From my experience, companies can make a step change in their individual, team and ultimately organisational performance. And save money from employing external consultants. By doing one thing: having dedicated 1:1 conversations with the people they lead. To build collective understanding. And systematically review performance and progress.

And from working with leaders, it seems it is the one thing they are reluctant to do. Here are the three most common responses:

“I see them every day so we don’t need to have formal 1:1s”.

The informal, spontaneous interactions we have on a daily basis are the glue of organisational life.  However, the danger is that often conversations can remain at a somewhat superficial level. You know the ones. Where we end up trading facts and opinions. Or when we talk nice or talk tough. Usually about the transactional task or project at hand.  In those, there is little space to have real dialogue. To talk strategically about one’s development and motivation. Or to explore working relationships and goals.

“I have got so many people, I can’t know them all”. 

This makes my heart sink.  As we go up the leadership pipeline, what we value and how we spend our time, has to be people.   It may not require you to know each individual intimately. But it is your people that are making things happen. So surely you want some understanding of what makes them tick.  To know why they are prepared to turn up day after day to work.

One manufacturing director came away from a programme recently with the action to meet with every individual at his plant.  He had been inspired by Andy Dickson, Head of Global Solutions at Impact. Andy had shared  his ideas about creating a ‘Great Place to Work’. He talked about the time he had a 1:1 with every member of his UK team, direct and indirect reports.

He revealed how it was a fundamental moment for him in his leadership.  This 30 minute conversation commitment helped to build his own understanding of the people and organisation he was leading.  Because he invited them to disclose. And he listened.  It is no surprise to any of us, that we all want to be heard. A conversation that does that will always transform us.

“Yes, I have 1:1s – at every annual performance review”:

For many, the annual performance review is the first 1:1 for the entire year.    How one views it is highly individual. We either drag our feet or skip along to it. Or something in between.  More often it is the former.  Many 1:1s can feel like you are ‘going through the motions’.  That is, undertaking a process that has to be executed. Rather than what it really can offer.  The opportunity to step back and reflect deeply on experiences. Of learnings and ways forward.  We know from experience that leaders often find it difficult to nurture the time, energy and discipline to have even biannual or annual review conversations with the people they lead. The prospect of having 1:1 conversations quarterly, monthly or fortnightly, is for some, unthinkable.  Which quite frankly, is a shame and wasted opportunity.

Fears and turning up

There are many reasons why leaders do not have 1:1s.  Besides the obvious one of time, there are often fears at play.  Of being overwhelmed. Or ill-equipped. Of just being plain uncomfortable with the intimacy or intensity of a person to person conversation.  Or not being in control with the unpredictability of actually dropping into a real dialogue.. The reasons are as individual as we are, but there are many reasons why regular formal conversations alongside the spontaneous and informal, are critical.   They are the only real route to creating engagement. For generating ideas. And building understanding and releasing potential.  The best thing we can do is to set the intention to turn up for these conversations. Prepared and in our best state. And let the possibilities unfold.

So here’s a challenge: undertake regular 1:1s with your people, and see what difference they make in performance.  And let us know about it.


  • this article was also gifted to 
  • photo by dear friend Cathy Teesdale at
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