Companies must find ways to provide for the ongoing development of employees and front-line managers need the skills to provide the feedback and coaching required for it to occur. In this episode, communication expert Dave Knibbe talks about the value of and techniques required to have powerful one-on-ones with employees.
Joe White (00:00):
Ken Blanchard refers to feedback as the breakfast of champions. Join us today as we discuss how to provide it. Hello, and thank you for joining us today. My name is Joe White and I'm the host of Supervisor Skills, Secrets of Success. The SOS Podcast Series is produced with the ongoing development of front-line managers. With each episode, we take on a topic of interest and interview a subject matter expert for the benefit of our listeners. In today's episode, we're going to talk about having powerful one-on-ones for the purpose of developing talent and improving performance. My guest is leadership expert Dave Knibbe, who joins us from Connecticut. Welcome Dave, and thank you for joining us today.
Dave Knibbe (00:45):
Thank you very much, Joe. It's a pleasure to be with all of you.
Joe White (00:49):
David, if you would, give us just a little bit of background. Tell us who you are, what you do and what your areas of expertise are.
Dave Knibbe (00:57):
Okay. I'd be happy to. I've given a little thought to this. I focus my career on about 40,000 hours of professional practice and university teaching on helping build and sustain the leadership skills and talents of others as well as teams. And so everything I've done has been around that focus of building others in their leadership capacities. And I've worked with many of the largest and most respected companies in the world, spanning most major industries, and that translates into having trained and coached thousands of individuals over the years. So that's what I can bring to the conversation today with the hope that what I will share will be of some real practical and immediate value to the listeners.
Joe White (01:55):
That's great. Thank you for giving us a little of that background. In talking with you in the past, I know I've been very impressed with some of the inside perspectives that you've shared with me, and I'm hoping we'll be able to offer that today to our listeners. The title of our segment today is magnifying talent through powerful one-on-one communication. What do you mean by powerful one-on-one communication?
Dave Knibbe (02:22):
Sure. Powerful communication, Joe, is communication with a, what I call, a purpose and a structure. And it all begins with building trust and close relationships with others. That's the key. And that purpose can involve helping others perform at their best. We're praising them when they do well or, even at times, correcting their behavior to help them improve, but it begins with trust and it's all about leaving others better than they were before we communicated with them.
Joe White (02:54):
Okay. So if I'm understanding this correctly, providing directions, setting expectation, providing feedback, all of those things that are very critical to supervisors, managers and the industries that we serve. All of those things that I just mentioned certainly could fall beneath the umbrella of having those powerful one-on-one communications.
Dave Knibbe (03:17):
That's exactly right. And that's what I refer to as a structure. It begins with, again, the trust. Building the trust and then conveying and communicating high standards of performance and character that's expected, both of ourselves as leaders and others, and then being highly responsive in terms of providing others with praise and commendation when they do well and, at times, a correction when they need to improve. And I like the term correction much better than criticism.
Criticism implies tearing someone down. Correction is building them up and helping them be better. And then, finally, the last key point is we need to also demonstrate a high degree of care, concern and connection with others when we ... for those that we engage in these powerful communications situations. So those are the three key components and I can talk about those further.
Joe White (04:18):
Okay. In terms of, and having these powerful one-on-ones and magnifying talent, improving performance, I can only assume that there's a critical component there and I want you to, if you would, just say a few words about why that magnification of talent and why is it so difficult?
Dave Knibbe (04:41):
Well, why it's so difficult is people just feel like they don't have the time to engage in these conversations. And that's an empty excuse. And what I mean by magnifying talent is, I've got a ... here in my office I've got a magnifying glass and it's designed to enlarge something, to bring it into sharp focus. And the purpose of powerful communication is for a coach, a supervisor, a foreman, whomever, to magnify and increase the value of someone's talents, their skills and their capacity. And so building on trust, you can magnify another person's talents. You can magnify your talents through others by teaching, training, demonstrating, praising and sometimes, as I mentioned, correcting them. So magnifying others leads to both you and the other person playing bigger and being better than they were before. That's what I mean by magnifying talent.
Joe White (05:48):
So that connection that exist is ... it sounds like it's critical. It's very important between the folks that are involved.
Dave Knibbe (05:56):
Oh, no question. And the research shows that this idea of having powerful one-on-ones is the most important leadership skill that we need to master. It's so important and I have so much passion and belief in it that it's what I call the Keystone of Leadership and everything is based on that. If you master that, then you can move to the next skill, but that's the most important leadership skill or talent that one can have is being able to communicate and hold these powerful one-on-ones.
