12 Keys to Better One-on-One Meetings

July 15, 2019
One of the best tools to create active engagement and strong communication is through regular and routine employee one-on-ones.

If time is one of an owner’s most valuable assets, then it begs the question, “What to do with this time,” right? I have found that spending productive time with your employees to be one of the most rewarding and fruitful investments you can make. Pick any of the more recent employee surveys regarding, why good employees quit their jobs and you will find a plethora of reasons that may point right back to you. 

A lack of recognition, poor communications, a lack of feedback, high expectations with low clarity, feeling devalued and the “cold-disconnected boss” are just a few of the reasons that top all the lists. What do they all have in common? It is simple: a lack of communication. 

In contrast, one common theme I see in highly functional shops, with low to no turnover, is engaged and motivated employees. It really doesn’t matter the size. Two-man bands to multi-shop operations—the common theme to the success is an owner and/or manager that invests time in their team members, which results in team members that are highly engaged and productive. One of the hallmarks of highly effective teams is open and honest, top to bottom, clear and concise communications. The days of, “You are a professional and I pay you to know, so just do your job” are dead and gone! 

It has been statistically proven that a highly engaged employee will produce at a rate 100 percent higher than an actively disengaged employee. One of the best tools to create this active engagement and strong communication is through regular and routine employee one-on-ones. These meetings are extremely beneficial. In addition to building a better relationship with their managers, employees can clearly understand goals and targets, discuss strategies for improvement in a constructive and collaborative environment, celebrate victories, as well as share ideas and concerns. Beyond creating a stronger engagement (which translates to buy-in and commitment), one-on-ones create great opportunities for you to coach and mentor your employees.

Many shop owners fail to schedule regular one-on-one meetings or don’t commit to those that are scheduled. The hardest part can be just figuring out how to get started. Maybe you’ve never done them, couldn’t get into a rhythm, or don’t understand the value of them. Let’s be honest, many of you don’t enjoy talking face to face with your employees about performance or issues. Statistically by personality type, 62 percent of shop owners do not like confrontation. You may be uncomfortable dealing with conflict, performance issues, or able to listen without judgment. These meetings are not about focusing on the negative, they are about providing information to help them do their job better and to find out what they need from you to be successful. You must get comfortable with these meetings because leadership is about inspiring, influencing, and developing your staff. Your responsibility (and opportunity) is to make them better. 

Strategies for creating a successful one-on-one structure:

  • One-on-one meetings should be scheduled for the same time each week. These meetings should take no more than 15 to 30 minutes. Without being overbearing, this develops the habit and creates consistency for you and your team. Remember this meeting is to help them. The success of your business depends on the individuals on your team being successful.
  • One-on-one meetings should be the single most important meeting in your schedule and should never be cancelled. Let’s be realistic, that is not always possible. If you need to cancel a one-on-one meeting, reschedule it as soon as possible. This shows your commitment to your staff and demonstrates how important these meetings really are. Cancelling one-on-one meetings repeatedly undermines their usefulness and sends the wrong message.
  • When and where should you schedule your one-on-one meetings? The day depends on what fits best in both of your schedules. I prefer early in the week as it allows the meeting to affect the remainder of the week, as anything discussed is “top of mind” and able to be immediately implemented. I have spoken to many other shop owners that are equally committed to an end of the week meeting as it allows both parties to decompress and clear off any questions or emotions before the weekend. You will have to find what works best for you. 
  • The time of the day is equally up for discussion and really depends on your staffing levels (for coverage) and likelihood that you can be left alone without interruptions. In my own experience, I have found that if you are going to schedule the meeting during business hours you are best served to do it off-site, whether that is at a local coffee shop, a restaurant or maybe even a prolonged test drive. Whatever you agree to, though, it is essential that you remain committed and show the value of this time by being present and 100 percent attentive. Do not allow interruptions.
  • Be prepared by creating an agenda to follow. Keep it simple and concise. Initially, you may have to control and guide the conversation and questions. Over time, though, you can turn the responsibility of reporting to the agenda items over to the team members. 
  • Allow them time to discuss what’s on their mind. Follow the 70-30 rule: listen 70 percent of the time and speak no more than 30 percent. Be an active listener and concentrate on what they are saying to you. Do not listen simply to form your response or rebuttable.
  • Ask specific open-ended questions. This gets you more information and will often cause them to think and consider. This is an essential tool in teaching problem solving skills.
  • Have a notebook dedicated to your one-on-one meeting. Keep notes so you can keep yourself on track and remembering your conversations week to week shows your employees that you care, you listen, you have heard what they said and you value the time you spend with them. 

Suggestions for a killer agenda:

A great agenda is simple and clean. I suggest a five-point plan.

“How did you do on your action items from last week?”

It is important to leave each meeting with a basic agreement of the items this team member will be working on. This is specific per job role and individual. For example, a service advisor could be concentrating on a goal of one-time/mileage-based maintenance service sold on the drop-off for 30 percent of car count or a shop foreman could be working on technician productivity or average labor hours per ticket above 2.0. They would be responsible for reporting results and progress toward this goal. Obviously, this could spark great conversation of successes or challenges faced (great mentorship opportunity).

“How did the week go (in your area) to goal?”

Again, this would likely be very job description specific and you should have a very clear set of measurables or KPIs. For example, your service advisor maybe report things like: total sales, car count, conversion rate, labor hours per ticket and percentage of customers exit scheduled for their next appointment (I suggest no more than five or six key items at a time). The KPIs and measurables you track are totally up to you and the employee and they can change from time to time as you agree on new key areas to concentrate on, but the point is you have goals in place that help and employee understand what victory looks like.

“Give me something that you noticed that went really well this week.” 

It is hugely important that we get our team concentrating on bright spots and victories. Noticing things that go well rather than always dwelling on what went wrong or how bad things are. I have found the magic of the question to be profound. Initially, you will find your team members struggle to come up with something to report but knowing that they will have to report something, they will begin to start looking for, and noticing, the positives. This is an incredibly powerful question and results in a powerful perspective switch. Imagine a staff focusing on good things rather than just the next annoyance and thing to complain about. Do not wimp out and leave this key question and perspective out of agenda.

“What is something that really has you frustrated this week?”

 In contrast to the above question, we do know there will be frustrations. The worst thing that we can do is fail to recognize it and, therefore, let it fester. This is a key element of the one-on-one and maybe the area you can be most effective in coaching and mentoring. Let your team member vent, complain, whine and rant. Be the best boss and mentor you can by simply listening. Don’t counter, contradict or even try to pacify. This is about letting them work through frustrations. Often, just the simple action of talking it out will start to take the emotion off and will let a solution appear to them without you having to speak. If you have to speak, the best thing you can do is ask questions that guide them to their own solution or handling, but the simple exercise of asking questions allows them to work off the emotion that could have boiled over to the next “situation” that you would be forced to handle.

To wrap up the meeting, restate what both of you will do between meetings to help them be successful and have them clarify what the desired outcome will be. For whatever reason, this concept of staff interaction and direct one-on-ones has been intimidating for most shop owners. The best advice I can give you is just get on the path. Don’t try to make it perfect; just get it started and eventually you can work it into your own perfect plan. Hopefully the suggestions here help! The results and pay-back will be many-fold—I promise you.

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