Talent Management

Do I Have to Meet with YOU? What To Do When You Hate One-to-One Meetings With Your Direct Report

Cheryl leads executive development sessions for Vistage.com as a Chair in NE Ohio and also leads 4 local peer advisory boards, comprised of CEO’s and Senior Executives from non-competing companies. She also blogs regularly at CherylMcMillan.com.

Our Vistage CEO Coaches recommend that their CEO and Senior Executive members meet monthly with each of their direct-reports for a developmental one-to-one (“121”) meeting . While very important, sometimes, these meetings just don’t work and you may find yourself dreading a meeting with a certain direct-report. Do you wonder why, and, if so, what you do now?

Here are the three most common reasons why you may hate meeting with one of your direct-reports and how you can resolve them:

Reason 1: You are having the wrong type of discussion. 

Underperformers are often incapable of having a developmental, strategic discussion. Assess the performance of each of your Executives on a scale of 1 to 10. If an employee rates a 6 or below, he is considered “Mediocre”.  Develop a 90 day performance plan for him, and by the end of the period either move up him up or out. During these 90 days, your subsequent conversations with him should focus on his performance in relation to the plan. This requires a direct discussion that you control where you clarify expectations. This is a very different type of discussion than a developmental 121 conversation, which is reserved for your “A” and “B” employees only.

Reason 2:  You ask leading questions. (link to open question blog)

Imagine that your employee meets with you and wants to discuss a problem for which he needs to make a decision. You already know what the “right” answer is and you start your 121 by asking questions.  However, your intention is that your brilliant questions will result in your employee coming to the same “right” conclusion as you. When your employee struggles or heads off in a different direction, you feel your anxiety rise.  “How in the world can he think that?”, you wonder? You feel you must be more direct, and now you begin asking questions designed for a specific outcome.  These are leading questions just like attorneys ask in the courtroom, and just like a badgered witness, your direct report may feel like he is under interrogation.

In order for developmental sessions to work, you need to coach and mentor. Good Executive Coaches suspend their judgment and thoughts, listen with all their senses and ask open questions.  Unfortunately, most CEOs are bad at both. Be aware of how you ask questions.  Are they leading questions?  If so, it is likely that your direct-reports are intrepretting your questions as disguised manipulation, and subsequently, they do not feel safe. When they don’t feel safe, they tend to shut down and withdraw from the conversation.

Reason 3. You are too impatient.

Imagine that your 121 session is starting well and your direct-report is struggling with a decision.  You ask good questions and you wait for him to have a revelation.  After some time passes, you don’t sense progress towards a decision. You begin thinking, “This is so simple. Why doesn’t he get it?”. Your patience evaporates. You can’t stand waiting anymore, and you either revert to asking leading questions or a giving direct recommendation (aka “order”).

Insight and growth comes from struggling; from being uncomfortable.  Let your employees struggle with your question.  Be patient, learn how to manage your emotional triggers and WAIT.  After you ask a question, never be the first one to break the silence.  Silence is your friend, and impatience is your enemy. Don’t train your employees to be order followers. You want them to be independent thinkers. When you are impatient, they know that if they wait long enough, you will just tell them what you really want them to do. They have seen this before. For them, it is much safer to just do things your way  rather than risking being “wrong” (even if their solution may be better than yours).

The good news: you can change your behavior and start over with your employees.  Clarify the purpose of your 121’s and create a common vision of a successful one.  Commit to being more open and less directive, and ask your employees to challege you when you slip back to your old ways. Expect that your employees will test the “new” you to see if you really have changed.  It is important to be consistent with your new behavior. When you slip, admit it quickly, and get right back on track.

Developing future leaders is one of the biggest challenges that CEO’s and Business Owners face.  The monthly, strategic 121 is a great tool to help your employees grow.  They don’t have to cause you anxiety or be unproductive if you manage them correctly.

Don’t wait any longer. Schedule the next 3 months of 121’s with all of your direct-reports now. You’ll be glad that you did.

Category: Talent Management

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About the Author: Cheryl McMillan

Cheryl is a Vistage Master Chair and Executive Coach. She has a passion for raising awareness in leaders about how their choices and unconscious actions impact their results. She leads two C-Suite peer advisory boards, comprised of CEO's or …

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  1. woodruff imberman

    April 2, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    121 meetings sound
    fine, but somewhere, you need to bring the entire team behind you
    enthusiastically. That’s what Obama originally did.
    Set aside the controversies of President Obama’s first term and focus on his that resulted in
    his successful first election campaign. How did he win it and how you use his victory tactics to engage your staffers
    in helping you reach your company’s goals?

    Say, just what are your company’s goals? Ever list them on
    paper? Your goals might be to develop better employee productivity to cut your per-unit
    costs; to keep your company non-union; or to achieve a concessionary union
    contract without a strike; or a combination thereof. But how?

    achieved his goal by communicating, planning, and organizing better than his
    competitors. You can achieve your company’s goals the same way:

    Out-communicating —
    HIM: Obama used a simple slogan,
    “Yes We Can,” as a repetitious tag line to his message, “Hope and
    Change.” It gave voters a united confidence that whatever problems they had,
    he could make their “hopes” a
    future reality.

    Create a simple theme to unite you and your staff against a common enemy –foreign
    competition, high operating costs, a union threat, a possible strike. Like you, your workers want
    to be part of a winning, productive, profitable company. Communicate with them,
    not at them. Listen as much as you talk. Hear their concerns and ideas on how
    to reach your goals. Then respond, in a meaningful way.

    Out-planning — HIM: Obama planned his election campaign carefully, using skilled, experienced
    consultants. They crafted a disciplined campaign rallying
    the voters behind him.

    YOU: —You know the issues facing your company — a competitor’s new
    plant, or when your labor contract expires. Start your communications effort before
    crisis time to rally your staffers behind you.

    — HIM: Obama started
    local offices where staffers responded
    quickly to local voters and their problems. And he listened to local staffers
    who quickly forwarded local issues to headquarters for response. He tied his
    responses to each region, but united them with his overall themes — “Hope
    and Change.”

    YOU: Listen and respond to local issues. Develop managers
    by teaching them to focus on key objectives while delegating busy work downwards;
    teach supervisors how to organize their departments to achieve your goals,
    communicate these goals so staffers at all levels know what is expected of
    them. Start group pay-for-performance programs like Gainsharing to build strong
    bonds so staffers are motivated and
    compensated to work together to help you to achieve your goals.

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