, it needs to become a fundamental part of the culture of your agency if you want to see the best performance from your team and the best results for your clients (and your business).

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “They don’t do 1:1 meetings and they don’t do them well, but they perhaps make a bigger difference in the performance of your agency than almost anything else except getting your pricing correct.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Those of you who work with contractors and freelancers, one-to-ones are just as important.”
  • Chip Griffin: “This is a culture you need to create within your agency.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “It is very gratifying when I hear an employee say, I learned so much from you.”


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: Gini, I think we’re gonna have to have a one-on-one today.

Gini Dietrich: Okay.

Chip Griffin: Right after this.

Gini Dietrich: I’m scared.

Chip Griffin: You should be. You should be. It. It’s been at least, you know, a couple of episodes since I’ve ranted about one-on-ones as, as part of the topic. So we decided, hey, let’s have a whole episode devoted to my obsession with one-on-ones because I just, I, I rant and rave about it all the time with my clients.

Gini Dietrich: Well, and the thing is, is they’re, they’re extraordinarily important and people don’t do them. Which is shocking to me. Shocking.

Chip Griffin: They don’t do them and they don’t do them well, but they, they perhaps make a bigger difference in the performance of your agency than maybe almost anything else except getting your pricing correct.

Gini Dietrich: 100%.

Chip Griffin: I mean, if I had to tell an agency owner three things they should do, I would tell them, hold one-on-ones. Get your pricing correct and boil down what you do and who you do it for into one sentence. If you can do those three things, you’ll probably be success. If you can’t, you might still be successful.

It, it’s just in spite of yourself, not because of what you’re doing.

Gini Dietrich: And I would say for those of you who work with contractors, freelancers, in addition to team or only, you know, you don’t have a team or you work with other agencies because they’re, you’re a solopreneur, one-to-ones are just as important in those scenarios.

Chip Griffin: Yes, absolutely. And you should also be looking at having one-on-ones with your clients and client contacts as well. Maybe not every week in those cases. It sort of depends on the, the cadence of the work that you’re doing, but you need to be having those opportunities to get together. But for, for today’s purposes, we’re gonna focus on employees and maybe to a lesser degree contractors who are doing a substantial amount of work for you. You know, that’s, that’s really the focus that we have. But, but they’re, they’re so vitally important. You’ve got to do them, you’ve got to do them without fail every single week. And you’ve gotta do them correctly because you can’t just check the box and say, I’m having a meeting.

It needs to be run properly in order to get the best results.

Gini Dietrich: Absolutely.

So I think we both agree on what correctly means, but what is your de definition of running them correctly?

Chip Griffin: So the, the most important thing is the employee needs to drive the conversation. Yeah. And so it’s really tough for those of us who are entrepreneurs and agency owners and business leaders.

We want to talk, we’ve got a lot of ideas, we’ve got a lot of questions and concerns for our team members. And so we come into these meetings typically saying, you know, we gotta address this. We gotta solve this problem. We gotta address this. No, stop. Shut up. Listen, the more that you listen, the better off you’re gonna be because it helps you not just in that one-on-one, but it helps you in almost every meeting when you shut up and listen.

It helps you in new business meetings. It helps you when you’re doing employee reviews. Yes, almost all the time. We would be better off talking less.

Gini Dietrich: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the phrase is you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Double the. I totally agree with that. You know, I, I think I’ve mentioned before that a girlfriend of mine is going through cancer treatment and I’m, I’m helping run her firm while she’s out.

And that’s one of the first things I did was set up one-to-ones with people and, and I said to her team, this is your meeting. And they were like, what? And so I, you know, I’ve, I’ve started to, to sort of transition that a little bit. She was doing one-to-ones, but I think she was, they, it was a combined agenda and getting them to understand that this is their meeting and that they’re responsible for coming to the meeting with an agenda.

And if they don’t have an agenda, and I do this with my team too, if you don’t have an agenda and you’re not prepared for the meeting, we’re not having it. Like, take your 30 minutes. Go back to your desk and do your, do your job. And I’m gonna do the same because I’m not gonna sit, sit on Zoom with you and just chit chat as much as I would like to do that, with, with no agenda.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. It, it doesn’t make any sense to, to have the meeting if the employee is not driving that conversation forward, because that’s, it’s the whole reason that you’re doing them. This is not, this should not be a client check-in call. It’s not to try to figure out, okay, where are we at on the, it’s not a status report.

It’s not Right. Right, right. Some of those things may naturally come up. As part of the conversation, and I, and so I’m not saying don’t talk about clients, absolutely you should talk about clients, but it, it shouldn’t be the primary vehicle that you’re using to stay up to date on client activities or, you know, the progress of a website build or a PR campaign or something like that.

