Leadership Caffeine™—The 4 C’s + D Formula for Great One-on-Ones

I’m on record describing one-on-ones as some of the most valuable real estate on a manager’s calendar. These sessions are opportunities to engage, share ideas, identify plans to eliminate obstacles and frankly, in this stressful world, just connect. Unfortunately, from my workshop and client surveys, the manager and employee one-on-ones are some of the most frequently canceled or misused meetings.

This is a problem.

Note to managers everywhere: one-on-ones with your team members are not discretionary, optional, or expendable. Skip lunch, cancel that status update, connect early or late, just connect. If you are building value into these sessions as outlined below, you both will be excited for the opportunity to engage.

The Four C’s of Great One-on-Ones:

Busy managers need a simple device to remember how to frame one-on-one discussions with team members. Clients describe the Four C’s formula as effective and easy to use.

Use One-on-Ones for

1. Context

The focus here is on reminding your team member why their work matters. Spend time showcasing how their priorities fit into the group’s/function’s priorities and look for opportunities to leverage and obstacles to remove. We do our best work when we have context for it, and your reinforcement here is essential.

2. Connection

While “context” breathes life into daily work and a person’s key activities, Connection is about tying the work to the bigger picture. Spend time reviewing KPIs and organizational goals and sharing updates on your firm’s strategy with your team members. Use this time to review their work on their big goals (rocks) and share ideas and insights.

And yes, particularly in remote working situations, the term Connection also means just that—to connect. Try my favorite question for this: How are you? Or, a sibling: How are you doing? Make sure to listen fiercely and dial-up your empathy. If someone is having a tough time, you serve as a pressure relief valve or a workplace life ring.

3. Coaching

Effective managers are always coaching on the fly (based on observation). Yet, one-on-ones offer opportunities to slow down and identify what’s working for the individual and where additional support, training, or experience might help. While you never want to save up feedback—it’s best served as close to the observed behavior as possible—one-on-ones are ideal for reviewing the progress on issues identified in prior feedback conversations.

4. Career

Contrary to the formal evaluation, goal setting, and career discussion schedule found in many firms, real career support occurs on-the-fly and opportunistically.

If you observe someone fired up about a particular project, use part of the one-on-one to explore the individual’s interest in doing more of that specific activity. Your team member who loves learning or thrives as part of a group might want more of this type of work. Use one-on-ones to compare notes and identify opportunities that appeal to their interests.

The Ever-Important “D” of Great One-on-Ones


Great one-on-ones like quality feedback and coaching sessions are always a dialog. Learn to use questions as your primary toolset and show your genuine curiosity about the experiences and challenges of your team members. Spend more time asking and listening than talking, and your team member will feel respected and valued. And you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn about them and the challenges in the business.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s easy to remember: context, connection, coaching, and career. Add the “d” for dialog, and you’ve got the blueprint for quality one-on-one sessions. Now, just make sure you’ve got the frequency portion right. Ask your team member how often they want to connect in these sessions and follow their guidance. Let them know you are there for them. And make sure you adjust your calendar to fit their needs. After all, one-on-ones are your responsibility for their benefit.

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