Here’s a simple way to boost staff performance in less than 70 minutes a month.

Here’s a simple way to boost staff performance in less than 70 minutes a month.

Here are some practical ways and one key principle to make monthly 121s valuable, easy and even enjoyable.
“We started doing monthly 121s. But then we got too busy.” “I haven’t really got time for them” ”They feel tortuous. It’s me that seems to do all the talking. And then I have to write up the notes. And I’ve got a ton of other stuff to do.”

When 2 or more people mention the same thing in a week, that’s the cue to write about the topic. Coincidentally, Performance Management of Direct Reports is one of the key responsibilities of a Managing Director we talked about last month. A monthly meeting is one of the ways to enhance the performance of a team member and help them develop and fulfil their potential.

The one key principle is: They do the work!

Here are my suggestions for monthly 121s:

  • Schedule the meetings into your calendar at least 6 months in advance. Only ever rearrange them for major life events – weddings, births and funerals. If your people are truly important demonstrate that by honouring the schedule.
  • Start on time and keep to time. Turn your phone off and all other notifications. Be prepared. Clear all the other stuff off your desk. Even have them in a suitable, neutral venue if that’s possible.
  • Define and share the purpose of the meetings with your team. Perhaps “To enhance performance and personal development”. You decide.
  • Create structure by having an agenda. Give this to the team well in advance. In essence, make the agenda a series of questions for them to answer and report back on – see below for a suggested agenda.
  • Get used to asking questions and listening. Short questions can be very powerful. And? Because? What else? Go on. Meaning?
  • Before embarking on a series of monthly 121s ensure that the individual is clear on their role expectations and any specific objectives the two of you may have agreed.
  • Everybody should be monitoring some key activity and result measures. Measurable progress in reasonable time is what we’re looking for. A month is reasonable time. They should bring some numbers with them.
  • Give each person a small notebook and ask them to keep a few notes each day. This is invaluable as a memory jogger. You might want them to note down the improvement ideas they have, the good things that happen, challenges they’ve overcome, things that they learnt, etc. It’s best to make it nice and easy to start with so they develop the habit of reflecting on their day. It might be simply, “One good thing that happened today.” Obviously you’re expecting them to bring their notebook to the 121 and to have reflected on their month’s entries. Reflecting is the best process for learning and therefore growing.
  • If they’re doing the talking it’ll be helpful for you to scribble a few notes. When it comes to agreeing on the actions coming out of the session this can be useful as a memory jogger.
  • Let them decide on how to move forward next month and what their intentions are. You may need to prompt them. You may need to peg them back if they’re trying to take on too much. And nudge them forward if you believe they’ve got more to give. Most people take on too much – and fail and become disheartened. Let them take on less and over achieve. Achievement will give them the confidence to stretch themselves further.
  • Ask them what help or support they want from you. You don’t have to say yes! But in most cases they don’t ask too much.
  • Make sure they capture their actions in their notebook at the end.
  • Ask them to photograph the action page with their phone and forward it on to you you there and then. Job done. (I’m not a fan of typing up notes and emailing them.)

Here’s a suggested agenda. The agenda has to be set within the context of the expectations and objectives the two of you have agreed previously

  • What are the best things have happened this month? Why did they happen? Why are they significant to you? How could you get more of them?
  • What’s on your mind at the moment? Is there anything specific you’d like us to discuss?
  • What have you learnt recently? How is this potentially useful to you?
  • Let’s look at your numbers
  • Let’s go through your last set of actions/intentions.
  • Remind me of your current number 1 objective.
  • Let’s check out progress against plan.
  • What needs to be the focus at the moment?
  • What could be challenging for you next month?
  • What ideas have you got for meeting that challenge?
  • What might your next steps be?
  • What specific help or support would you like from me?
  • Write down specific actions/intentions to be completed over the next month.
  • What’s been most useful for you in this session?

You don’t have to use all these. The key thing is to have an agenda and to make it question-based.

The rhythm of well-structured monthly 121s with your direct reports will deliver improved performance pretty quickly.

If I can help with getting these meetings set-up then simply drop me a line now at

And if you’ve enjoyed this article then please forward it to a colleague or friend.

Mark Dyble

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