Joe White (06:33):
And I would almost suggest, based on some of the recent research that I've seen and some of the discussions I've had with other experts in the area of generational differences, this is going to become more important in the future whereas, with my generation, you may have received some sort of formal feedback once a year. With emerging or the newer generations entering the workforce, they want real time, immediate feedback. I mean that's a characteristic or trait that's really inherent to the emerging generations.
Dave Knibbe (07:08):
Absolutely. And so we're actually seeing antiquated, the old way of doing performance reviews, those are going by the wayside and they're being replaced by, again, the concept of having these powerful one-on-ones between an employee and a manager or supervisor, and having those on a regular basis so that the employee's in the best position to correct their behavior, if need be, but also continue to focus on those things that they're doing well. And it works very well.
Joe White (07:46):
That's great. In your own personal professional life, have you had experience with one-on-ones, these powerful one-on-ones, that you can cite or draw upon and say, "Look, here's an example of where I personally benefited from the skill set that you are referring to."
Dave Knibbe (08:05):
Absolutely. I've given some thought to that. I remember my father who was a combat veteran in World War II. Just before he died I asked him, "Dad, what one thing would you leave with me that would be helpful?" And this was during a one-on-one and he said, "Dave, whatever you touch, touch well." And what he meant by that was, whatever you do did to the best of your ability. Do it with pride and care about your work in mind always. And that's a lesson that's always stayed with me. It's very simple and that's what powerful communication is. It's simple, it's timeless, but it has great value.
Another example, very quickly, was I was running a congressional campaign in Flint, Michigan, and the candidate, who actually was a mentor of mine, gave me some great career advice because I was at a crossroads trying to decide which way to go. And based on that advice and his example, that caused me to take the right road, I felt like, in terms of my career, my training and education. So that was another powerful example. And if, we have time. I can tell one more.
Joe White (09:26):
Sure. Go ahead.
Dave Knibbe (09:28):
Okay. This is a great one too. There is a story and this a true story. There's a story of a so-called disruptive kid in school and he was always tapping his pencil and he drove everybody just bonkers by tapping, tapping, tapping to the point that the teacher finally sent him down to the principal's office to be scolded. And that wise principal, again, in a powerful one-on-one conversation with the student found out that the student was really interested in percussion instruments. Drumming and things like that. But not being a well-off a child, he didn't have access to a set of drums.
But anyway, the principal arranged for him to get some drums through the school and that young man just took off. He became a master at drumming and his behavior improved in class because he had an outlet for it and it all started with a wise principal who took the time to really listen and come up with a solution that worked for that young man. That's another example of a powerful one-on-one. It could happen at work, in our personal lives. That's the beauty of this. It's very simple, very powerful, if people are willing to put in the time to do it right.
Joe White (10:56):
Dave, I've got a question for you and I want to take this discussion to the level of the shop floor and I want to talk specifically about the front-line supervisor or job site foreman. What is it about this topic that's so important to them and being able to achieve performance through their employees, which is really a unique trait or characteristic of that role of those individuals? Why is this important topic to them?
Dave Knibbe (11:25):
I'll be happy to answer that because, number one, this is the single most important thing that a leader at any level can do is have these powerful one-on-one conversations with others. That's point number one and that's backed up by solid research. Number two. It's simple and it's easy to remember. That's the one thing I would like from this is that the listeners will find this material to be both memorable and unforgettable because it's that easy. The shop foreman, all they have to remember are three key principles. I mentioned those before.
Number one. They need to set a high standard of performance and a high standard of character, and they have to hold themselves and others accountable for those high standards through their example and their words. Number two. They have to be highly responsive. When they see an employee performing something well, they need to take the time, pull them aside and give them that praise and that commendation that they need in order to repeat that task or that behavior. It's that simple, but they need to be specific in terms of what they saw and why it was important. And then number three, it goes back to trust again. Assuming that they've taken the time to build some trust with people, then they can continue by demonstrating their care, and their connection, and their concern with employees. And that will go a long way in employees taking their advice and their example to heart, because they know that that supervisor or foreman cares about them. It's that simple, Joe.
