You Can’t Be a Good Manager If You Miss Your One-on-Ones

A company is only as good as its people, and when employees succeed, the company succeeds. This is especially true for Omada Health, the explosive healthcare company that is helping people at high risk of diabetes and heart disease make vital, lasting lifestyle changes through technology and design.

So how can leaders build an empowering employee success function while simultaneously meeting demanding business objectives? I sat down with Sean Duffy, co-founder and CEO of Omada, to uncover how he utilizes performance management to meet their life-saving goals.

What is your opinion of performance management today?

Performance management today falls into the category of “essential, yet complex.” Oftentimes it chokes people up when they let perfect be the enemy of good, yet it’s such a mission-critical part of managing any organization.

I also think the way HR has historically thought about performance management sounds more punitive, versus treating it as a growth orientation. Everyone should benefit from performance management, even if you are the top performer in the company.

How did you learn the strategic business value of HR as a first-time CEO?

Before I went to medical school and founded Omada Health, I actually worked in HR at Google in a group called “People Analytics.” It’s really a social sciences group inside Google. The imperative was to take a more science-forward approach to HR practices.

At the end of the day, your company is your people Click To Tweet

That was an enormous awakening to the power of HR processes, people, and talent management, because at the end of the day, your company is your people. I think it’s probably the most important thing any company can think about.

How do you nurture new managers at Omada?

I care a lot about this. Like most other startups, we have a lot of new managers at the company. Prior to Omada, I hadn’t managed anybody either.

We’ve done a couple of things. First, we custom built something called the “Omada Management Exchange.” It’s actually open sourced, so anyone can use it at their companies. It’s a stellar array of sessions, content, and materials put together by various Omadans and led by our Chief People Officer, Jo Dennis. It was absolutely fabulous, and everybody left that saying it was the best manager training to date.

Second, we have quarterly manager community calls that I lead, where it’s all the managers on the line, or in the room together, and we talk about upcoming growth cycles, comp cycles, and whatever else we need to discuss. I view that as critically important.

You will become a way better manager overnight if you go to all your 1x1s.

My ambition – and I do my best to reiterate this across Omada – is to have every manager really feel like a general manager of the business. We set the expectation that if you’re a manager, you have to have the baseline-level business context across most functions at Omada. When your report asks a question, you should be able to address it and describe how and why that same thing is being accomplished in another department.

I’ve heard from multiple people that you are a stickler on 1x1s. How does that fit into being a good manager?

I would say you cannot be called a good manager if you miss your 1x1s. That sounds silly, but those basic, tactical elements add up to being a good manager.

You will become a way better manager overnight if you go to all your 1x1s, make sure you run your 1x1s right, have your report come in with the agenda, talk about career development, and work to give real-time feedback when you see it. All of these basics are elements of a good manager.

How do you run your career check-in conversations at Omada, and how does that fit into the overall growth strategy?

I think every quarter, or every six months, is a good cadence for career check-in conversations. There are two elements to that conversation that we work to encourage at Omada.

First we ask we challenge our employees to think of their career in 10 years. It may be at Omada, but it likely won’t be. Ten years is a long time, and people have a long career arc. The person could want to start a company, or go off to contribute to the world in a whole new way. How can we both progress their skillset as much as we can and get as much out of them as we can, while pointing them on that longer journey?

Every quarter, or every six months, is a good cadence for career check-in conversations Click To Tweet

Then we bring it in. Managers must ask, “Is the near-term path and the learning curve that this person is on pointing them toward or away from their long-term objective?”

I think those two elements are the most important. If you address those, you’ve done right by your employees. They’ll feel they have a sense of vision for where they want to go and a sense of the steps they need to take along that journey to get them to the right place.

How do you enable an employee-driven feedback culture?

Multiple times throughout the year when we have a people question, we’ll put out what we call our “destiny surveys.” In the spirit of “controlling your own destiny,” we encourage Omadans to give input to our people practices. We seek input on even the smallest details, like people’s preferences on anonymous peer feedback versus non-anonymous. We have the core people philosophy in place, but everybody continues to shape how they work to this day.

How do you recognize people for good work at Omada and keep everyone aligned with the company’s core values?

We call our recognition program “Kudos.” Kudos are examples of bits of work or behaviors that are aligned with our values, and deliver results to the company, participants, or customers. Our values are “participants first,” “empower partners,” “swing big,” “hustle smart,” “grow together,” and “be humble.”

I would say one key way that Reflektive helps employees align with our mission and our values is when people post recognition on the Kudos board, they actually tag the values. It’s a perfect tie-in. It allows us to help people reflect on why this work is important and how it maps to Omada’s values and mission. Then we make sure to always put some mission-oriented questions in the review cycles.

One key way that Reflektive helps employees align with our mission and our values is when people post recognition on the Kudos board, they actually tag the values.

We rolled out the Kudos program to leaders first, and organically, everyone else in the company started to use the recognition features of Reflektive to call each other out on these positive things. Every Monday morning meeting we highlight a featured Kudos that’s aligned with a featured value, and why it’s important to Omada.

Then every quarter, Jo and a core group of leaders comb through the recognition wall and look for Kudos that stand out. Then we use those to power a people program that we call “Operation Orange” at Omada, which is in the spirit of experiential things in life, carrying a little bit more emotional value than just financial. The Operation Orange Awards winners get something (like an Airbnb giftcard) that allows them to take time out for themselves. It’s all driven and powered by Reflektive, and personalized by us.

As a CEO, why do you think it’s important that leaders use a tool like Reflektive, especially for Kudos?

We felt it was so important for leaders to recognize our employees that the senior leadership team has a weekly recurring calendar invite to “Check Reflektive and give Kudos.”

The importance of that can’t be overstated, because if you don’t do it, you can’t expect your people to. I also love it because I don’t have visibility into all the amazing stuff happening across the company on a day-to-day basis at the organizational scale we’re at currently.

I think people should like working at Omada for the mission. Click To Tweet

This feature provides dual purpose of both recognition and connection to the day-to-day work. If you think of what’s canonical as a company grows, there’s a feeling, true or not, that the executives don’t know what’s happening at the ground level. How do you bridge that? You have find bits of intimate detail with the work that’s going on, and you celebrate the bright spots.

Every time I go through the Kudos, I’m like, “That’s amazing. We did that?” There’s all these positive surprises, and I also write a Kudos there. It sends an email to the recipient and their manager, so it feels good to them.

Why should people like working at Omada Health?

I think people should like working at Omada for the mission. Work is hard. Nothing that’s ever been created to change humanity has come easily. Fighting gravity is extraordinarily difficult. I think that’s true for any startup or fast-growing organization.

It’s determination and grit that tends to get you through all the challenges in growing an organization, and I think that you’re able to muster a higher level of determination when you know the mission is something great for the world.