Q. Are monthly one-to-one meetings with staff really necessary in a small organisation?
A. What's interesting is your suggestion that the needs and processes might be different in organisations of different sizes. In my view, there is no difference at all - so let's look at why I feel so strongly that this is the case and put the role of the one-to-one meeting in context.
There are three core aspects to formal performance management for staff in organisations of all sizes: setting objectives, monitoring and support, and annual appraisals. In practice, the setting of objectives is carried out as part of the appraisal process, but I personally feel that the timing of this is not always ideal.
Both parties can find the appraisal process mentally exhausting and the objective aspect is treated rather like the last agenda item of a late-running meeting - contributions are limited because everyone is desperate to get out of the room.
Also, the timing of a new strategy might not synchronise exactly with the date of the appraisal meeting. My preference has always been to have the appraisal in two parts so there is appropriate focus on each element.
Clear about progress
So we come to monitoring and support. In a small office, with an open communication style, it is so easy to think that regular chats across the desk, the answering of the occasional question and the solving of the odd problem constitute an appropriate form of monitoring and support. Sorry, but that is not the case.
It is only by taking time out on a regular basis - I believe it should be monthly but, depending on the kind of role, I could be pushed into agreeing to bi-monthly - that you can look back at the objectives, be clear about what progress has been made and check that everything is looking good for the coming months. Just as you can have that private, general discussion that is vital to a good working relationship.
This often results in issues arising that still need to be addressed, regardless of whether their effect is small or large. I know that everyone finds this a pain, but it is very important to make and share notes from each meeting, even if the style of the meeting is informal.
And yes, it is a cop-out for the manager to ask the employee to do the writing-up. And no, the final notes cannot be typed up during the meeting - it ruins the flow of any discussion and is such bad manners.
So what happens if you skip the regular one-to-one? The only time you have a formal meeting with your member of staff is when something is going wrong. And if that's the case, imagine how it makes people feel to hear the words: "Can I just have a quick word ...?"
Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant
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