Monthly Archives

November 2011

Weekly meetings like groundhog day? 10 tips to spice them up

By | Leadership, Results

Running an effective one on one meeting with staff is no easy task.  It is a leadership essential that has managers of people second-guessing their importance, relevance and benefit.  I know CEO’s who don’t even do them – leaving it to their direct reports to schedule time in their diaries if there is an ‘issue’ to discuss. Others cancel them on a regular basis, especially at the last minute, discarding their importance.  Then there are the ones who do conduct them weekly – but with no real benefit for either party. It can leave everyone frustrated and wondering what is the point?

I know for me it was a struggle to get in right – when to hold a meeting, what the agenda would be and ultimately what was the purpose.  Over time, I would change them when I felt they weren’t achieving anything significant. I remember moving them to fortnightly sessions. The results were terrible.

I was happy on one hand that I had more ‘time’ and my week wasn’t full of meetings.  However, what essentially happened was I lost touch with details and I just filled my ‘extra’ time with more “stuff” that wasn’t as important as being face to face with my team. I believed I was giving them more time to do their jobs and more responsibility to make results happen, without being a micromanager. What I missed was the golden leadership opportunity to regularly listen, praise, give feedback, share stories and bring people together. The moment I realised this – I reverted back to weekly meetings instantly and the benefits flowed.  Here’s some tips to getting the most out of one on one meetings with your staff:

  1. Weekly agenda – having a regular agenda is critical for consistency and ensuring that both parties are clear on what is going to be discussed.  Ultimately the meeting should focus on the person’s key achievements, outcomes they have produced and the activity and goals in their pipeline. I had it written on the white board in the office so we could follow it along and if we got lost or sidetracked, it gave us a clear structure to revert to.
  2. Purpose – every weekly meeting should be approached with good intent, especially if there are difficult issues to discuss.  As a leader, our role is to bring out the best in people and lift their performance to levels they didn’t even think possible.  This message can only be heard when you approach all discussions with good intent – the intent to help them perform better.
  3. Help – in all one on one meetings there should be an opportunity for the staff member to discuss any issues they feel strongly about, without it becoming a whinge fest.  It can be tricky to manage and it can be tricky to be heard without sounding like a whinger, or weak or a ‘drama queen’.  The truth is there are problems that do require a leader to listen and help you solve. However, most leaders aren’t that good at solving them – often dismissing the concern, brushing it under the carpet and hoping it will go away.  Do this too often and your people will ultimately stop talking to you.
  4. Connect to the vision – in all jobs, sometimes staff members lose their way. They forget the bigger picture of why they are doing what they are doing or how it contributes to the vision and values of the organisation.  A weekly one on one meeting is prime time to demonstrate and invigorate a staff member about their individual contribution.
  5. Commit to action together – the real magic of leadership happens in action.  When you are in the field, with a client, in a negotiation – somewhere where staff members can look up to you and learn one new thing that might enhance their own performance.  In a one on one meeting take the opportunity right then and there to book a client meeting together in the diary, book a time to have lunch together or a 20 minute coaching session for later in the week on an area your staff member is struggling with. Don’t talk about what you should do – just do it.
  6. Inspiration – the most effective one on one meetings are the ones where people walk out inspired to conquer their day, to accomplish a task that perhaps they were dreading or to make a difference somehow with someone.  This is an intangible something that great leaders know how to do – through asking the right questions, praising specific behavior or encouraging them to achieve.  The quick test – ask yourself how you feel when your staff member has left? In my experience, if you feel a bit unsure that the meeting was effective, your staff member probably feels the same way. If you feel happy and that you contributed something insightful – again they probably feel that too.
  7. Just talk – an important element to all relationship building, especially with your employees is the opportunity and interest to talk on a personal level.  This has to be authentic. You can’t fake interest.  All employees want to know their boss is human too and talking about your lives outside of work, is a well-rounding element to strengthen a relationship.
  8. Share a story – your team wants to know that you have been in their shoes.  They want to hear that you too struggled, made a mistake, hated prospecting new clients or simply weren’t perfect.  Sharing these examples will go a long way to earning respect as well as sharing ways to solve problems.
  9. Be present – if you knew the outcome of your meeting could be the difference between missing or making your budget, winning a new client or making someone’s day – would you suddenly sit up and be a bit more interested? My advice – don’t dread the weekly meeting and stop wasting time thinking about what else you have on your agenda that day. Be in the moment to make an impact.
  10. No hidden agendas – there is nothing worse than being in a meeting and knowing that something isn’t quite right.  I am a big believer in honesty about observations and sharing with good intent.  The critical piece is the delivery around how they can perform better at work and what specifically they can start or stop doing to achieve that. It’s not a game – straight conversations are critical to an effective meeting.

What I have learnt is that every employee is different and whilst the agenda gives the guide, the person must drive the tone and style so it works for them. I had one employee who was highly structured – came in all prepared – graphs, figures, pipeline activity right down to the specific questions she wanted to ask.  Then I had another who always wanted to talk about the weekend before getting into the heavy detail of her results.  Both were successful in achieving their goals to perform at a higher level, the difference was in the format and style.

