One-on-One Meetings for Customer Success

By Kristen Hayer

A weekly one-on-one (1:1) meeting with each of your direct reports is one of the best management tools you can employ. These meetings are critical for building relationships, understanding how team members are performing, and getting a feel for the challenges your team is facing. I’ve tried a wide variety of formats for 1:1 meetings in different leadership roles and with different kinds of teams. There were some wins and fails along the way, and through that I’ve found a format that works well for customer success groups. 

If you’re been promoted into a manager position, are heading up a new team, or are considering implementing 1:1 meetings for the first time, here’s my recommended approach to CSM one-on-one meetings.

Start with Goals

If you’ve been reading The Success League blog for a while you know that I strongly believe that solid goals are the basis of a highly effective team.  They are also the basis of a great 1:1 meeting.  A primary objective of this meeting should be to see how your team member is performing against their goals, and learn what you can do to help and coach them.  Without strong goals, you can still get the benefit of relationship building from these meetings, but they won’t be as productive.

A word about goals: Goals are something you’re responsible for as the leader of the team.  They aren’t something you sit around and wait to receive from your boss or executive team.  If you do get goals from your boss, wonderful!  You’re one of the lucky ones.  If not you’ll need to make your own team goals and work to align them with the goals of your company.  For ideas on how to get started here’s a post I wrote about goals for success teams.

Stick to a Schedule

This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way when I was a new manager.  As a busy leader, I would often reschedule or cancel my 1:1 meetings and assume my team would understand that my crazy schedule was a part of my job.  It took several brave team members telling me how they felt about it to help me understand that the most important part of my job was them.  Whenever I rescheduled or cancelled our meetings they felt undervalued and unappreciated; the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish with 1:1 meetings.

The second major objective of 1:1 meetings is building relationships with the members of your team.  In order to accomplish this, the meetings really do need to be weekly.  When was the last time you built a meaningful relationship with someone you only engaged with every other week or once a month?  Get these meetings on the calendar, every week, at a time you can really commit to.

Standardize the Agenda

Establishing a rhythm in your 1:1 meetings is important, to make them both efficient and effective.  If your agenda is the same each week, you and your team member will be able to plan for the meeting and be prepared with any materials you need to discuss.  The other advantage of a set agenda is that it shifts the emphasis from gathering information and presenting to discussing issues and problem solving together.  Over time, this will create a richer relationship and open the door to deeper discussions about career and personal development.

If you look online you’ll find many suggested agendas for 1:1 meetings.  More important than the specific agenda items is that you have an agenda and stick with it, so find what works best for you and your team.  One resource I really like is the Manager Tools podcast, and they recommend a slightly different agenda than mine.  I have found the following to be most effective with CSM teams:

  1. Discuss goals and performance (CSM leads)
  2. Discuss bottlenecks and challenges (CSM leads)
  3. Discuss specific customer issues (CSM leads)
  4. Coaching and problem-solving(Manager leads)
  5. Career development (Dialog)

They Bring the Data

When I started doing 1:1 meetings as a new manager I would spend a tremendous amount of time preparing for each meeting, pulling metrics on each of my team members and building a document to show people how they were performing.  I would be really frustrated when, the very next week, they didn’t remember any of the data I had shown them and hadn’t accomplished the action items we discussed.

What I learned is that in order for your team members to feel ownership for their goals, and to truly understand their own performance, they need to be the ones bringing the data to you.  Come up with a format you both agree on, but give them some flexibility as well.  You’ll find that your team will often take a different approach than you would, which can provide new insights.  Let them walk you through their performance and you’ll find that they are more engaged in the meeting.

Include Career Development

As I’ve taught this 1:1 process to new managers, career development has been the area where I’ve gotten the most pushback.  “Why should I talk to my team members about their career development?  Isn’t this too personal/their responsibility/the HR department’s job?”  Managers are worried that individuals on their team won’t be open to talking about this topic or will expect to be promoted too soon.

I would argue that this is the most important part of the 1:1 meeting, and a part that can bring tremendous long-term value to your team.  Yes, it can take a few months for a new team member to warm up to you enough to have this be an honest dialog. However, in order for you to fully leverage the talent in your group you need to understand their career aspirations and commit to helping them get where they want to go.  If you are successful in making this a part of your 1:1 meetings you’ll find that it results in reduced turnover, increased job satisfaction and volunteers for side projects on your team.

One-on-one meetings are a major time commitment for a manager, especially if you have a large team.  However, they are such a powerful tool that they are worth every minute you invest.  Make that investment now and start reaping the benefits of better relationships and stronger performance.

The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who are ready to build and develop a top performing customer success team. We offer leadership coaching for new customer success managers who want to take their skills to the next level.