It, it really is about what you can do as a manager to help your employee perform better. And I think that’s an important mindset shift that we have to have. We are not there to direct our employees. We are not there to hold them accountable when they don’t do things. We are there to serve as, I like to say, their blocking back to use an American football analogy.

Yep. And so as a manager, We want to try to help our employees perform to their highest by knocking down whatever obstacles they may have, whether that’s an internal obstacle, a training obstacle, a client obstacle, it doesn’t matter, whatever it is. Our role is to clear it outta the way so that, that they can perform to their best.

Otherwise we end up doing the work for them.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and I would say one of the other benefits of having a weekly and one-to-one with your, your team is that you’re always, you’re you have consistent conversations about what’s happening to your point, what obstacles are in the way, and you’re also able to provide in, in real time. So instead of waiting for an annual review or a quarterly review and you know, saving everything up in your notebook so that you can like slam them with feedback and criticism, constructive criticism, once a quarter or once a year, you have those conversations consistently. And I have a lot of clients who are very, conflicted first.

And so I say to them, this is a great way. to get past the conflict because if you have those conversations consistently and you’re, you’re pulling down the obstacles and you’re providing feedback and you’re helping them grow, you don’t have to have the annual, you sucked this year and you have to do X, Y, and Z better this, this year, or you’re not gonna have a job.

You, those conversations stop entirely. There’s no need for it. Now, of course, there are employees that don’t perform and that’s a different scenario. But if you’re using one-to-ones correctly, you’re able to provide that feedback in real time and you don’t have to save it all for the annual review.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and I don’t think there’s any surprise I’ve, I’ve said before on this show and elsewhere that I don’t like annual reviews. I think they’re, I do, I think they’re dumb. I do. So I, unfortunately, I think they are a necessary evil because employees like them to take place. So, you know, it’s a, it is a box to check off, but, but my view of an annual review is that there should be not a single thing that comes up that hasn’t already come up.

Yep. And I, you know, I’ve known managers in the past who used a file folder with the, you know, here are the things I need to cover during the review. And they would just fill it up throughout the course of the year of things that they needed to touch base with the employee about during their review.

That’s dumb. Why aren’t you just talking to them about it in the moment? Right. And, and when you do something like that, what you end up doing is you, you end up turning the review into Festivus and we just sit there and we have the airing of grievances, which I know I’ve used that analogy as well at terminations.

Gini Dietrich: I love that analogy.

Chip Griffin: But it’s the same thing if, if you, it, it – Festivus should be its own day, and it’s the only time you should have an airing of grievances. Or perhaps when you’re talking to, you know, me or Gini, if you’re one of our agency owner clients that we work with, we can be your therapist and you can just, you know, vent. If that helps, great. But don’t do that to your to your employees.

It serves no purpose.

Gini Dietrich: It can be Festivus. I’ve actually never heard you use that analogy. That’s great.

Chip Griffin: Oh, I’m sure I have used that. Well, I know I use it regularly when I talk about terminations. Maybe we need to talk about terminations. Haven’t talked about that in a while, and I like those. So, but it, but it just, it, it really does come down to, you should be talking about these issues as they come up.

And the one-on-ones are the opportunity to do it. Hopefully you are not the one who has to raise it first because good employees know where they’re falling short and will raise things and say, Hey, I’m not having enough time to spend on this task or that task. Right, right. And, and so it gives you the, the natural open door to the conversation that you want to have anyway, but it’s in a much more friendly way because you’re not sitting there saying, you know, you told me –

Gini Dietrich: 11 months ago.

Chip Griffin: That you were going to X, Y, or Z. Right? Because they’re bringing it up. And, and so therefore they feel like they have more control over it. And so much of the employee manager relationship comes down to the feeling of control that somebody has. As managers, we need to give up some of that feeling of control because we don’t really have it.

And the employee needs to gain some of that feeling of control because it helps to empower them and makes a good result more likely. It doesn’t guarantee it. You’re still gonna have underperformers, you’re still gonna have people that you know, need course corrections or even need to to move on to greener pastures somewhere else.

Sure. But if they feel like they have more control over the situation, you are more likely to have the results you’re looking for.

Gini Dietrich: You remind me of, you know, when I was a young whipper snapper account supervisor at a big agency. My review one year was, you need to be more strategic. And I was like, okay, happy to do that.

How? What does that mean? But that was it. Yeah. There was no professional development. There was no like, this is what we’re looking for, or You’ve done a really good job tactically on these things, and here we’re looking for you to think bigger picture and here’s how you do nothing. None of that. It was, you need to be more strategic.

And I was like, O okay. But. I don’t know how, and I will, I always remember that when I’m working with my team, because it’s easy for me to say today, you need to be more strategic. But I have to help them understand how to do that. And, it’s really challenging to do that in an annual review. But if you’re having your one-to-ones, you can say, okay, this was great.

