Lisa Kramer March 24 2022

Conversations that count

Principal consultant, Lisa Kramer, discusses the importance of '1-2-1' conversations in your organisation...

“I know we have cancelled our 1-2-1 meeting a couple of times now, is it still going ahead on Wednesday, I can see you are busy? says the line report.

“I am so sorry, I have got to cancel again this week, let’s have a 5-minute check-in and then maybe rearrange for next month? says the line manager.

Sound familiar?

Those ‘1-2-1’ conversations, that stretch and develop our staff, are more often than not been pushed to one side whilst more pressing conversations about the ‘actual work’ takes priority.

Why does this matter? Surely getting the work done is paramount to any organisation?

Yes, it is true. Getting the work done is important. But, aside from the disappointment that one inevitably feels (‘deprioritised’) we are missing the chance to grow and develop our staff in a way that can ultimately help the organisation.

To grow an organisation, so that can reach strategic aims and achieve the mission, it is imperative that people in the organisation are contributing effectively and performing well so they can contribute as much as possible in their role, to the organisation (at times they will be working consistently at their peak ability, in their ‘stretch zone’, albeit not indefinitely as this would cause premature burnout.

As we schedule more and more into our working day, jumping from one online meeting to another, the vast majority of conversations between line managers and line reports end up as being ‘transactional’ conversations (i.e., a ‘can you do this for me by this deadline’ conversation), and the ‘transformational’ conversations (the developmental ones) get pushed aside for more immediate matters.

Transactional conversations are important but transformational conversations are the ones that really count, as they enable people to really shift perspective, increase their understanding about themselves and move their performance into a higher/ different/ more productive space.

How can a leader/manager do this?

Leaders are expected to drive excellence and ambition in the organisation, engaging others on the journey. Much of this takes transformational-style conversations and this partially involves leaders finding their ‘inner coach’. So, at times you need to move your mindset from a transactional one (what can this person do for me/ what do I need to do for them) to a transformational one - that is more strategic and explorative (i.e., with a growth mindset). This helps to unlock another person’s potential to maximise their performance. (If this happens at all layers in the organisation there will be a positive knock-on effect of enhance performance throughout your organisation).

Sounds interesting. Practically speaking, how can this be done?

If you are a manager with any line management responsibility, and you want to try having a transformational style conversation with someone in your team, try following a simple 5 stepped approach, called CLEAR.

Step 1:

C – for contracting. For a conversation to count you must make good use of every minute you have together, so you need to set the scene from the outset by setting a clear focus for the meeting. You might want to say something like, we have 1 hour together, what would success look like to you by the end of this meeting?

Step 2:

L – for listening.In a transformational conversation to count, you must actively listen to what is being said. Most people think they are ‘active’ listeners, but that is often not the case. Most people hear what they want to hear, and they are not able to reflect what they have heard in a way that builds growth and transformation. Active listening is a good skill worth mastering.

Step 3:

E - for Explore.It is during the exploration phase that people can shift their perspective, increase their understanding of themselves and move their performance into a different space.

Step 4:

A – for action.Towards the end of the transformational conversation, move into a transactional-type conversation, whereby you set clear expectations of who is to do what before you next meet. You could also practice in the session what the next course of action would be, so questions like, ‘let’s run through how you would do that'.

Step 5:

R - for review.This is a space at the end of the session to ask each other what has worked and what would be more effective to do next time. This shows that you are committed to ensuring all the conversations you have with each other are conversations that count. Also, after the session, make notes (or follow up via email) about the interaction that took place, outline the process and the agreed next steps. This shows that the conversation you had was important enough to document, you are interested in the outcome and are willing to follow up with its progress.

What now?

It seems simple enough, but many leaders shy away from having these types of transformational conversations even though they know that they can make a positive difference to their team and to the wider business. If you feel like this, it is worth remembering:

1) being fully present in the conversation,

2) listening through active, non-judgemental listening and

3) by offering some open questions (such as why, what do you think, how would that work) that prompts your colleague to find the solution

It is also worth remembering that the onus of responsibility does not lie entirely with the leader.

Managing upwards

If you report into someone, there are occasions when you need to ‘manage upwards’ (i.e. helping your line manager to line manage you).

How can this be done?

When you do meet make sure you have a good mix of transactional conversations and transformational conversations. For the latter, when you set aside for a 1-2-1 have an agenda set, with a clear learning and development plan that you would like to see implemented (e.g. you might have identified a training need, so ask to attend a training course, making a business case for it is likely to help), or ask for cross-collaboration projects if you want to raise your profile across the business and network more). Whatever your ambitions are, be bold and make sure they happen.

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