Encouraging 1:1s from other managers in your organization

January 4, 2019 :: 0 comments

If you’re managing other managers, encourage them to hold their own 1:1s. At a minimum, doing them with their direct reports is non-negotiable. It’s such an important tool for managing and leading that everyone needs to be holding them.

I encourage, but don’t require, them to do skip levels and peer 1:1s, too. They’ll get huge benefits from seeing the bigger picture of the company, and you’ll find that managers are less threatened by you doing skip-levels with their reports if they’re doing skip levels of their own.

Most managers don’t do 1:1s well, and like everything else, it’s a learned skill. Teach them this skill.

Use your 1:1s with them to teach by example, and periodically ask them how their 1:1s are going. Dive deep into the problems they struggle with holding a 1:1.

Create templates for agendas, distribute ideas for how to get feedback, point them at blog posts like mine, and otherwise give them a starting point for learning their own effective 1:1 style.

If you have enough managers, invest in some training time with them. Teach them how to avoid falling into talking about the tactical day to day. Walk through what a 1:1 should look like. Have them practice on each other.

This is one of a series of posts about holding 1:1s. View the rest of the series.

One on One Meetings - a collection of posts about 1:1s

January 2, 2019 :: 0 comments

I’ve been blogging a lot recently about holding 1:1 meetings with your reports. Here’s the entire collection of these works.

One on One meetings for managers
A one on one meeting is one of the top ways you can build your managerial leverage
One on One meetings: Frequency and Duration
How long should your 1:1s be? How often should you run them?
Do you need a 1:1 if you’re regularly communicating with your team?
You’re simply not having deep meaningful conversation about the process of work in hallway conversations or in your chat apps.
What should you talk about in a 1:1?
Who sets the agenda? What should you discuss, and what should you avoid discussing?
What agenda items should a manager bring to a 1:1?
At least 80% of a 1:1 agenda should be driven by your report, but if you also to use this time to work on things with them, then you’ll have better meetings.
Handling “I don’t have anything to talk about” in your 1:1s
When someone says they have nothing to discuss, they’re almost always thinking too narrowly.
Are 1:1s confidential?
Is the discussion that occurs in a 1:1 confidential, even if no agreed in the meeting to keep it so?
Skip-level 1:1s are your hidden superpower
Holding 1:1s with peers and with people far below you on the reporting chain will open your eyes up to what’s really going on in your business.
Encouraging 1:1s from other managers in your organization
If you’re managing other managers, encourage them to hold their own 1:1s. It’s such an important tool for managing and leading that everyone needs to be holding them.

Are 1:1s confidential?

January 2, 2019 :: 0 comments

You’re having a 1:1 and someone brings something to you that feels like it needs addressing with someone else. Maybe they’re having a problem with a teammate. Maybe they’ve been approached about a new role. What do you do? Is the discussion confidential, even if they didn’t ask you to keep it so?

Mark Rabkin, VP Engineering and Product Facebook said, "If it’s safe enough to be overheard — it’s not the right content for a 1:1." The very idea of a 1:1 is to talk about things that shouldn’t be discussed in groups. Confidentiality is a requirement.

Skip-level 1:1s are almost always complaint sessions, often about their boss or teammates. You have to keep them 100% confidential. This is hard because it often feels like you need to fix things. You’re the manager after all, and what is your job there for if not to fix things? You must resist this urge. If the team doesn’t feel they can tell you things without it getting out, they will hold back, and you’ll miss out on the benefits of the skip levels.

If Carly tells you she’s thinking of applying for a spot somewhere else in the company, you can’t go tell her boss about it or your trust is blown and the skip levels become useless.

You often have to avoid taking direct action after a 1:1, so you don’t inadvertently leak what was talked about. Evan tells you that his boss is taking forever to approve the latest plans, you’ll have to wait a while to talk about it with his boss, or he’ll think Evan tattled on him.