Joe White (13:13):
You know, again, I always ... I think back in my experiences and having discussions with those on the shop floor, and you just touched on a point then that I think is near and dear to a number of the conversations that I've had over the years and one is, "Look, as an employee, I can screw up one time and I'll never hear the end of it and I can do well, do something, go above and beyond 98, 99% of the time and I'd never receive any sort of encouragement or feedback to the sort." And to the point you're making, it is a critical part of the feedback. We're quick to point out things that can be done better, but we really need to understand that what you're talking about here is ... it goes both ways. It's those things that you're doing well, and those things that you need to do differently or change for your own benefit.
Dave Knibbe (14:08):
That's exactly right. And the good news about all of this is that when you're giving praise and commendation, guess what? It's free. It's absolutely free and it has that powerful effect on others. And being a little bit more careful when you have to offer up correction, and give good reason for it, that'll go a long way. But just this endless menu of criticism will not work and it will actually cause or create enemies. If someone continues to get criticism, they will not feel good about their supervisor and they won't go that extra mile.
Joe White (14:49):
Right, which gets right back into employee engagement. People constantly ask, "How do I improve or how can I grow my employee engagement?" You're talking the language. This is the discussion that they need to hear. I mean this is spot on. As a supervisor manager, are there any factors that I need to take into account before having this powerful, or having a powerful one-on-one with my employer or employees?
Dave Knibbe (15:16):
Yes. There absolutely are. One, again, and I've mentioned this before, is that a good supervisor or manager needs to evaluate the quality of the relationship that they have with the individual. Is there a trust there? Have they built up some rapport? That's important. And if they haven't, they better start building that up before they launch into this ... a powerful one-on-one because it won't take unless there's that trust there. Secondly, they have to consider the timing. Is the timing right? You don't dress someone down or you don't have that one-on-one, if you will, in front of others. You have to pull them aside. That's why it's called a one-on-one. Making sure the timing is right that they will listen to and hear the message that the supervisor needs to deliver.
Secondly, I think it's important. If there's correction involved, the supervisor needs to understand the kind of training the other person has had. Maybe they haven't had a full orientation to the job, or they don't know exactly what the standards are and, if that's the case, then they have to take care of that gap first before they deliver any correction or anything like that. So there's a lot of things that they need to think about, but it goes back to the quality of the relationship and the level of skills that that individual has and then base their messaging on that.
Joe White (16:47):
In our opening monologue we talked about the purpose of today's discussion around developing talent and improving performance. And again, I think about the challenges that construction companies and maritime companies and manufacturing companies are having today. They're bringing in a workforce. The emerging generations that are coming in, they're very ... technically, they're very savvy, they're very smart, they're very capable. Some of the more basic skills that we traditionally may have seen 15, 20 years ago, or perhaps even longer, they don't necessarily have those, but to be able to develop that within those individuals is a process that really is strongly dependent upon the ability to give meaningful feedback.
Dave Knibbe (17:39):
That's exactly right. And if there's that trust and there's a good rapport there that they can get into and develop that meaningful relationship and have that meaningful communication. And that the good thing is is that, as the supervisor magnifies their talents through others, others are going to grow. They're going to be able to perform more complicated tasks and perform at a better, higher level. And that, then, frees up the time of the supervisor to do other important things as well. So they both win. They both win.
And the type of relationship that we're talking about also enables the employee to evaluate themselves, which I think is really important. They are the first ... should be the first line of defense in terms of evaluating their performance, and how did they do, and were they meeting standards, and what could they do differently and do better, and how can they learn and improve? So all around, everybody benefits because younger, less tenured workers are looking for opportunities to grow, and they love training. They love feedback. So this whole concept is perfect for them.
Joe White (18:56):
That's great. This topic, again, it's something I think has immediate relevance to the traditional, historical, blue collar type industries, labor dependent industries, far and wide. The question I will have is how will powerful one-on-ones impact the bottom line? What's the return on investment here?
Dave Knibbe (19:18):
Yeah. And that's a great question. The research that I've mentioned before has proven that when a supervisor conducts an effective one-on-one, that performance improves, and that's been measured, it cuts down on wasteful meetings, because you're having that one-on-one instead of a group meeting that may not involve others, or if the topic may not be of interest. So it cuts down on wasted meetings, it builds morale, it builds employee involvement and connection, and the list goes on.
