1:1s(one-on-one), retrospectives and post-mortems are the most important meetings as this is where growth at an individual, group and department/org occurs.
This is written from the perspective of a manager but can be used by anyone who wants to learn more about 1:1s and perhaps use it to manage up.
Why am I so passionate about 1:1s?
Firstly through hobbies such as martial arts and toastmasters the positive impact of constructive feedback was obvious.
It seemed that many companies lacked the quality of feedback that seemed commonplace outside the workplace.
Secondly, was poor experiences with 1:1s such as
- Being regularly cancelled.
- When held, it seemed to have no purpose or direction.
- In some cases they were simply another form of status meeting.
- Even worse is a regular ranting session.
More recently I have seen the transformative effect of well run 1:1s on people’s careers and even having a positive effect for them outside of work.
Why have 1:1s?
There are many reasons why we should have 1:1s. It’s a forum for personal development and feedback, ensuring employees have a voice and are heard.
1:1s help “avoid surprises”. For example, to avoid someone hearing for the first time in their annual review that they are underperforming or a manager being told that someone is leaving as they are unhappy in their role.
It’s hugely disappointing that some people may only ever get to voice their feedback in an exit interview.
Where should we start in a 1:1?
Checking in with the person, asking the person how they are.
People don’t need to share deeply personal information but it’s important to know what’s going on in their life.
Far too often people are seen to be “underperforming” and then the reasons behind the “underperformance” are investigated.
It should be the other way around, know what’s happening in their lives and apply that context to their work.
If some says I am tired today. Ask the follow-up question: why are you tired?
It may be due to a new-born, caring for a family member or renovating a home.
This information can be hugely valuable to understanding where the person is right now and provides an opportunity to be supportive.
What do you want to talk about in today’s 1:1?
Remember it’s their 1:1 and thus they own the agenda.
It can be a shared agenda but the priority is to focus on topics they wish to discuss.
The agenda can begin to form before the meeting in a private document or private calendar invite.
Questions – and what else?
As you can see from above the greatest value you add as a manager is the quality of questions you ask.
The book The Coaching Habit is a wonderful resource to learn more about improving the quality of our questions.
It’s worth noting that 1:1s provide an excellent opportunity for coaching but don’t limit coaching to just 1:1s. Use every interaction with a member of your team as an opportunity for coaching.
What will we talk about?
Here are some ideas for talking points
- 1:1 list: Julia Evans what to talk about in 1:1s is a great resource. It’s particularly useful for new 1:1s to help get into a flow.
- Core competencies matrix: If your company has a core competencies matrix walk, walk through it and pick out key areas for development
- Goals: I have a basic template that captures where people want to go in their careers and personal goals they want to achieve on a quarterly basis to help them towards their overall career goals. Examples of goals could be attending a training course, a desire to speak at a conference, characteristics that want to develop and goals they want to achieve within their teams. A smaller set of tangible goals seems to work best. Personally I feel It’s important that people get to work on the majority of their goals during their working week.
- Go with the flow: If there is a great topic of conversation developing just go with it.
Power of pauses and active listening
Related to the point of questions is leaving pauses to give the person a chance to think and formulate an answer.
If a question stops someone in their tracks it may be a sign of a thought provoking question and they may need time to respond.
Also really concentrating on what they are saying is key, rather than thinking about your response.
These skills take time to develop and stretch us outside our comfort zone as managers.
Guidance trumps advice
While it’s natural to go into advice mode in 1:1s this can be limiting for the development of you and your team members.
Instead give them the chance to come up with solutions to their problems.
Also it prevents us from becoming the bottlenecks for our team growth.
There are of course times when individuals or our team(s) want guidance in the form of a decision rather than coaching and it’s important for us to be aware of this.
They should be talking a lot more than you
In an interview we expect that the candidate is doing the majority of the talking. 1:1s are the same, the other person should be the majority of the talking.
This can be challenging for managers as the relationship dynamics may make you feel that you should be leading the conversation.
