Build Rapport and Accountability through One-to-one Sessions

A client was recently promoted to president of a mid-sized company and suddenly faced the challenge of building a solid working relationship with his new direct reports, whom he’d known for many years as co-workers. “Now that I’m their boss, I need to somehow establish a new way of relating,” he told me. “I don’t want to be heavy handed and yet I do need to hold them to account.”

I have seen this scenario before and it can be awkward. One way to establish rapport and maintain a healthy balance of accountability is to hold regular one-to-one sessions with each of your direct reports.

A one-to-one session is a regular monthly meeting between a leader and direct report to talk about the direct report’s success and career development. These meetings work best when leaders think of them as “coaching sessions” rather than “management meetings.” Since it is now a well-known fact that annual performance reviews do not provide nearly enough time and feedback to help people succeed, a one-to-one session becomes that regular touch-point to go over the employee’s annual goals and address results, attitudes, and behaviors. Best of all, it enhances the relationship between leader and direct report. It’s a time to talk informally, get to know one another, and talk about how well you are communicating with each other professionally. Areas of dissatisfaction on either side can be addressed in an emotionally safe and honest way.

One-to-one Best Practices

Have a regular, calendared time set aside each month for 45-60 minutes. It can be over lunch or in the office, or even by phone.

When starting out, you and your direct report should mutually agree on the focus area or topic for the one-to-ones. Encourage your direct reports to come up with ideas for the one-to-ones first. Focus areas may change from time to time, and can include job performance, behaviors, attitude, knowledge, skills, and even future career preparation.

Start each meeting with relational connection by asking something like, “How are you doing?” Give your full attention and respond with understanding and empathy. If something stressful is going on, ask, “How can I help?”

Set the agenda in the beginning by asking: “What is on your agenda as the most important thing for us to discuss today?” After the employee has shared his or her priorities, introduce any focus areas you want to cover: “OK I have a few things too. Let’s get started.”

Use these meetings to follow up on actions the employee had promised to do, such as taking a course, reading a book, or trying out new behaviors. Enforcing accountability is important, but in a coaching kind of way. Think like a coach or counselor would, rather than just a boss: “I am on your side. I am FOR your growth and success.”

Suggested Resources

To help you get more in tune with your direct reports, I suggest you read Patrick Lencioni’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, a short book told in parable form that explores three qualities that make a job feel awful to employees:

  • Anonymity (“Nobody here really knows who I am, what I want, need to succeed, or aspire to in the future – I don’t feel cared for.”)
  • Irrelevance (“My day-to-day work provides no real personal meaning or sense of accomplishment; I’m not really connected to the mission/goals of this organization.”)
  • Immeasurement (“I do not know if I am being successful in my role because there are no specific metrics that help me celebrate or course correct.”)

To help leaders become more attuned to their natural leadership styles and identify areas for future growth, I recommend Daniel Goleman’s Leadership That Gets Results from the Harvard Business Review. In this article, Goleman outlines the six styles critical to leadership:

  • Coercive/Commanding: concerned with immediate compliance
  • Visionary/Authoritative: creating and communicating a compelling vision
  • Affiliative: concerned with maintaining harmonious relationships
  • Democratic: consensus-based decision-making
  • Pacesetting: enforcing standards; micromanaging
  • Coaching: focused on employee development

Leaders usually favor one or two styles naturally, but will be more effective by learning to use all six. Like using the right golf club, leaders must pick and choose which style will be the best approach in a given situation. Interestingly, the Coaching style is used the least often, yet research shows it has a positive impact on both workplace culture and employee job performance.

What is your experience with one to one sessions? If you don’t hold them regularly, I challenge you to start and let us know how it impacts you and your direct reports! Share your thoughts in our comments section below!