In the game of baseball, the first and third base coaches use their deep knowledge of the game to tell runners when to run, stay or steal the next base. In much the same way, workers need lots of direction, nurturing and communication from their supervisors in order to play their “A-game.”
At The C.A. Lawton Co., weekly one-on-one meetings with all employees have become a key element in cultivating remarkable people. In this interview, human resources manager Lori Goemans explains how they work, what makes them unique compared to most companies, and their power as a recruiting and retention tool.
How long has Lawton been doing these weekly one-on-ones between employees and their supervisors?
Lori: They were rolled out about 18 months ago and have had varying degrees of participation. About a year ago, we set an expectation that all employees will receive a weekly one-on-one meeting. The latest evolution is that they are now measured and reported weekly. That started several months ago.
What makes these meetings truly unique is that the employee goes first and he or she controls the agenda. When they are finished, the supervisor has the floor for whatever amount of time is left. It’s an opportunity for each of them to ask questions, discuss progress and talk about development. It’s also an opportunity for supervisors to learn about their employees, both on a professional and personal level.
Are these meetings connected to Lawton’s LEAN initiative? Or is it more a case of doing them because “it’s the right thing to do?”
Lori: They’re not really tied to the LEAN initiative. Employees want more communication. This is a way for them to receive weekly communication and feedback from their supervisor. They also function as a “safe place” where they can raise any issues or ask any questions they may have.
What’s the goal for the number or percentage of one-on-one meetings completed each week?
Lori: Our current target is 85% completion. We typically reach in the upper 90s to 100% completion each week.
That’s outstanding! What types of issues get surfaced in these meetings?
Lori: Employees ask a myriad of questions of their supervisors. They vary from wage increases to what their priorities are for the day or week. Sometimes it’s personal stuff that they have going on. This time is designed so that supervisors can answer their questions as well as get to know them on a personal level. This is also an opportunity for supervisors to give positive feedback or do some coaching on areas that need improvement
Supervisors also use this time to share the “information waterfall” that is distributed weekly by Lawton’s leadership team. This is what’s going on at the high level and where the company is at with customers, strategic plans, or whatever else may be a hot topic. Employees need to be able to see the big picture in order to feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. We want all employees to be in the loop. They’re part of the Lawton family.
Do you provide any training to help managers be effective listeners and facilitators?
Lori: We use The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman as our playbook for supervisors. They have a book that specifically talks about one-on-one meetings and the best way to do them. They also have excellent podcasts on many topics related to managing people.
All managers have an Effective Manager book, most have gone through training regarding it, and all have access to the podcasts.
What tangible and intangible results are you seeing from these one-on-ones?
Lori: I’ve spoken with employees about them and the feedback is generally very positive. It’s a huge time commitment from our supervisors, but they already see the value of them. It may be difficult to carve out the time each week, but they are committed to do it because they can see that they work.
Lawton is undergoing a major transformation. That must make some employees nervous and uncertain about the future. How do these one-on-one meetings help?
Lori: The one-on-ones give employees an opportunity to talk about their fears with their supervisor. It’s their time to discuss whatever is weighing heavily on their mind. Because we have a small supervisor-to-direct reports ratio, they are able to build that trust and working relationship to the point where they feel comfortable asking those types of challenging questions.
The economy is at full employment right now. The ability to attract and retain top-notch talent is critical. How do these one-on-ones help you hold onto the best people?
Lori: The fact that they provide a forum to discuss employee concerns really helps. At many companies, you don’t have that freedom. In that kind of environment, employees tend to feel isolated and unappreciated.
At Lawton, the supervisor and their direct reports can talk about the future, the employee’s career path ambitions, what kind of cross training they may want, and more. It also give supervisors the floor to discuss performance and how the employee can improve or give feedback on the improvements he or she has made in his or her work.
Since it’s not something we made up internally, there is a book and there are guidelines and best practices we stick to. This helps employees who move into leadership roles make that transition a little easier. Having standard work practices to follow makes learning any new job or taking on new responsibilities much easier.
How do these one-on-one meetings help you recruit excellent people?
Lori: When we do interviews with potential employees, we talk about the weekly one-on-ones. Everyone thinks it’s great that we do them and that they will have weekly time with their supervisor if they’re hired.