Using One-on-Ones to Enhance Your Content Strategy

I was discussing content strategy needs with a prospective client recently, and was taken aback when they said, “The writers give their status updates in their one-on-one with their manager.” Most guidance recommends against using a one-on-one to give status updates. More importantly, when evaluating or changing your content strategy, effective one-on-ones are a fundamental change management technique in the leader’s toolkit.

A one-on-one is a short, individual meeting between the team member and the manager. The team member, or employee, is the focus of the meeting. I often say that a status report is about work, what got done, what did not get done, and what still needs to get done. A one-on-one, however, is about working, how the work is getting done, what’s going well, what is not going well, any observations about opportunities for either personal improvement and career development, or opportunities for team improvement. Organizations talk to team members frequently in a variety of ways. A one-on-one provides an opportunity for the team member to talk to the organization, through the manager.

Managers should meet one-on-one with team members frequently. One-on-ones with new hires should occur weekly for at least the first few months. For a more senior team member, the schedule might move to every other week, but a weekly schedule is appropriate for more junior team members.

Skip-levels are another important practice. A skip-level is exactly what it sounds like: a one-on-one between a team member and a higher-level leader, the manager’s manager, director, or other senior leaders. Skip-levels help senior leaders keep their finger on the pulse of the organization by communicating directly with the team members doing the actual work. Naturally, the broader management span means skip-levels are less frequent. A manager’s manager might meet with team members every three to six months, while a higher-level manager or director might meet with team members annually.

Searching Google for “one-on-one meeting” returns plenty of results that can guide you in running effective one-on-ones with your team members.

What makes one-on-ones such a valuable tool for managing content strategy? A change in content strategy, especially a change from unstructured content to structured content, can be stressful, even fraught. Team members may not know what to expect. They may be concerned about changing skills and may even be afraid for their jobs. When managers run effective one-on-ones, employees feel safe sharing their experiences, concerns, and feelings, enough to vocalize their reactions to a change in content strategy. To ensure clear communication in both directions, managers should prepare for one-on-ones with specific questions about the team member’s perceptions and responses to the content strategy. Managers must always remain open and receptive to team member responses and observations and avoid the temptation to explain or defend the content strategy. That can happen at another time.

But even if the content strategy is stable, either before or after a migration to structured content, regular one-on-ones with team members help leaders gauge the health of the content strategy. Again, a leader’s preparation for the one-on-one should include specific questions about the current content strategy and how it is working.

One-on-ones between team members and content leaders such as content strategists and information architects are also beneficial. Direct feedback from team members provides content leaders with insight into the practical application of the strategy, as well as a reality check on both the strategy and its execution. A one-on-one meeting with each of your team members is a well-established management practice that offers a variety of benefits. Used wisely, one-on-ones can be an effective tool to manage and execute your content strategy.