A couple of weeks back, I was speaking with some of my friends. They were facing severe challenges in their organization and they wanted to schedule a one-on-one meeting with their CEO to talk about them. To their dismay, they found it virtually impossible to get face time with the CEO. The CEO kept rescheduling or simply didn’t turn up for their meetings or was busy and so on.
I started wondering why this was happening. One-on-One meetings, especially if your employees request them, should be considered important. Unfortunately, this CEO – and I’m sure many other leaders – don’t seem to consider employee one-on-ones as a good use of their time. Perhaps they assume these meetings would be crib sessions. Maybe they worry that they won’t be address their concerns effectively thus impacting their credibility. Maybe they feel it’s much simpler to adopt the ostrich strategy (head in the sand) till the ‘issue’ goes away.
What leaders miss however is that one on one meetings with employees who don’t report to you are a valuable data point– and not a HR or ‘soft’ activity.
Ignoring this data point means the leader is ignoring gathering data about alignment with strategy, leadership challenges, training gaps, security issues, and maybe even integrity or fraud information. All of these are key to achieving success (or avoiding failure) for the organization – especially around strategy and vision alignment. There is research that has suggested that, on average, only 7% of employees understand and are aligned with organization’s vision. So by ignoring this data point, they are setting their organization up for failure in future.
Granted, sometimes these meetings will be cribbing sessions and sometimes you won’t be able immediately provide a solution. But that’s OK – sometimes your employees just feel the need to be heard. An effective leader should be able to distinguish between unjustified complaints and valid concerns anyway. I realize that it may be impractical for CEOs of very large organizations to do this in a regular and meaningful way, but she should try to take as many of these meetings as often as possible.
The value of these meetings increases exponentially if the organization doesn’t collect / collects minimal data. If data is not being collected, key decisions would, in all likelihood, be based on feedback and opinions of folks who report to / are in close contact with the leader. This would, by definition, be a very small set of people. These people may not be bad, but there is a significant risk that decisions are then based on incentive, biases and perceptions of this very small set of employees.
So, as a leader, there is a good chance that you may be operating in an echo chamber!
To be effective, leaders need to make sure they have an ear to the ground with these informal connect meetings – preferably set up at random without any confirmation biases – so avoid meeting with the people who will be guaranteed to agree with them. These meetings should start on an assurance that the meeting is completely confidentiality and there is no hidden agenda.
With millennial’s, who are usually vocal about their views, forming larger chunk of employee population, I urge leaders to not shy away from these meetings! Be there, be completely present and open to listening!
After all, who knows what insights and innovations are hiding in the minds of people you never engage with.