In 1:1s with your own reports, they’re talking to their boss, so they have an absolute expectation of privacy. Unless you specifically talk to them about bringing someone else into the discussion, their thoughts and concerns should stay completely between the two of you. If you find that you’re regularly talking bringing something up with someone else, then you either have a seriously dysfunctional company, or you’re talking about the wrong things in your 1:1s (hint: stop talking about the work you’re doing).

Of course, if something illegal or unethical is going on, address it right away. Take whatever steps you can to sanitize the source, but you can’t allow bad behavior to continue.

This is one of a series of posts about holding 1:1s. View the rest of the series.

Skip-level 1:1s are your hidden superpower

January 1, 2019 :: 0 comments

In addition to 1:1 meetings with your direct reports, you should be hosting periodic 1:1s with people that are further down in the reporting chain and with your peers in other groups.

The skip level 1:1 is a very underutilized tool. A skip-level is a 1:1 conversation with people who report to your direct reports, and perhaps to the people who report to the people who report to your reports.

If you want to really know what’s going on in your organization, you have to talk to the people who are doing the work. You can do this by scheduling a weekly 1:1 with someone under you. It doesn’t need to be the same person each week, and it also doesn’t need to be just one level removed. In fact, it’s useful to constantly rotate between different people for the skip level. As you rise in the reporting structure, you should even schedule 1:1s with people all the way down the ladder to get a sense of what is happening “on the ground.” If I were the CEO of a 10,000 person company, I’d be talking to the most junior folks in the company at least a couple times a month.

Don’t just think of skip levels with people under you. Schedule peer 1:1s with folks in other parts of the organization that you work with. If you’re an engineering manager, talk to other engineering managers. Talk to marketing. Talk to product support.

A peer 1:1 will be different in tone than a skip-level, but the desired output is the same. Use these to catch up on what’s going on in your peer’s world. What’s going well, what issues are they seeing? Who is being particularly helpful or difficult? You’re using these to understand the big picture surrounding your work and to make sure that other teams have you in their big picture.

Peer 1:1s can be far more infrequent. For the most part, I find that catching up every 3-5 weeks is plenty, and it’s not terribly harmful if you have to skip them here and there.

Expanding your definition about who to hold 1:1s with will help you have a much better view of what’s happening in your company.

This is one of a series of posts about holding 1:1s. View the rest of the series.

Do you need a 1:1 if you’re regularly communicating with your team?

December 28, 2018 :: 0 comments

One of the dangers of having a scheduled 1:1 meeting is that your report will hold everything and just talk to you then. They may think that because they have a weekly with you that this is the only time you’re available to them. You need to make it explicit that you’re available all the time. Things that can wait to the 1:1 should (they might solve it on their own if given the time), but they can always talk to you.

I tell my teams that I’m never doing something that’s more important than them. If they need me, grab me casually or schedule something with me. And if it looks like I’m completely booked up, tell me they need me and I’ll clear space. My job is to make the team successful.

The opposite problem can also happen. People can think that because they talk to you regularly, the 1:1 isn’t needed. I hear people say, “my manager is always available and we talk every day, so we only schedule a 1:1 for 15 minutes once a month.” That’s completely missing the purpose of the 1:1.

These people are treating the 1:1 as a fail-safe: “at least if we all get busy, I know we’re going to check in every once in a while.” That’s a certainly a function of the 1:1, but it’s not the prime function.

The 1:1 is there to work on how the work happens. It’s to dive deeper into why we’re doing things and how we grow. It’s to make us all better at our jobs. You’re simply not having these levels of conversation in hallway conversations or in your chat apps.

Think of the times you’ve gone to lunch or dinner with the boss, just the two of you. The discussions you had were deeper than usual, whether they were about family, office politics, or debating if you should move to microservices. How great are those moments?

Now imagine you could do those every week, with every employee. These are your 1:1s.

This is one of a series of posts about holding 1:1s. View the rest of the series.

What agenda items should a manager bring to a 1:1?

December 23, 2018 :: 0 comments

While most of a 1:1 agenda should be driven by the employee, there’s certain things you need to be getting from the meeting, too. And having an agenda for these is the way to make sure that happens.

