I am a huge believer in the value of one-on-one sessions as a morale-building and personal development tool. In my opinion, it is essential for effective management and so I think if your meetings don't seem meaningful right now then you need to do everything in your power to make them meaningful.
One-on-one time with the people who report to you are one of your primary viewpoints into the level below you. If your meetings aren't going well that could point to serious problems:
- Lack of Direction - Do your associates understand the purpose of these meetings? Do you?
- Rapport problems or low morale - Do your direct reports feel as though they cannot communicate with management? Are they fearful there might be retaliation if they say the wrong thing?
- Role Stagnancy - Are your processes so ingrained that everyone just follows rote behavior? Are your employees really challenging themselves to improve processes and look for new opportunities? Has everyone defined challenging SMART goals?
- Career Myopia - Do your people have (written) development plans for their future? Are they encouraged to keep up with latest trends in the industry? Do you, as their manager, know their interests and desires?
One of the biggest warning signs that one of the above could be a problem is that fact that you are only devoting 10 minutes a month to these topics. That's barely enough time to ask the associate what they had for lunch yesterday. Your meetings should be, at minimum, a half-hour long... and for those star employees or those who feel the need to talk, you should feel free to spill over into a full hour if necessary.
Ultimately, you need to get your finger on the pulse of the team and figure out what's going on so you can rejuvenate this valuable tool. Here are a few ideas:
1) Remind everyone why you have these meetings
One-on-ones are supposed to be "me time" for the associate. It shouldn't be a status meeting to figure out what they have been working on. It shouldn't be a sounding board for you to communicate memos (although you will occasionally use it for such). It is the one opportunity a month where the associate gets to set the topic and discuss with (or even complain to) the boss about what is going on in their work life.
Remind your people that you are here to solve the people-problems and the bureaucratic hurdles that give them day-to-day headaches. Tell them you want to help them but you need their input. Then seriously... shut up and listen. Take notes... repeat back what you hear and take action. Once your people are clear that this is their time, trust me.. they'll start opening up.
2) Leverage other management tools to get a beat on the pulse of the team and then refer to those topics to get the conversation started
If your people aren't talking to you.. don't let them off of the hook! Discuss what is happening on the team, in the business, in the industry. Do whatever you have to, to get that conversation started. How do you know what's going on with the team if your people aren't talking to you? Try these management tools:
- Introduce a required (10-minute max) written monthly status report from each associate of their last month accomplishments, next month plans, and overall worries
- Send out infrequent department surveys to the team to gauge how employee morale is. Use an anonymous online tool like SurveyMonkey and use techniques that won't force your associates to reveal their identities (like the "strongly agree, agree, no opinion, disagree, strongly disagree" questions)
- Make sure your team has an anonymous "complaint box" where associates can communicate problems without fear of being ostracized or retaliated against
- Make sure the team has an "idea box" where they can submit ideas for team improvement
- Hold routine quarterly team meetings where you can discuss relevant company and team topics together as a group
3) Write down some leading questions and bring them to every meeting.
For those introverts where conversation can sometimes be painful, be prepared to lead the conversation but do so in a way where you illicit real responses. You ultimately want to develop a rapport with your people but if this doesn't happen naturally then do what you would do in an interview with a stranger: prepare some questions beforehand! Here are some examples:
- What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the job?
- What teams/customers do you enjoy working with? Who causes you problems?
- What areas of your job do you have a handle on? What areas worry you?
- Where would you like your career to be next year? What about 5 years?
- What parts of the business would you be interested in cross-training?
- What new topics in the industry excite you? Do you see opportunity for bringing new practices to the team?
4) If you haven't already, require your associates set annual goals and a development plan and use these meetings to go over their progress.
You want to be careful here because you don't want the one-on-one to turn into a status meeting (really there are better tools for that available). But you do want your associates to be thinking about long term strategy, setting annual goals and where they sit on their development plan.
Require your team have defined developmental goals alongside their company-based goals and keep them honest about their progress. If your associates don't have immediate needs during their one-on-ones then turn the meeting into an opportunity for reflection and motivation.