Now if you, one of the things that I know we, that we’re working toward is for you to be more strategic. Here’s what that looks like the next time you do this, and you’re able to provide that feedback consistently. You know, so the, and, and you’re coaching and you’re providing mentorship and you’re giving some professional development at the same time.

You can’t do that if you’re only waiting for the once a year review.

Chip Griffin: Right. And I would also say to the extent that you can ask more questions, rather than making statements in the one-on-ones. Yes, yes. You’re gonna be, you’re gonna be in a better place. Yes. And so y you know, instead of saying that meeting with the client went totally off the rails, we said things we, you know, we overcommitted we in instead of saying that, which may in fact be true.

Instead say, how do you think that meeting went? How could we do that differently in the future? Again, that shifting that feeling of control back to the employees so that they have an opportunity to raise it. Now, they may not see it, and so you may still be in a position where you have to say, kind of feel like we over promised.

Sure. But, but at least give them the, the opportunity to, to acknowledge it because most employees actually do notice some of these things for sure. And so if you, if you give them that opportunity, so, so you know, first and foremost, shut up. Secondly, ask questions first, and only after you’ve exhausted all that, should you be making statements in the one-on-one.

Gini Dietrich: You know that that exact scenario just happened with someone on my team. Where we were in a meeting and she over-promised, and I did that during the one-to-one. I asked her, you know, how she thought and what it came, what it came down to was that she didn’t feel comfortable. Well, first of all, she was, it, it was conflict with the client.

Like she didn’t wanna say, well, that’s not within scope, or it’s not within budget. But she didn’t feel comfortable doing that because she didn’t fully understand the scope of work and as it relates to the budget, which I didn’t realize. And you know, I, I thought it was pretty clear and it was not. And so we were able to, dig into that even deeper so that she has a better understanding now and that, and certainly she, there’s some coaching that needs to be done with the conflict side of things because she feels very, like, doesn’t wanna make the client mad and, you know, wants to be, yes, we can absolutely do that, even if it is over promising.

So we have some professional development to do there as well. But the, the crux of the problem was that she didn’t understand the scope of work as compared to the budget at all.

Chip Griffin: Yep. Well, and, and so that, you know, one of the other things you can do with your questions is instead of even looking at a past meeting, project, conversation, whatever, say, how can we do this differently in future?

Yep. So, so with the feedback that you got, you know, about being more strategic, you know, I, if I were your supervisor, I might say to you, Hey, you know, how could we be more strategic with this client account in the future? And that then gives you the opportunity to say what the hell does that mean?

Gini Dietrich: I have no idea what you mean.

Chip Griffin: Right, right. But that’s fine. You can have that conversation or you throw out an idea and I say, well, that’s not really what I mean. What I mean is this. Yep. And, and so that’s so much better than just saying, you gotta be more strategic and then just kind of washing your hands of it and being done, because now you’ve, you’ve sort of just, you know, laid this egg on top of them and they’re like, what do I do with this? What am I saying?

Gini Dietrich: I literally had no idea. Yeah. I was like 27 years old. I was like, I Oh, okay. No idea.

Chip Griffin: Right. And so, you know, and I think it’s, it’s tough because, you know, most agency owners were high performers in their previous jobs. Yep. They sort of knew what to do and, and that’s why they ended up becoming an owner.

Yep. Most of your team will not be at that same level. Fair. They may get there one day, they may not. You need to rethink your role because you are now, you know, we call ourselves managers. You’re not really managers. You’re really a coach or a mentor for that team member. And so you need to figure out what it’s gonna take to get the most out of each one of them.

And it’s gonna be different for each one, which is why these one-on-ones can be valuable because it’s the opportunity to really get to know the employee and understand, because if they’re driving the conversation, you figure out what they think is important. That’s useful intelligence. Yeah. And so if they’re focused on entirely different things than what you would’ve, then that’s, you know, that’s something either to coach them on or maybe just to understand and say, okay, well if that’s what you’re focused on, here’s how I can get what I want from within that framework that you’re presenting.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah.

And I think you also find some strengths that you didn’t realize they had. Like we, I have one colleague who. I, we’ve worked together for years and over the years I’ve, I’ve come to realize that he’s really great. I mean, really great at playing devil’s advocate and throwing holes into things, whether or not he believes what he’s saying, but he’s really great at just poking holes into things.

And so when we, when we have a challenge, I will call him and say, okay, here’s our challenge. Here are the solutions. And he just pokes, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke until it’s something that’s solidified. And I wouldn’t have known that, that he was good at that. Had I not had the one-to-ones, because you know, we’re both doing different things in the business and we’re both running at a thousand miles an hour and we’re both, I’m doing my job, he’s doing a great job at his and had we not had the one-to-ones, I wouldn’t have found that little specific skillset that he has that, you know, especially in crisis work.

