Ben Horowitz, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things, hypothesizes that “generally, people who think one-on-one meetings are a bad idea have been victims of poorly designed ones” (177).
I couldn’t agree more.
The one-on-one (1×1) meeting, done correctly, is the most powerful way to continuously develop a team member, solicit feedback, and work through challenging situations. The problem is that these priceless conversations are usually poorly structured, cancelled at the last minute, or simply don’t take place. The only person responsible for solving these problems and creating an environment where fruitful 1×1’s can take place?
You. The Manager.
In this second installment of the New Manager Series, we’ll break down the do’s and don’ts of 1×1 meetings.
Be consistent. For productive conversations to blossom, the 1×1 meeting needs to actually occur — and on a consistent basis. I recommend scheduling a standing 30 minute meeting every 2 weeks with each of your direct reports. I prefer grouping them on a specific day of the week (e.g. Wednesday afternoons) so I can get into the listening and coaching zone.
Don’t cancel the 1×1 — especially at the last minute. It shows a lack of respect for the conversation and is usually taken personally. Don’t be the sorry-I-have-to-cancel-because-something-else-popped-up manager.
Ask good questions. I highly recommend The Coaching Habit for a simple playbook for unlocking your teams’ potential through straightforward questions. Ben Horowitz also shared his favorite questions to pose during 1×1 meetings:
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?
What don’t you like about the 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?The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Page 179
And my personal favorite, “How can I make your life easier?”
Don’t talk too much. In fact, the employee should be doing most of the talking. “The manager should do 10 percent of the talking and 90 percent of the listening,” explains Horowitz (179). The exact speaking/listening ratio of your 1×1’s will vary but the general idea is simple: when in doubt, just shut up and listen. If you think you’re talking too much, you definitely are. If you’re getting brief and incomplete answers, it’s your job to ask better questions until the root issue is unearthed.
Follow up on your takeaway items. The desired outcome of open ended questions are to learn more about the person, their goals, their problems, and how the company needs to improve. When done properly, real problems will be uncovered. Some of those problems will require you to take action outside of the 1×1 meeting to help improve the situation. Set a reasonable timeframe for your follow up — and meet that deadline. This goes a long way in building mutual trust and appreciation that will serve as the relationship cornerstone.
Don’t feel like you need to solve every problem. It’s common for first-time managers to leave the 1×1 meeting and run around trying to fix everything. The key is to understand which items require your guidance and which can be solved simply by listening. Said another way: Sometimes people just want to vent to their manager.
When I’m unclear whether a 1×1 talking point is a true priority or a venting exercise, I like to empower the employee by giving them the opportunity to create a project. Give them time to ponder the issue and the chance to circle back next meeting with potential solutions, a timeline to resolution, and the resources needed to get it done. Their true priorities will be treated with vigor and that’s your signal to become involved.
Give real feedback. Not just the normal, “I think you’re doing a great job Katie”. I’m talking about specific and actionable feedback that drives tangible improvement and growth. Think back over your career and all the feedback you’ve received. The annual reviews, the post-meeting comments, and client debriefs at the bar. Seriously, really think about it.
How much of it was fluff and how much of it helped you grow as a person and professional? In my reflection I can count the actionable feedback I’ve received on a single hand.
As a manager, you have the power to create real change. But it only happens when you make the effort to identify areas for improvement and have the guts to deliver that message. For each person on your team I know there’s at least one hard conversation you’re avoiding. Step into that uncomfortable place and create real growth.
Don’t make it about you. “The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting,” Horowitz observes. “This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas, and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email, and other less personal and intimate mechanisms” (177).
Most managers use the 1×1 as a project catch-up or a place to push forward their agenda. Avoid that trap because the tactics will quickly overpower the meeting’s true purpose: to nurture and grow your team.
Whats your experience with 1×1 meetings and how can you improve the next one?
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