Before he was even a customer, Rob Beattie understood the value of One on Ones. As a Sales Director for the Core Market, Professional Americas Tax & Accounting at Thomson Reuters, he manages a team of 8 front line sales managers and 130+ inside sales reps. Needless to say, he is a very busy man. But in January 2015, Rob made a resolution not just for himself, but also for the people he manages — to prioritize One on Ones. (Talk about the perfect customer!) To Rob, this meant pushing his One on Ones less often, making sure the value was for his direct report, and building better lines of communication.

I think one of his (many) LinkedIn endorsements said it perfectly: “Rob has an uncanny ability to bring out the best in individuals and to encourage personal growth, as well as a gift of knowing what it means to be a true leader of a team.”

He is chock full of advice – so much so that I think I could write several posts about him. I’ve done my best to summarize the lessons he has learned into this one and am crossing my fingers that it does him justice.

As a Manager of managers, Rob has a unique position, but keep in mind that these tips can be transferred to anyone who wants to improve One on Ones with their team.

Have an Agenda

The agenda for each meeting is set by the direct report. In Rob’s mind, he has the rest of the week to schedule meetings about whatever he wants to talk about, but for this one, the direct report is in the driver’s seat. It’s less about numbers and more about personal issues. Rob is a manager of managers, so most of the time his direct reports seek advice on challenges such as how to have the tough conversations, how to deal with conflict, and how to best communicate with other departments.

This is meeting is also an opportunity to bring up items previously discussed and to seek clarification without the pressure of other folks in the room. Rob’s direct reports frequently ask about items that may have been passed over in other meetings, but in a One on One setting it is easier to discuss, learn, and grow.

Ask the Right Questions

One of the simultaneously best and worst things about managing an inside sales team is that they are literally right there. It is easy to say, “I talk to my people every day,” but what is it that you really talk about? Freshness of conversation is a real challenge in an inside sales management role — you know a lot about these people but you don’t know what you don’t know. That is why asking the right questions (and asking them the right way) is key.

Instead of saying, “Where does your team stand this week?” he’ll say, “What is the one metric you want to show off this week?” And in place of, “What should I know about?” he asks “What metric do you wish I wouldn’t see?”

It takes the conversation from “how much”, which you can always look up in your sales reports, to “what can we do to have a better outcome?” The advantage lies in the execution of future strategy, not the regurgitation of past numbers.

Which leads me to his next point.

Assume Positive Intent

For him, this takes the conversation from having a negative tone to having a positive one. There is always one metric that isn’t as great as the others, but hey, that’s just the name of the game. By letting the report present and discuss it in a way where they can acknowledge that it isn’t stellar, but that they are working on it, takes them out of the hot seat and back into that driver’s seat we were talking about earlier.

Think of it this way: A struggling sales guy does not want to be at the bottom of the pack. It’s easy to point a finger at him and say, “you suck, do better.” It is more difficult to listen to him, identify where his positive intent is going wrong, and redirect it. More difficult, but more effective.

There is a reason you are the manager. You have the experience to guide them to the best outcome possible. If you assume the worst in people, that is what you will get. If you assume the positive, you may not always get it 100% correct, but you will get 110% effort and that is the hardest part. Everything else can be taught.

Good questions:

What did you do well?

What was the best part of that conversation?

Bad questions:

How do you think that went?

Give Them Time to Prepare

A key factor to asking the right questions is allowing the report to think about what you two are going to discuss in the meeting. According to Rob, the biggest mistake you can make is to derail the conversation by putting the other person on the defensive – even if just by accident. That is why communication regarding the brief is so important. It allows the direct report to set aside the time to prep for what’s going to happen in the meeting.

The art of the One on One must be crafted by anyone leading a team. Rob continually inspires us to think deeper, provide clear communication, and do it in a supportive way.

One on One Meetings are the best way to provide stronger communication, greater alignment, and deeper team engagement. WideAngle is One on One meeting software used by companies including General Electric, IBM, AT&T, Google, and many more to make sure One on Ones happen, are productive, and documented.