Reading, Listening, Watching Vol. 1

The New York Times has a weekly “Download” feature where influencers share what they’re reading, listening, and watching.  It’s cool to see the different types of media that successful people consume and a good way to learn new things.

I’m probably a couple hundred thousand twitter followers away from reaching NYT influencer status, so I’ll be putting out my own “Reading, Listening, Watching” list every few weeks.

Reading

I like to alternate between non-fiction and fiction books to keep things interesting. The most recent fiction book I read was Echo Burning, the 5th installment from Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. These books are an action packed, quick read.  Don’t let Tom Cruise’s mediocre depiction of Jack Reacher on the big screen fool you…Jack Reacher is a bad ass. Picture Sherlock Holmes crossed with Robin Hood crossed with Jason Bourne.

Listening

I’m not a huge podcast person (I know, I know…I need to listen to Serial) but I find myself coming back to the Tim Ferriss Podcast. I’m a big fan of Tim’s blog & books so I thought I’d give the podcast a shot. Tim is a human guinea pig, angel investor, and relentless questioner of norms. His podcast guest list is impressive and the conversations find a good balance of interesting and entertaining. Some of my favorites are the Rick Rubin (producer extraordinaire), Arnold Shwarzenegger (no intro needed), and Samy Kamkar (hacker, company founder) episodes.

Watching

I just finished watching the documentary Maidentrip, a film about Laura Dekker, a 15 year-old who filmed herself sailing around the world. In the process she became the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the earth solo on a sailboat. The journey took two years so you end up watching her grow up on screen and it’s amazing how mature she is for only 15 years of age. It’s inspiring to witness her courage as she tackles such an expedition.

What are you reading, listening, and watching?

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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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