The results from all my time spent in 1-on-1 meetings are ugly. The math doesn’t seem to add up: hours in =/ equal productivity out.
Managing sales consultants in the recruitment business, 1-on-1’s are one of the key tools for growing a sales-oriented organization. I’ve been in a position to lead 1-on-1’s for a bit over 15 years now. Though I’ve invested so much time in these 1-on-1’s over the years, it didn’t seem to produce results in a ratio that I’d classify as overly productive.
The back-of-the-napkin math:
15 years x 48 weeks x 1-on-1 Once a week x 4 members on average x 60 minutes = 172,800 minutes
That’s a lot of time. And probably pretty conservatively estimated. At some points, I had as many as 18 direct reports. I’m sure there were plenty of meetings that ran over the allotted 60 minutes. With more junior staff, I’d hold them twice a week.
1-on-1 meetings – A waste of time?
So was it all worth it?
I guess there is no alternative.
I’m sure the setting of direction, tasks, checking in, trying to mentor, give semi-real time feedback, keeping the members accountable all played some sort of positive role. But I have a lingering feeling that, for many members, all that time spent increased performance only marginally, or kept them a bit more engaged.
It didn’t lead to the kind of improved and consistent performance that would’ve helped the team and organization achieve their goals.
Why such a weak correlation between time spent on 1-on-1’s and performance? Because I didn’t know their individual motivators. No matter how good of a manager I thought I was, no matter how much I cared, if I didn’t know what intrinsically drove them I couldn’t speak their language.
I had my own set of intrinsic motivators, which became my default style for trying to motivate the team. But only a subset of the people I managed and mentored over the years had similarly overlapping motivations. The rest had very different motivators, which could be satisfied in an environment I wasn’t creating. I couldn’t get the best out of them.
What motivates someone?
Usually I would figure out what motivates someone, through trial and error, about 12 to 18 months in to working together– right around the time that many members left the organization. In recruiting quite a few people didn’t make it past the 18 month mark.
And that 18 month time frame is for those that have relatively straightforward motivations, maybe 1 or 2 “Need to Have”. If someone is complicated and has a bunch of “Need to Have” it would take longer to figure out their buttons, and in several cases I never did.
One woman I managed several years ago is a perfect example. Attuned didn’t exist back then, but her motivational profile was something like this:
She came in motivated, and worked really hard.
But in our 1-on-1’s, I was typically trying to extend her performance through a competitive approach. “Let’s challenge you to hit higher KPI’s this week,” “Last week was good, but you can do even better, let’s build on that,” “You did really well last week how about trying to set the record for KPI’s for a new starter?” A lot of things like that. Because competition is a big intrinsic motivator for me, it became the default approach.
Hitting a wall
Well pretty soon we hit a wall. Her performance plateaued. She seemed to be putting in the effort, wanted to be in the job, and the organization. But the results were just barely above acceptable. There was promise, but it didn’t seem like I could get it out of her.
Even though I tried different approaches I couldn’t seem to consistently create incentives and an environment that would bring out her best performance. We were in a 1-on-1 rut.
We continued to have weekly 1-on-1’s for the 18 months or so that she stayed in the organization. Her overall performance was “ok”, but she really didn’t contribute to the growth of the team. She probably barely returned over the time and investment in to her. It was a wash. Should I not have hired her? Had I known her motivations, maybe not. Should I have let her go early? Nah, she worked hard, was reliable, had a good heart, and I believed in her. But the 70+ hours or so of time spent in 1-on-1’s probably could have been used a lot more productively elsewhere. I imagine she had equal degrees of frustration.
Then there is another case of a very highly motivated guy, who probably had a motivational profile like this:
He always performed very well and was a very hard worker, but I could never figure out what drove him.
I’d try my best in the 1-on-1’s and I’m sure I touched on some of his drivers, but I also missed a whole bunch for long chunks of time because they were motivators that didn’t mirror my own.
Speaking a different language
Over the couple years we spent working together (maybe a 150 hours of 1-on-1’s), a lot of time misused or wholesale unnecessary, because I was speaking a different language and not focusing on the things important to him.
In the recruiting business that I’ve grown up in, and love, I’ve hired a lot of people over the years with many that didn’t stick. With all of them that reported to me we shared a lot of time together in 1-on-1’s.
A lot of that time was wasted.
I’m not a big believer in maximizing every moment of your working day. Some of the best thoughts, and real conversations happen in those in between moments of trying to be productive.
But if I stop and think about how the 2,880 hours or so I’ve spent in 1-on-1’s over 15 years (that’s 60, 24 hour days of my life in 1-on-1’s, 2 full months of doing nothing but 1-on-1’s), have had little benefit, it’s pretty demoralizing.
We felt there had to be a better way, and the time and frustration debt created by all these not-really-useful 1-on-1’s is why we created Attuned.
Now there is a way to instantly know your team’s intrinsic motivations. You can speak their language. Adjust your style to their needs. Set up incentive systems that resonate with them.
It’s a shame that this tool had to come so late in my career. I still spend several hours a week in 1-on-1’s, but they feel so much more productive than all those times before. Maybe for the first time everyone on the core team around me is heading in the same direction, fully motivated. Now that’s a beautiful thing.