He’s is great because I can say, okay. Here’s the scenario, this is what we’re thinking for the solution. Go at it. And he just poke, poke, poke, poke, poke. And he’s great at it. And I would not have figured out that, that that is a skillset without having a one-to-one.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and I think the, the other thing that you need to do with those one-to-ones is you need to, I’ve always told my team members to have as part of that agenda, what do you need from me.

Yep. And, and again, that’s a mindset shift, right? Yes. Because they work for me. They shouldn’t be telling me what to do, right? Absolutely. They should. Yes, they should because they have things that they need for you. They need approvals. Yep. They need guidance. Yep. They need answers. They need you to talk to a client.

They, they need you to do certain things, and if you are the obstacle they should be using that meeting as an opportunity to tell you how they can get you out of their way Right. In, in order to get things done. And you know, I would always tell people if, if you’re able to, to get it into that one-on-one meeting, it’s much more likely that I’m actually going to get it done than if you’ve just sent it to me in an email.

Cause my inbox is just full of stuff. It’s easy for, if I don’t get to it within the first, you know, four or five hours, it scrolls so far down. Yep. That until I get around to cleaning out my inbox. Yep. A week later. I don’t even see it. Use that one-on-one if you’re the employee, to get those things cleared off your plate and make sure that your boss knows what it is that you need from them in order to be successful.

Gini Dietrich: Write it on a Post-it note.

Chip Griffin: For those of you in audio land, you’re, you’re not seeing that Gini is having a really difficult time figuring out where the camera is, even though all she would’ve to do is put it in front of her own face because that’s what’s front and center. There you go. Good job. Well done.

Gini Dietrich: Write it on a post-it note. Stick it on your computer. There you go. What do you need from me?

Chip Griffin: Right? And by the way, this is also a culture you need to create within your agency. So when you have managers within your agency that have people reporting to them, you need to make sure that they’re doing these.

And they’re doing them the right way. Yes. Yes. Because it’s no good if you are the only one doing them with your direct reports. It needs to be done with every single manager within your agency, and as you grow, this becomes a bigger and bigger deal. And so you need to spend time in your one-on-ones with those managers.

Coaching them through the process, asking them how their one-on-ones are going and making sure that they are going through this same kind of process. Send them back to this podcast if you want, and, and have them listen to this about how they should be handling those meetings. Because it’s any manager, it’s not just agency owners.

Gini Dietrich: I would say this, this is very gratifying for me when I hear an employee say, I learned so much from you. I know I’m doing my job through the one-to-ones and through leading the agency. That to me is so much more gratifying than sitting down with somebody and telling them how to do their job. Yep. So much more.

And it is, I think you’re right. It is a mindset shift for sure. And, and the way that we’ve sort of quote unquote been raised to do our jobs is, is can be a bit far fetched from this point, but it’s far more gratifying to hear somebody. I learned so much from you. And that goes for clients too.

I love it when clients say that, and that’s, I think where you’re trying to strive toward is you’re giving them so much value in their working, in the working relationships through one-to-ones, through team meetings, through working together that they are learning from you and are building their skillset because of you.

Chip Griffin: Absolutely, and, and look, they’re learning from you whether they acknowledge it or not, but they may not be learning good lessons, right? If you are not practicing what you preach. You cannot go to your managers and say, you need to have regular one-on-ones without fail, never cancel, all that kind of stuff.

And then you cancel all the time on your own direct reports. They will see that behavior and they will use that as their model. So they’re learning from what you do with them, even if you don’t realize it, even if they don’t say it. And so you need to be really thinking about that, not just in terms of your one-to-one meetings, but everything else that you’re doing.

You know, if, if you’re miserable at email, they’ll probably be miserable at email. You know, if, if you’re constantly canceling, they’ll constantly, if you show up late to meetings, they’ll show up to late to meet. Yep. Yep. So, so make sure that, particularly when it comes to these one-to-ones, that you are modeling that good behavior for them.

Gini Dietrich: All right. So Chip, you had three things at the beginning. Have one-to-ones, get your pricing right. What was the third?

Chip Griffin: Boil down your positioning into one sentence. If you can’t tell me who you, what you do, and who you do it for in one sentence, then you need to keep working on what your focus is.

Because otherwise, how can you tell a prospective client that you’re the place that, that they should be sending their business?

Gini Dietrich: Totally agree. So there are your three things. There are three takeaways. One-to-ones extremely important.

Chip Griffin: Absolutely. And with that, we will end this two-to-many, I don’t know what we call this, but…

Gini Dietrich: two-to-many.

Chip Griffin: This, this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast is now concluded. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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