Early in my management career I had a span of control of about 20 people. Most of my direct reports were scattered around customer locations in downtown San Diego. Meeting with employees for one-on-one conversations was sometimes a challenge. Pulling them aside during busy times meant others would have to pick up the workload for 20-30 minutes in their absence, which was a constant source of stress.
Occasionally I had to have the difficult, “You’ve-got-to-change-your-behavior” talks. I am not a big fan of managers summoning people for those types of talks. It is a cliche power-play that reeks of ego and shouldn’t occur without a compelling strategic reason. Leaders go to their people.
Nonetheless, these kinds of conversations needed privacy, away from coworkers, and especially away from customers. Surely you’ve witnessed a retail manager and a site supervisor engaged in an increasingly antagonistic conversation, perhaps while sitting at a table in the corner of their establishment? It is cringe-inducing. My options were similarly limited, being stuck inside a skyscraper. Occasionally I was able to use a client’s conference room or spare office. More often, I had to improvise.
That’s when I came up with the walk-around-the-block meeting. My employee and I would take the elevator down to the lobby, step out of the building and into the fresh air. Granted, I had the blessing and pleasure of San Diego weather.
Taking a walk around the around the block for a one-on-one meeting had a few advantages over sitting in an office.
- It was unexpected and often refreshing.
- It got us up and moving, which diffused nervous energy and or anger.
- It neutralized positional power and made us peers with a common purpose.
- It changed the environment and allowed us both to see things from a different perspective.
- It gave us a deadline for the conversation. By the time we completed a lap; we had addressed the issues and agreed to next actions.
If it was going to be more complicated than one lap, we went for a two-fer. If we knew we needed still more time, we stopped by the coffee shop and committed to finishing our conversation once we finished our drinks.
One-on-one meetings frequently get overlooked or deferred, because they are inconvenient. I would argue that these conversations are, over the long term, perhaps the most important meetings you have as a manager. Honor them. Leaders don’t fall for or make excuses; they find solutions.
Karl Bimshas is an Executive Accountability Partner who helps new leaders and leaders in transition to act on purpose, not by accident. He’s the author of “How to Stay When You Want to Quit;Strategies to get over yourself“.