If you are feeling that your meetings are lacking the impact or that you need to change it up a bit, try changing the location.  One of my clients who works in the sporting arena will take a corporate box overlooking the oval to talk to her team, another takes them to their favouriate coffee shop – or do what I did once a month – sit at their desk, in their space, on their territory. It is all about your people after all and the difference they can make to your business by being a high performing employee.

At the end of the day, if you won’t spend an hour a week with your most important asset – your people, perhaps you’re in the wrong job?

Employee retention: how to crack the code

By | Recruitment, Results, Retention

What I’ve learnt over the years is that there is no one secret ingredient to retaining staff. In my early days of running a business, I had high staff turnover and it used to drive me crazy the amount of money, effort, time and emotional energy I would invest in new recruits only to lose them within a 12-month period. A realisation that people are at the core of business success was my breakthrough moment. I became acutely aware that the right people in the right roles with the right leadership is the key to keeping them. I increased the average length of service of staff to six years in an industry that averages eight months for a typical consultant role. What I learnt translates into any business in any profession.

Recruit the right people

First and foremost, recruiting people is not easy, and picking the right person is even harder. I have done this every day in the recruitment industry for over 13 years and advise clients on how to do it better. Finding and recruiting the right people is an ongoing battle for most business owners. The key is to look beyond what’s on paper and what’s technically being said at the interview, and hire for culture and motivational fit. Forget experience and length of service in a similar role—find out what motivates them, what their values are, what they want to achieve long-term and where the best culture that they have worked in has been. Recruiting on competencies, attitude and culture are mandatory for long-term fit and retention, and far outweigh years of experience on a resume.

Believe in people

The best approach you can take as a leader is to assume that people want to perform at their best. Most people come to work to do a good job—they want to perform and succeed. As a leader you need to relate to them as a top performer, don’t expect anything less. This belief speaks volumes, builds trust, delivers results and ultimately keeps top talent on your team.

Empower others

For most business owners, you have created the business, know the ins and outs of how things are done and you probably enjoy being in control. However,  “control freaks” don’t retain top talent; they can often drive it away. Being the leader doesn’t mean making all the decisions and having an ‘I know best’ attitude. Letting go, trusting others to achieve, and supporting this learning curve will go a long way to increasing length of service.


In my business I gave people the tools and freedom to get on with the job. It’s critical to be clear on the outcomes and timeframes, but then get out of the way. People want to achieve their own goals without having to work within rigid and structured environments. Flexibility in approach, hours, and blending home and work situations instantly motivates top performers.


People want feedback—they want to know what they are doing well, so they can keep doing it. They want to know what they are not doing well, so they can stop doing it. Those thirsty for greater success and reward will want to know what they can start doing to perform at a higher level. As a leader, it is your job to recognise top performance and reinforce it, so it happens again. On the flip side, when you observe behaviour that is inconsistent, giving this feedback instantly (with good intent) will push people outside their comfort zones, which is necessary for changes in behaviour.

Professional development

Investing in your people is one of the best investments you can make. Hiring an external external coach or mentor  for an individual is a reward that can have incredible effects, such as increased performance and confidence. Paying a professional to just listen or be an external confidante is also a great way to invest upfront in new talent and prevent staff turnover. This goes a long way to reducing unnecessary replacement and re-recruitment costs, as well as increasing engagement levels and ultimately assisting in retaining key people.

Tools of the trade

It may seem a little light or trivial, but having the right tools of the trade and the right support systems in place are critical in keeping staff happy. A candidate once told me she left a job because she was promised a company car and after eight weeks of using her own car, paying for parking and petrol, she gave up on the false promise and decided to move on. Tools such as iPhones, car parks, admin support, remote access, and laptops, are now seen as essential for a lot of roles—get it right from day one to avoid unnecessary ‘misunderstandings’.


The first 90 days is an important time period for a new recruit in determining whether they stay long-term with an organisation, and day one in particular plays a key role. Who is there to greet them? Is their desk set up, are their business cards ready and is there a welcome message from the CEO? Don’t spend weeks going through a recruitment process to then spend no effort at all on the induction. This is a once-only opportunity to create a lasting impression and increase employee attachment and engagement from the first day.

Invest in your own leadership skills

A leader that is continuously learning and investing in their own professional development is more inspiring to be around. We can never know it all and we can always improve. Being authentic and transparent with your team about your own development and desire to improve will have a flow-on effect.

You can’t win them all

As much as you want all top performers to stay, sometimes it just doesn’t turn out that way no matter how hard you try and what you implement. A partner gets a transfer, a headhunter offers something an employee can’t refuse—it happens. In these circumstances all you can do is give them the best offer you have available and then wish them well if it doesn’t fall your way.

How can you retain top talent? It’s not just about money and perks, such as days off for birthdays and free yoga classes—although they’re nice and staff will appreciate them, that isn’t what gets them to stick around long-term. It’s two things in my experience—leadership and culture.

Become a better leader, have great systems and an inspiring culture. Only then can you attract the top talent that will stay.


This article has been written for Australian Physiotherapy Association’s monthly magazine “Business in Practice”.  

Nicole Underwood understands what it takes to create, build and grow a successful business. The essential ingredient is recruiting, engaging and retaining people. Great people. Top talent. High performers. As a previous finalist in the prestigious Telstra Business Women Awards, a regular blogger and entrepreneur, Nicole works with organisations to improve results through hiring and keeping the right people.