Episode 112: How to Prevent Awkward 1:1s

On this episode of What the Hell Just Happened? Paul Edwards sits down with CEDR Compliance Expert Nora Gustafson to discuss conducting one-on-ones with your employees at your workplace. How can you navigate the potential awkwardness that comes along with regular one-on-ones? Paul has several tricks to get around this common problem, plus ways you can make your one-on-ones more productive and beneficial for all that are involved. Listen as Paul and Nora analyze the situation and hash out how to go about them in a proactive and legally compliant way


Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems. 

Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want. 

Nora:     Hi, Paul.

Paul:      Hi, Nora.

Nora:     How are you doing?

Paul:      I’m doing really good today. Last time… I don’t know the order that we release our podcasts, so it may be in a future one, Nora tricked me. She’s probably the first one who has successfully tricked me. Now, I’m on high guard. Alright, Nora, what’s the question?

Nora:     Beware when you invite compliance people into your podcast…

[Nora laughs]

Paul:      I know. I can’t fake my way through anything with you guys.

[Paul Laughs]

[Nora laughs]

Nora:     I don’t think I’m gonna trick you on this one. You’re an expert. 

Paul:      That’s what someone says right before they trick you.

Nora:     You’re an expert in this area, and I really just want your guidance on this. It was honestly something that I struggled with a little bit when I managed, and it’s one-on-ones. We get a lot of new managers that hear about this, they wanna do it, and they just want some guidance on how to do it. I think functionally it probably works out a bit differently in a dental practice than it does here at CEDR,  but fundamentally it’s the same process. One issue that I would have sometimes at these meetings is, what to talk about. I like to use it as an opportunity to get closer to my employees and understand them better, see how they tick, and all that.

Paul:      Which is a really good function of a one-on-one.

Nora:     Yeah and mostly I just want to hear from them. But some people aren’t talkers. 

Paul: A lot of people arent talkers.

Nora: Yeah, so, how do you keep things from getting awkward? How do you keep the conversation flowing?

Paul:      We polled our members, our managers, and owners, all kinds of medical practices, and we were really surprised. The question we asked is:  are you doing some form of one-on-one, where we defined that your setting aside 20 to 30 minutes at least once a week or once every two weeks in order to have a conversation with an employee. 40% of our respondents said that they are actually doing these in some form or another.

And I was really caught off… I was stunned. I thought that was a super high number. It told us that it’s important. And it’s something that we’ve been doing at CEDR. I do wanna share with everybody, and you Nora, that I struggled with this at first, and my questions was exactly the same: what am I supposed to do? Some of my direct reports- and that’s who comes to you in a 1:1, so, if you’re a manager of a practice, you need to know that- you can’t have more than seven one-on-ones a week. So, that presents a challenge unto itself. Who’s gonna be the direct report, and who’s gonna be doing the one-on-ones? And you really shouldn’t be doing seven. That’s too many in and of itself.

Okay so, back to the one-on-one and what you should be doing. The first challenge is that some people don’t wanna talk that much. The second challenge is that I don’t feel a connection to everybody who’s my direct report. And that’s okay.  I don’t want to say we’re not friends, but we’re not friends. We know a little bit about each other. But really, the construct of a one-on-one, the way that I learned it, which we had someone who worked here and he introduced it and I owe him a debt for introducing it, even though it took me about three years to get them figured out- and once I got it right, it was like, Eureka. This is how I like to start the one-on-one: ‘how are you doing? What’s going on? Did your cat make it? Your cat didn’t make it? Oh no’. Just spend a minute. It doesn’t have to be about the cat. It could be about kids, a new car, a motorcycle, could be about just something personal because that’s the connection that we can have with one another. And connection is good.

And… A little bit of that in the beginning, a few minutes, sometimes its less than a minute sometimes it’s ten minutes because that’s what’s going on. That’s a good way to connect. And then I move into, what happened the last time we talked? So, two weeks ago, we talked about some business things, some projects that the person is working on, or maybe projects that I’m working on with him, and I’m in the way, and I haven’t finished my part of the project, because they’re my direct report. We’re a small business. Managers here are still doing the work of the business.

So now we’re talking about something that matters to the business and to one another. And then, we quickly segue that into whats… where we’re going future wise. So, I’m going to pick on me, if I’m not doing my part, my direct report is able to remind me that I promised I was gonna do it and I didn’t, and they’re still waiting on me. So, future planning for my next meeting, we’re gonna take care of it. 

Some other things that can happen in one-on-ones which can almost eliminate the need for corrective actions. As a manager, it’s an opportunity for me to bring up if there’s any kind of a problem.

So, my direct reports tend to be managers… most of my direct reports are managers or directors because of my role here at CEDR. I might enter into a conversation with one of them, Nora, whereby I need to talk to them because they’re not playing well with some other departments, or they expected the to take something on and they shunned it and didn’t do it, and the other departments have come back around and talked to me about it, and I’m about to tell my direct report that they don’t get to duck this, or why did you duck this. Maybe I wouldn’t use those terms.

I’d say, I heard we had this project, and it didn’t get into you the way everybody else thought you were gonna do it. Why did you think this wasn’t something that you should be working on? And then I get enlightened sometimes. Down on a more granular level, employees talking to managers, managers have an opportunity to say things like ‘you’ve been doing great at being on time’. It’s an opportunity to give positive feedback. A question I ask almost every 1:1 is, Nora, is there anything in your way? Can I get something out of your way? Is there a call I can make, or a resource that I can give you, or an approval that you’re looking for, or a new piece of software, or a piece of equipment? Any of those things.