It’s not a status meeting
It’s important to have status meetings with your team(s) so that they have a forum to give status updates. But a 1:1 is not that forum.
To explain a problem or ask for help, someone may need to explain what is happening on a project but that it’s different to giving a status update.
If someone tries to keep bringing it back to status updates then reassure them that you are aware of the value of their contributions but that this is time for their personal development.
It is not a regular ranting session
We all need to blow off steam from time to time. But if a 1:1 just becomes a regular ranting session the sessions will be of little value.
A lesson I learnt from post-mortems that I apply to 1:1s is if there is blame, deal with it and focus on changing what is within your influence and control.
Blame has an external nature and leads to helplessness.
Example “I never get to complete my goals as the release team is too slow”.
Breakdown what the problems are, can we collaborate with the team to make changes, regardless if the team is “slow” or not, what can the person do immediately that’s different.
Also it’s one thing for an employee to rant during a 1:1 Although it’s far worse if a manager uses 1:1s to rant about others.
You are not a trained therapist or medical practitioner.
It’s important that 1:1s do not delve into topics that require a trained therapist or medical practitioner.
Topics such as addiction, depression and grief need to be dealt with by a trained professional.
As a manager you can be supportive whilst still pointing the person in the right direction for help. People Ops are often a first contact point of support and Employee Assistance programs can often provide a range of services from financial advice to counselling.
Sometimes emotions can get raised, especially when direct feedback is given.
If you feel it’s too heightened it’s okay to pause the 1:1 or topic, and come back to it another time.
In the past when delivering feedback to someone who was genuinely underperforming they got angry.
I explained that I was available to them if they wanted to talk and we finished up the 1:1.
The next morning they asked to speak, were grateful for the honest feedback they had received and we worked on a plan to get them back on track.
They were amongst the best performers in the team within weeks.
Understand the difference between coaching, mentoring and sponsorship.
In simple terms
- Mentoring = Right Answers
- Coaching = Right Questions
- Sponsorship = Right Opportunities
You will often need to use all three approaches.
When it comes to sponsorship check on your personal biases and ask yourself do I provide sponsorship to people who are different to me?
Follow-up and trust
Trust is crucial in 1:1s.
If you tell someone you will follow-up on an action then do it and let them know you have taken care of it. Examples could be training budget or a salary increase request.
Everytime you follow-up you are building trust and showing that you care.
Another example of building trust is if someone shares something in confidence then ensure that it is treated in confidence.
If you believe you need to share the information with someone else, ask for their permission to share and explain with who you want to share it with and why.
Feedback – Radical Candor
The book radical candor has been hugely useful to help articulate my thoughts on feedback.
Ultimately Radical Candor means I care about you and your career on a personal level, and to help your growth I am going to challenge you and give your direct constructive feedback.
Sharing the radical candor quadrants model with people in 1:1s can help visualise what you are trying to achieve.
On the topic of feedback some tips include ensuring it’s concise, timely and have specific examples to back up the feedback. (See previous blog on feedback in the workplace).
There is a saying “praise in public; criticize in private.
Some people also want their praise in private and it’s important to be aware of that.
I am respectful of this whilst still letting the person know that being praised in public draws attention to their positive contributions and may lead to new career opportunities.
If you are going to give direct feedback, then you need to be open to receiving feedback too and encourage it.
In my career to date when I ask for feedback from those who report to me, like most managers I tend to get more praise than constructive feedback.
It’s important to ensure that they understand that you too need constructive feedback from them to help you grow too.
This goes back to follow-up and trust. If you receive constructive feedback and action it, you will receive more useful feedback.
It’s a good practice to keep notes on what was discussed and any follow-up actions.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be highly detailed and any notes are better than no notes.
It can be really useful to reflect back on the challenges people have overcome over time and is a great resource for the annual review process.
Finally a great question to ask at the end of a 1:1 is what was your key takeaway today?
What was your key takeaway on this 1:1 blog?