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I don't have time for a 1:1

I don't have time for a 1:1
Published: June 24, 2023
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...You haven’t got time not to

Not to do ourselves out of business, but I do believe that companies could make a step change in their individual, team and ultimately their organisational performance - and save money from employing external consultants by doing one thing: having dedicated 1:1 conversations with the people they lead, to build collective understanding and systematically review performance and progress.

And from my experience of working with leaders, it seems it is the one thing they are reluctant to do. Here are three of the most common responses:

“I see them every day so we don’t need to have formal 1:1s”. The informal, spontaneous interactions we have on a daily basis are the glue of organisational life. However, the danger is that often conversations can remain at a somewhat superficial level, where we end up trading facts and opinions, talking nice or talking tough, usually about the transactional task or project at hand. There is little space to have real dialogue, to talk strategically about one’s development, motivation, working relationships and goals.

“I have got so many people, I can’t know them all”.  This makes my heart sink. As we go up the leadership pipeline, what we value most and how we spend our time, has to be our people. It is not about knowing each individual intimately, but given that it is your people that are making things happen, surely you want some understanding of what makes them tick and why they are prepared to turn up day after day to work. One manufacturing director came away from a programme recently with the action to meet with every individual at his plant. He had been inspired by Andy Dickson, our Head of Global Solutions, who in sharing his ideas about creating a ‘Great Place to Work’, talked about the time he had a 1:1 with every member of his UK team, direct and indirect reports. Andy revealed how it was a fundamental moment for him in his leadership – that by doing this simple act, committing to a 30 minute conversation, helped to build his own understanding of the people and organisation he was leading. It is no surprise to any of us, that we all want to be listened to – and a conversation that does that will always transform us.

“Yes, I have 1:1s - at every annual performance review”: We are getting to the end of the year, and in some organisations, this will mean a performance review, perhaps the first 1:1 for the entire year. Depending on one’s experience, relationship and viewpoint, we will be dragging our feet or skipping along to it (or something in between). More often it is the former, with many 1:1s feeling like you are ‘going through the motions', undertaking a process that has to be executed – rather than what it really can offer...the opportunity to step back and reflect deeply on experiences, learnings and ways forward. We know from experience that leaders often find it difficult to nurture the time, energy and discipline to have even biannual or annual review conversations with the people they lead. The prospect of having 1:1 conversations quarterly, monthly or fortnightly, is for some, unthinkable. Which quite frankly, is a shame and a wasted opportunity.

There are many reasons why leaders do not have 1:1s. Besides the obvious one of time, there are often fears at play – of being overwhelmed, ill-equipped, uncomfortable with the intimacy or intensity of a person to person conversation and the fear of not being in control with the unpredictability of actually dropping into a real dialogue. The reasons are as individual as we are, but there are many reasons why regular formal conversations alongside the spontaneous and informal ones, are critical. They are the only real route to creating engagement, generating ideas, building understanding and releasing potential. The best thing we can do is to set the intention to turn up for these conversations, and let the possibilities unfold.

So here’s a challenge: undertake regular 1:1s with your people, and see what difference they make to performance. And tell us about it in the comment box below.

Penelope Mavor is a Senior Consultant at Impact Italia.