It’s All About the People!

It’s All About the People!

Using Developmental One-to-One’s


“It’s all about the people.” This is a favorite phrase of my members when referring to the performance and value of their businesses.Therefore,  it’s not surprising that developing people is a vital function of the CEO role.

There is little doubt that an aligned and motivated workforce is directly related to better performance, including a better bottom line. Most leaders understand this; how to accomplish it is less clear. In this blog, I discuss one important developmental methodology: the one-to-one coaching session.

Definition and Purposes of One-To-Ones

The one-to-one is a high-level conversation where you and your direct-reports set aside quality time to address long-term strategic challenges and opportunities. The one-to-one is not transactional or an update process. It is purely developmental.

Lawrence King, one of Vistage’s premier speakers, recently spoke to my three groups about CEO coaching and coaching skills.  Conducting regular one-to-one’s serve multiple purposes:

  1. To achieve better alignment with your company’s vision, mission and goals.
  2. To gain a clearer picture of how your direct-reports think and solve problems.
  3. To provide much-needed recognition for your Executives. Giving your time and undivided attention sends the message that you consider them valuable contributors to the organization.
  4. To grow your business. Businesses grow when their people grow. CEO’s need perspectives and ideas from their Executives and Key Managers to make better decisions.
  5. To provide quality time for coaching and mentoring, essential activities for building your management team.
  6. To model the behavior you want your direct-reports to exhibit with their people.

Prioritize Executive Development

In order to be effective, both the CEO and Executive must agree that the one-to-ones are essential. Schedule the meetings six months to a year in advance and write them on your calendar in indelible ink. Treat them with the same zealousness that you would a Board Meeting.

Each one-to-one should be at least one-two hours of uninterrupted time, per month for each direct-report.

Beware of over-scheduling. If you meet too frequently, the one-to-ones become totally operational. The farther apart the sessions, the more they tend to stay strategic.

Structure of the One-To-One

The Direct-Report’s Role Agenda

Each Executive is responsible for preparing a written agenda with four-eight items. These are their one-to-ones, not yours. Do not hijack the agenda! The purpose of the one-to-one is to make your direct-reports more successful. You are their resource.

The agenda should focus at least 25 percent on strategy and long-term developmental issues (both for the company and for themselves) and contain at least one opportunity to explore a topic in-depth. Teach your Executives to regularly identify opportunities, not just problems, and to think like owners and entrepreneurs.

 The CEO’s Role

Your role is to be a coach, teacher and mentor and not the primary decision maker.  To help you perform these functions, develop these skills:

1.  The  “Rules of Four”

a.  Listen four times as much as you talk. Your people will perceive that as being just about equal.

b.  Give four times as much positive feedback as critical or negative feedback. Your people will also perceive that as being just about equal.

c.  Spend four times as much time on diagnosis as solution. Avoid easy, quick answers and stay in diagnostic and exploration mode by asking open-ended questions starting with:






Avoid “why” questions because they tend to put people on the defensive.

d.  Spend four times as much time on business issues as personal.

e.  Spend four times as much time with your top performers as with your bottom performers.

 2.    Be empathetic.

Attempting to see the world through the other person’s eyes will dramatically change the interaction in a positive manner.

 3.    Be respectful.

Be slow to understand, so that you can uncover the real issue and show the other person respect. Avoid sarcasm (humor that puts down or demeans the person with whom you’re talking), as it is thinly disguised hostility.  Real humor is a good communication tool, but few can use it properly.

 4.    Be flexible with your communication style.

Everyone has a natural style of communicating.  The challenge is recognizing and changing your natural style when necessary.

 5.    Use positive Non-verbal behavior.

Know your non-verbal style, including your strengths and limitations. Again, flexibility is your ally.

 6.    Use empathetic listening.

Empathetic listening is a major component of coaching and communicating. Even though many people consider CEOs to be poor listeners, the opposite can be true when the following three conditions are met:

a.      You have quality time (no interruptions or distractions) for the conversation.

b.      You respect the person with whom you are working.

c.      You take personal responsibility for hearing what the other person is saying.

 7.    Challenge your Key Executives

Challenge your key people to move outside their comfort zones (technical/functional ability) and move toward leadership roles. A major challenge for Key Executives (as well as the rest of us) is that we can become victims of our own success. We want to continue doing what has worked for us in the past. We don’t grow when we stay in our comfort zone.

Commit to Action:

At the end of each one-to-one, create an action plan with mutually agreed-upon action steps, including deadlines and expected outcomes. Write them down and review them at the next one-to-one.

To Grow, Implement One-to-Ones Throughout the Organization

A major bottleneck to any company’s growth is a stagnant middle management. To overcome this obstacle, Senior Executives must conduct the same one-to-ones with their direct-reports as they receive from the CEO.

“For growth to occur, decision-making is pushed further and deeper into the company,” says King. “That means more decisions, better decisions and quicker decisions, contributing to a culture with a strong sense of urgency. It also allows for a major strategic differentiation of speed with quality, a leading contributor to the scalability of the business.”

The Value of Developmental One-To-One’s

King summarizes the value of the developmental one-to-ones: 

Ultimately, your growth as a CEO and Business Leader will come from doing less, thinking more, and coaching others to step up to the plate and take on more. You have to run the business, but you don’t have to get buried in all the operational details. To maximize your performance as CEO, use the one-to-one process to get clarity with your direct reports, coach them to better performance, and provide the accountability and calibration they need to get the job done. In doing so, you free up your time and energy to become a better strategist, ambassador and inventor. 

Make a real commitment over the next six months to a year to complete one-to-ones with your quality performers.  That alone can make a major difference in both your company and your personal life. You need good people spread throughout your entire organization, not just one or two quality people toward the top. 

Someone once said that everyone cannot be above average.  That is true. You want the people who are less than average working for your competitors and the ones who are above average, working for you!”

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1 thought on “It’s All About the People!”

  1. Chris Moore says:

    Great information Cheryl – Thanks for posting it!!
    For me, the written agenda has been such an important component of a productive one-to-one, to help me stay focused on the bigger developmental areas (not the tactical/operational ones) with my direct reports. And when I find myself “hijacking” the meeting, the agenda gets me back on track.

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