So what goes on that agenda? The first rule is that you don’t want to use this time to assign new projects.

This seems weird, but it’s generally a bad idea to assign work during a 1:1. Same with asking about the state of a project. If you want someone to start a new project, schedule a specific kickoff meeting about it. Ask for status outside of the 1:1.

The 1:1 is there to talk about how we work, and to improve the work. If you start talking about what the work is, you’ll find that your 1:1s devolve into 15 minute status conversations instead of deep, meaningful discussions.

When putting things on an agenda for a 1:1, I’m generally covering a few categories. The most obvious is company news. If it’s potentially disruptive, I’ll carve out time to talk about it. I’ll give my take on it and ask for theirs. A real -world example: The part of Cisco I work in has been goin g through a reorganization, and my team reports to a completely different part of the company now. I told my team individually in 1:1s about the coming changes before the mass announcement. The team move has been messy due to some HR bureaucracy issues, so a portion of my 1:1s has been devoted to discussing this with my team to make sure they stay comfortable.

Another fairly obvious thing for your 1:1s is to use them to discover blockers. Most engineers are pretty good about calling these out on their own, but you can also help them discover issues that they aren’t seeing. If you notice something is taking longer than usual, diving into why can help you identify places that you can help. The test builds are taking forever on their laptop, so an engineer waiting around a lot. They may not see this as a blocker or something you can help with. But you know that several people have the problem and can allocate budget for a dedicated test build server.

In 1:1s I’m also looking for career development opportunities in my team. What do they want to be doing that they’re not today? You can explicitly ask this question, or just look for things they have an aptitude and interest in. How can they help their teammates grow and learn new things?

My agenda often includes performance feedback, both from me and about me. Performance feedback is a hard thing for people to give their manager, so you need to ask for it. When you ask, it needs to be something more than “where can i improve” because no one’s going to answer that honestly.

I’ll ask them how much of their daily tasks I’m involved in, and if that’s too much or too little. I’ll ask what they wish I was doing that I’m not doing.

You’ll also want to build relationships souring your 1:1s. You don’t want to stick “act human” as an explicit agenda item, but make time during the meeting to talk about their families, their hobbies, and discuss yours with them.

A lot of the time I won’t have these things on a written agenda that goes to the employee. I’ll write specific topics down during the week that I want to go over, but the agenda topics I describe above aren’t always explicit. I’m looking for hints and tells as they talk to me about other things. I have a note on my desk that lists off these items, and before going into a 1:1, I read that list. It makes these implicit agenda items stick out in my mind, and ensures I’m doing them.

At least 80% of a 1:1 agenda should be driven by your report, but if you also to use this time to work on things with them, then you’ll have better meetings.

This is one of a series of posts about holding 1:1s. View the rest of the series.

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Encouraging 1:1s from other managers in your organization (Jan 4)
If you’re managing other managers, encourage them to hold their own 1:1s. It’s such an important tool for managing and leading that everyone needs to be holding them.
One on One Meetings - a collection of posts about 1:1s (Jan 2)
A collection of all my writing on 1:1s
Are 1:1s confidential? (Jan 2)
Is the discussion that occurs in a 1:1 confidential, even if no agreed in the meeting to keep it so?
Skip-level 1:1s are your hidden superpower (Jan 1)
Holding 1:1s with peers and with people far below you on the reporting chain will open your eyes up to what’s really going on in your business.
Do you need a 1:1 if you’re regularly communicating with your team? (Dec 28)
You’re simply not having deep meaningful conversation about the process of work in hallway conversations or in your chat apps.
What agenda items should a manager bring to a 1:1? (Dec 23)
At least 80% of a 1:1 agenda should be driven by your report, but if you also to use this time to work on things with them, then you’ll have better meetings.
Handling “I don’t have anything to talk about” in your 1:1s (Dec 21)
When someone says they have nothing to discuss, they’re almost always thinking too narrowly.
What should you talk about in a 1:1? (Dec 19)
Who sets the agenda? What should you discuss, and what should you avoid discussing?

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