One-on-ones, I think, are incredibly effective ways of avoiding progressive corrective coaching. You’re doing it constantly. It’s a feedback loop, it’s a real conversation. I’m trying to figure out where I would step outside of the one-on-one to have a more corrective conversation.

Nora:  Yeah, It seems like it’s nice because the employee is expecting it, so there’s no surprise in it. So, they’re used to getting the negative feedback and the positive feedback, and not just you going into their office and saying ‘you did this bad thing’.

Paul:      ‘You’re always late. You need to not be late anymore. The impact of being late is this and this stop being late.’ Honestly, folks, if you have someone who is doing something like that all the time, they shouldn’t be on the team anyway. That’s not really a big part of corrective action. but I have had to tell someone- I noticed that they were walking into my meetings 3 to 5 minutes late and that they need to cut it out. it’s not respectful to everybody else who’s in the meeting. and they’re just like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m always busy, .and I’m always a little late to the meetings’,  and I get to say, ‘not just to my meetings, but to everyone else’s meetings’. That’s a corrective action, but it’s not in the terms of, ‘you’re bad, you need to improve.’

Nora:     In this context, in this comfortable environment that they are used to. ‘I talk to Paul every weekend, this is what happens’.

Paul:      Notes are important. It’s easy to have these conversations, but if you don’t take notes,  it doesn’t become easily perpetual. it doesn’t generate energy and keep going from week to week. you need to be able to look back on what you talked about, because the main reason to do one-on-ones is to keep things moving forward, to stay connected, and to make small adjustments along the way so that nobody works on something for a month and a half, and it was a big deal, and we had a meeting, and then I forgot that we even the worked on the project, and I don’t even come back 6 weeks later and ask you how it’s going, and because I did that to you once, we always get a bunch of energy together, and we say we’re gonna do this thing, and then we’ll meet about it, and then we don’t, and things don’t get done, and you stop doing the thing because there’s no feedback going on. So, if you want to make progress, you’ve got to have something like this as a part of your organization.

Nora:     And it’s also a place for those things that pop up during the week to go. So, I would just make a note on the one-on-one sheet, ‘I’ll talk to them about this then’, and then things don’t just get skipped over all the time because you don’t have the opportunity or the time to talk to them about it. you just make the note, and then you have the time and space to have that conversation.

Paul:  Yeah! I do it all the time. so, instead of interrupting someone 14 times, I mean you already have to interrupt them 14 times for other things, but instead of adding another 14 things on top of that, you just put them in your sheet, you bring them up in the one-on-ones. Again, great momentum when you do things that way. I swear, once you figure it out, it self-perpetuates. It just keeps rolling.

Nora:     It’s efficient.

Paul:      It’s quite efficient, but it doesn’t feel that way when you say I’m gonna stop accomplishing things and just focus on another person, and on the business and what we’re up to. But again, 20-30 minutes. If this thing is 50 minutes, it’s too long. You’re not getting it right.

Nora:     The notes are also helpful for remembering what’s going on in that person’s life, taking the note that this person’s cat is sick, so you remember to ask them about it next week and build that connection. That’s helpful for me because I’m a forgetful person. 

[Nora laughs]

Paul: I am too!

Nora: And I forget to follow up with people.

Paul:      I forget to follow up with people, and sometimes I forget to do my part of projects, which I already mentioned. We’re all very busy, and in this day and age, we have so much input coming from so many different directions. I think one of the ways to be able to, you know, accomplish things and to be able to focus on people and one another, and a one-on-one is a focus between two people, whatever that looks like. Never mind the manager-employee or whatever that looks like. Honestly, Nora, there’s not enough of that, just stopping and listening, are really hearing someone. And once you practice this for a few weeks- I had to keep doing it.

So I did it and then I stopped doing it. And then someone was like, how many direct reports? I had to do seven of these a week. That’s why you hate it. I had to keep trying it, they would go away, I would bring them back, I kept going, and now I wouldn’t give up the one-on-ones for anything. I make time. Even if we just pop up on Zoom, because I have a remote direct report, and we say, ‘anything this week?’ And they go ‘nope’, and that’s the signal that I don’t need to talk, let’s just get back to work. It only happens once in five, but at least we made the effort. We set that time aside.

Nora:     They know they have that time with you.

Paul:      They know they had it and yeah it works in both directions.

Nora:     But be prepared to struggle at first.

[Paul groans]

Nora: Push through, it’s awkward. But even those times where you’re sitting there with somebody and you don’t really know what to talk about, and it’s only been three minutes and you’ve already gotten through all the things you need to talk about, it’s still a benefit, its still an add.

Paul:      End the meeting. If it only needs to be 8 minutes, and I guess that’s a good way for us to end this podcast. 

[Nora laughs]

Nora: Right.

Paul: If it only needs to be six minutes, make it six minutes. If it needs to go to 40 because there’s so much going on and it’s a productive one-on-one, go 40 minutes. 

Nora: Right, yeah.

Paul: Alright thanks for asking that question.

Nora: Yeah!

Voice Over: Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of What The Hell Just Happened? do Paul a favor; share this with your network. If you have an HR issue or a question, you’d like us to discuss on this show, send it to podcast@WTHjusthappened.com. For more HR advice and insights from Paul and his team of experts, you can also join the private Facebook group, HR Base Camp, or visit HRbasecamp.com. Make sure you tune in next week. And remember: better workplaces make better lives.

Sep 20, 2022

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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