Never miss a one-on-one. It can send the wrong message.
The Business of People
One-on-ones are personal interviews with people you lead. It is a chance to communicate things that you each want the other to know. It's an opportunity to connect with each other as people. One-on-ones are about the business of people relationships.
Scheduling and Rescheduling
Because you never want to miss one of these meetings, you need to schedule them at a cadence and a time of day that will work for both people. Of course, there might be conflicts occassionally. Reschedule when occassionaly needed -- never cancel. If you make special effort to connect when it's specially hard to, you'll send a good message.
Putting these meetings first sends a message of putting your people first. This is a time for you to focus on people you lead personally. If you fill those time slots with something else, you are sending the clear message that something else is more important.
How you spend your time sends a clear message about your priorities.
When you have an appointment to get together and talk to someone, you need to show some personal interest. If, at the moment of a scheduled 1:1, you ask a question like, "Do you want to meet today? I don't really have anything for us to talk about.", that can send a damaging message of lack of interest: I don't have anything to say to you. I don't know what we'd talk about for 30 min in a room together. Other things besides you are on my mind. My focus is elsewhere.
When you miss a one-on-one, it's demoralizing. People want others to care for them. People want feedback on how they're doing. People want to know that they're a priority.
If there's any question about whether we should meet or not, it's a question about whether those things -- care, feedback, and priority -- still exist or not in the relationship between a leader and his people, and by extension the company.
One of the worst moves, in my opinion, is putting the decision to cancel a 1:1 on the shoulders of the person you meet with in one-on-ones. It's like stating your lack of interest and then not taking responsibility for it.
Constant and Interested
So keep the 1:1s constant -- and not a boring, dutiful constant. Show up to one-on-ones with your best self. Be inquiring. Be interested. Show genuine support. Don't let other things get in the way.
If you happen to be asked if you want to meet for one-on-ones, always give an enthusiastic "yes!"
How do you make sure one-on-ones remain a priority so you never miss one?