Blueprint for the Perfect 1×1 Meeting

1x1 Meeting

photo by matusfi

 

The most important factor in an employee and manager relationship boils down to one thing: communication. The best way to keep communication flowing is to have a consistent, scheduled, private time for both people to sit down and talk. These conversations have many names, but I refer to them as the one-on-one (1×1) meeting . Whenever someone complains about their manager, the first thing I ask is, “how often do you have a 1×1?” The typical reply is “never” or “maybe once or twice during our end of year reviews”.  I’m never surprised.

Here’s why the 1×1 meeting is so important:

  • Consistency – a consistent time on the calendar to meet and chat removes communication barriers. It’s human nature to put off difficult conversations to “some other time” (translation: never) but setting a consistent time to chat makes it easier to bring up difficult topics.
  • No Surprises – Nothing is worse than hearing constructive feedback for the first time during your year end review. You aren’t given any time to fix the problem and it’s being brought up in the context of potential raises or bonuses. If you’re having 1×1’s every other week (recommended), you have 26 times during the year to formally discuss feedback and ways to improve. You should never give new feedback to a team member during a year end review and the 1×1 meeting is the perfect opportunity to keep everyone on the same page.
  • The entire business improves – the structured 1×1 is the perfect forum for  employees to give suggestions on how the team or overall business can improve. A good manager will listen to this feedback and use it to improve. I call these “crack in the road” conversations. Every business, like a busy road, develops cracks over time. These cracks are the last thing to be repaired because they’re usually overshadowed by potholes or detours. These cracks in the road are annoying as hell to every ground level employee, and the 1×1 meeting is the chance to identify and find ways to repair.

To help improve the quality of 1×1 meetings, I’ve put together a blueprint for the perfect employee & manager 1×1 meeting. I’ve written the rules as directives to a manager because the burden falls on every manager to facilitate great 1×1 meetings. If you’re a manager, start using these rules to forge trust and open communication with your team. If you’ re an employee who doesn’t directly manage anyone, I encourage you to use these rules as a way to improve your own 1×1 meeting.

Rule #1
Master the basics

  •  Schedule a 30 minute 1×1 meeting with every one of your direct reports to take place every other week. Use your judgement if it makes sense to meet more frequently. I find bi-weekly gives enough time for “stuff to happen” that’s worth discussing without letting too much time slip by.
  • Reserve a conference room or private area where you can have an open conversation. The water cooler or hallway is not the place for a 1×1 meeting.
  • If you have direct reports that also manage their own team, make sure they are also having 1×1’s with their direct reports. It’s important that everyone in your organization is having 1×1’s to keep conversations flowing.
  • Prepare for the meeting. Spend 5 minutes before the 1×1 to think about what feedback you can give. Have you received any feedback from colleagues or clients regarding the employees performance? Are there any lingering conversations you’ve been putting off because you’re uneasy about the conversation? The 1×1 is the best forum to have those difficult conversations.

Rule #2
The 1×1 meeting is for the employee, not the manager. If the team member doesn’t get anything out of the meeting, you’ve failed. This means asking open ended questions (see rule 6) and being a good listener. Just like an interview with a potential new employee, they should be doing 80% of the talking. Every meeting, give direct feedback on exactly how they’re doing. Don’t underestimate the power of feedback to continue strong work and correct poor work.

Rule #3
The 1×1 is important, so act like it. Don’t cancel  or move the meeting last minute. Moving or cancelling the 1×1 gives the impression of “another meeting came up, I scanned my calendar, and this 1×1 was the least important thing on there…so we can do it some other time”. If you absolutely need to move the meeting, ask the employee if it’s OK for the 1×1 to be moved. This courtesy goes a very long way.

Rule #4
The 1×1 is not a tactical meeting. The 1×1 is a time to discuss overall performance, review feedback from other team members, and listen to feedback. Don’t confuse the 1×1 with a project status meeting or progress report. You can leave time at the end of the 1×1 to get brief project updates, but that should only be a small item on the agenda. If you jump right into tactics or progress, you’ll make it more difficult for the employee to have open dialogue.

Rule #5
Know your audience. Every one is different and prefers certain communication styles. If an employee is more talkative, you may want to start the 1×1 with some chit chat to get things flowing. If they’re more serious, you can jump right into business. Some people may prefer to be outside the office for a 1×1, so consider taking them out for a cup of coffee. Think about how each person operates and create an environment that fits their style.

Rule #6
Ask tough questions. The most important part of the 1×1 are the conversations you have about challenging topics. This means you have to ask thought provoking, open ended questions. Below are a list of questions that you can use to get things flowing. Many of these are from Ben Horowitz’s book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things“. Rotate through these questions over time and you’ll be surprised at the conversations that follow.

  • If we could improve in any way, how would we do it?
  • What’s the number-one problem with our organization? Why?
  • What’s not fun about working here?
  • Who is really kicking ass in the company?
  • If you were me, what changes would you make?
  • What don’t you like about our product?
  • What’s the biggest opportunity that we’re missing out on?
  • What are we not doing that we should be doing?
  • Are you happy working here?
  • What can we automate to make things easier?
  • What’s working well?
  • What can the team improve?
  • What activities do you do that you feel is time wasted?
  • Are you feeling challenged?

 

Follow these 6 rules and you’ll have better 1×1 meetings than 99% of other managers.

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Don’t Always Let Them Make the First Offer

Conventional negotiating wisdom has always said to let the other person make the first offer. Maybe their offer was higher than yours. By making the first offer, you could be leaving a lot on the table….right?

Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, gives some insight into why you should make the first offer:

“Suppose you want me to agree to a certain request. One way to increase your chances would be first to make a larger request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have refused, you would make the smaller request that you were really interested in all along. Provided that you have structured your requests skillfully, I should view your second request as a concession to me and should feel inclined to respond with a concession of my own, the only one I would have immediately open to me— compliance with your second request.”

This tactic digs into human nature’s urge to reciprocate. Meaning when you give me something, I have a strong desire to return the favor and keep everything even. It’s the same principle behind free samples (because you end up buying more) and the excess of vendor fruit baskets in your office during the holidays (because you end up spending more next year).

After making the first offer followed by a concession, you’re evoking the reciprocal principle. The other person will see your concession as a “gift” to them, which of course has to be matched with a “gift” (concession) back to you. Humans want an even score.

Like all things in life, this will backfire if it is abused. Research has shown that if “the first set of demands is so extreme as to be seen as unreasonable, the tactic backfires. In such cases, the party who has made the extreme first request is not seen to be bargaining in good faith” (Cialdini).

So the next time you’re entering a negotiation, go against conventional wisdom and try making the first offer.

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The Psychology Behind Software Customer Support

Stairs

photo by gisellecfernandes

 

Social Rank has a great blog post about customer support and perception vs. reality. The post references the Customer Satisfaction Equation, brought to light by David H. Maister in his brief article on the topic titled “The Psychology of Waiting Lines“. Unlike most academic publications, this eight page article cuts right to the point. As a leader of a software support team, I couldn’t help but make connections between Maister’s psychological insights and the realities of software support. I recommend reading the entire article, but I’ve put together the customer support Spark Notes version below:

 

It’s hard to plan catch-up ball.

The corollary to this law is the proposition that there is a halo-effect created by the early stages of any service encounter, and that if money, time and attention is to be spent in improving the perceived quality of service, then the largest payback may well occur in these early stages. (page 2)

Analysis:

First impressions matter in customer support. Not only that, a good initial experience with the support team will positively influence all perceptions of your company. Your customer discover a bug? It won’t seem as bad if they’ve had positive experiences with support. I recommend your support team makes the most human connection possible with a new customer. In descending order of value: Face-to-face meeting, video conference, phone call, email. The opposite is also true – botch the customer’s initial perception of support and you’re fighting an uphill battle across the board.

 

Again, I appeal to common experience to reflect the fact that one’s ‘anxiety’ level is much higher while waiting to be served than it is while being served, even though the latter wait may be longer. There is a fear of ‘being forgotten’. (How many times has the reader gone back to a maitre d’ to check that his or her name is still on the list?). (page 4)

Analysis:

Some support issues or questions take a long time to solve – period. This doesn’t change the fact that the customer still gets very anxious while waiting for a solution. Giving the customer consistent updates at committed intervals will help quell the fear that the problem has slipped into a black abyss. Even if you don’t have a good update to give, there is still immense value in telling the customer “we are still digging into your issue and will report back every 4 hours until it’s resolved”.

 

On a cold and snowy morning, when I telephone for a taxi, I begin with the expectation that my wait will be longer than on a clear, summer day. Accordingly, I wait with a great deal more patience because I understand the causes for the delay. Similarly, if a doctor’s receptionist informs me that an emergency has taken place, I can wait with greater equanimity that if I do not know what is going on. Airline pilots understand this principle well; on-board announcements are filled with references to tardy baggage handlers, fog over landing strips, safety checks, and air-traffic controllers’ clearance instructions. The explanation given may or may not exculpate the service provider, but is it better than no explanation at all. (bolded by Dan for emphasis) (page 5)

Analysis:

We live in the real world where many factors can impact the level of support. It’s important to recognize these factors and give the customer a heads up on how it will impact service before they complain about it. Proactively telling a customer “Our engineers are currently prepping for this weekend’s release and will be slower to respond to your question” is much better than delivering the same message after the customer asked “why hasn’t my issue been resolved yet?!”

 

Naturally, justifiable explanations will tend to soothe the waiting customer more than unjustifiable explanations. A subtle illustration of this is provided by the practice of many fast food chains which instruct serving personnel to take their rest breaks out of sight of waiting customers. The sight of what seems to be available serving personnel sitting idle while customers wait, is a source of irritation. (page 6)

Analysis:

How many times have you been in Best Buy or Home Depot to see a crowded store of customers desperately looking for help and a pack of four employees talking in a group and not helping customers. Beyond frustrating.

People need to take breaks to stay sharp, but do it outside of the customer’s glare. On-site at with a customer? Avoid the desire to check your Facebook feed. The customer will build that into their expectations the next time they have a problem to solve. “Greg has time to check Facebook so I expect him to have plenty of time to resolve this issue”.

 

It follows from this principle that waiting for something of little value can be intolerable. This is amply illustrated by the eagerness with which airline passengers leap to their seats when the airplane reaches the gate, even though they know that it will take time to unload all the passengers ahead of them, and that they may well have to wait for their baggage to arrive at the claim area. The same passenger who sat patiently for some hours during the flight suddenly exhibits an intolerance for an extra minute or two to disembark, and a fury at an extra few minutes for delayed baggage. (page 8)

Analysis:

When a customer asks a easy question that can be answered easily, resist the urge to let it fall to the bottom of the pile. You may say, “…but the same customer has five other open questions that are much higher priority”. That may be true, but the customer perceives the “easy” easy question as low value and their expectations adjust accordingly. To meet that expectation, it must be answered quickly. This will show the customer that you’re providing solutions and buy time for those five other difficult questions.

 

 

 

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