There's something like 25 benefits for having these kinds of communication sessions with others. So it's well worth it. People, again, complain that they don't have time and my question back to them as, "How can you afford not to do it with all those kinds of benefits that you can achieve?" But they have to take the time and get to know their people and listen and follow those three concepts that we talked about and it will work if they do it over time and they sustain themselves.
Joe White (20:27):
In today's sort of environment, we're challenged often to have the face to face interactions that we so desperately need. If you don't have that, how do I accomplish this equally as effective, or is it possible through an alternate means?
Dave Knibbe (20:48):
Yeah, Joe, that's a great question. I think it's possible. I think the COVID work environment is here to stay. I don't think we'll see going back to the, quote, good old days. It's going to be maybe a hybrid. And so I've seen leaders that do extremely well through virtual means. And they have to be consistent. They have to be regular. They have to take time to have some small talk with people before a meeting begins. And they have to think in terms of extras. Birthdays, important dates of individuals that are working on their team and so forth, and take that extra effort. But I've seen it work if they just commit themselves to developing these relationships and having these communications. Virtual, over the phone, email, all of those will add up to making things as good as they can be in this environment.
Joe White (21:51):
Right. I think the best advice I ever received in my career is, I had a senior manager one time tell me, he said, "Don't always talk shop."
Dave Knibbe (22:01):
No. No. I agree.
Joe White (22:02):
And I really believe some of the relationships and the rapport that I was able to build, even with some challenging individuals. I go back to that quote and I think that's really served me well over time is just taking the time to get to know people on an individual and personal level. Know about their past. Did they serve in the military? Were they decorated? Where did they serve? I mean those are all things that can help build that rapport and certainly help with the relationships that exist with the supervisor employee.
Dave Knibbe (22:34):
I couldn't agree with you more, Joe, and it goes back to just engaging in small talk. Don't think that small talk is a waste of time. It's not. It's one of the first things that you can do to build rapport and trust with others. Now, people love to talk about their families. Some do. Most do. Some don't. They love to talk about their work. They love to talk about their recreation or what they do in their free time and, of course, their goals. So there's lots of different ways that you can engage in that non shop talk to build those relationships so that, when it's time to have that powerful one-on-one, you've got a basis of trust and rapport there that you can deliver the message and they'll receive it. So I believe in that completely, Joe.
Joe White (23:25):
I have to assume we've got a listener out there somewhere that says, "Look, I really would like to try this. I'd like to get started." What do they do first? What's the first step? What's some bit of advice you could leave them with that could help them start their journey down this path of providing powerful one-on-ones today.
Dave Knibbe (23:43):
Yeah. I would say, again, go back to the relationship and evaluate, is there the trust and the rapport there that they can leverage to have those one-on-ones. That's very important. If they don't, they need to build that trust and rapport like through having the non shop talk that we talked about. That's point number one. And then point number two. They just have to remember the three key concepts of having a powerful one-on-one. Making sure that, through their own example and their own words, they convey high standards of performance and character. So high standards. High character.
Number two. That they're providing timely praise, commendation and, at times, correction to someone but all with the point of trying to improve and build them up. To enlarge their talents. And number three. Consistently demonstrating their care and their concern for the other person. If they can remember those key points, they'll be fine. And don't give up.
Joe White (24:53):
That's great. And stay the course. That's the one thing I've always ... a philosophy I've always tried to live by is, see it through, stay the course.
Dave Knibbe (25:03):
Joe White (25:04):
Dave, we're out of time. I can't thank you enough. It's been a pleasure. I really appreciate the information that you've provided and I can't help but believe that others listening are going to benefit from it as well. But thank you so much.
Dave Knibbe (25:18):
It's been my pleasure and good luck to you and your colleagues and those that are listening. I'm always available to talk with anybody that'd like to. It's a great topic.
Joe White (25:28):
Great. Okay. Thank you so much. And to reach David or learn more about his services, please see the show notes provided for this podcast. For those listening, I hope you found the discussion of value and benefit. If so, please help us spread the word. Share the podcast with friends, co-workers or others that may have interest. The SOS Podcast Series is brought to you by AEU LEAD, a consultancy dedicated to the needs of front-line managers. For additional information or to follow us on social media, please use the links in the show notes provided. That's it for now. Stay safe and thanks for listening.
Dave is the founder and Managing Director of OIA, LLC, bringing 40,000 hours of professional practice and university teaching experience in developing high-performing leaders and teams. His specialty is working with front-line and mid-level leaders to help them acquire the skills that lead to high performance and talented people.