Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Power of the 1 to 1

Up until now, much of the content of these articles has been about the 'public' aspects of leadership: Creating an inspiring vision, developing a culture and ethos that makes the vision feasible, inspiring and motivating the people throughout the organisation to make it happen. All crucial stuff. A visible, inspiring leader who symbolises the ethos and lives the vision is an enormously important factor in leading a successful organisation.

But this 'collective' and 'whole organisation' stuff can only take you so far on its own.

As a wise person once said (and I've no idea who it was),
'organisations change one person at a time'.

To make the vision real and deliver the goals, to make real performance improvement happen, you have to engage with each person face-to-face and toe-to-toe.

Most especially, this has to happen at line management level. While most staff, to varying degrees, have a commitment to the organisation and maybe even to the leader (especially if you have a goodly amount of 'referent power' - see elsewhere); for most of us, it is our direct relationship with our 'boss' that drives our efforts day-to-day.

So, that indicates the need for every line manager to:
  • Engage constantly with their people to bind them to the vision and the performance necessary to deliver it

  • Articulate the performance standards sufficiently to leave each individual absolutely clear what your expectations are for every aspect of their work

  • Hold every individual accountable for their performance, every day, week and month

  • Review that performance frequently, to make it real and enable you to work to support each individual to improve in every key area

In my experience, the best vehicle for this is the 1 to 1 (or 1:1, or 121 - however you want to write it).

For this engagement in performance to cascade throughout the organisation to every 'performer', it needs to be consistently articulated, translated and targeted through the line. I have found that a 2-weekly 121 of no more than 30 minutes can transform performance at the sharp end. The return on time invested is typically very positive - and usually far, far greater than the return from other, larger 'meetings'.

As a senior manager, your responsibility is to begin that cascade. Clearly articulating the vision and associated performance expectations to your own 'reports' and holding them to account for transalting that effectively to the next level. One of the most significant 'competence standards' in the UK National Occupational Standards (NoS) for Management states that an effective leader:

'articulates a compelling vision that generates excitement, enthusiasm and commitment' and goes on to underpin this by asking a leader to:

'Make complex things simple for the benefit of others' and to 'constantly seek to improve performance'

The 121 is a very powerful way to do all these things and to continually reinforce them. Whatever a leader might say about vision in public, it is your day-to-day behaviour that tells people whether your mean it; whether its 'real'.

The frequent 121 can 'make it real' for every one of your manager reports. It can also enable you to drive, monitor and evaluate the way they have handed-on the baton to their reports in their own 121.

Make no mistake; unless we can make this happen every couple of weeks for every individual - so that every person is constantly reminded and held to account for the performance we require to deliver the vision and goals, then we are kidding ourselves and the vision really is (as the more cynical may already believe) just something that's there to impress the customers and be put in a nice frame in the foyer.

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