For some managers, conducting regular one-on-ones with direct reports is second-nature. Employees who have a manager like this are lucky. In my first job out of college, however, this wasn’t the case.
As a naïve 22-year-old, I focused on the tangible elements of my job, and I was simply thrilled by the fact that I was finally earning a living. I had no idea how much of a positive impact an experienced manager could have on both my efficacy on the job as well as my overall professional development. Capable managers use one-on-one meetings as an opportunity to regularly connect with their employees and gain insight into their work, as well as coach and provide inspiration. I didn’t realize at the time how important this type of attention could be for my career.
Not all managers realize the value of this small-but-consistent time investment, either. They may view one-on-ones as a waste of time or a distraction from completing their own work. I finally became aware that my manager fell into this category when I began researching ways to become more productive in my role. As a first-time project manager, I was struggling with the challenge of defining and prioritizing my engineers’ day-to-day responsibilities while balancing my own independent work.
I came to the realization that I had two options: I could either silently bemoan my manager’s reluctance (or inexperience) to conduct one-on-ones and miss out on the coaching I needed. Alternatively, I could proactively take ownership of our one-on-ones and take advantage of their value.
I decided to do the latter and took on the responsibility to drive this process with my manager. Here’s how I convinced my manager that we should begin having weekly one-on-one meetings.
The Purpose of 1x1s
I knew I had to first articulate to my manager how one-on-ones would be an effective use of time for both of us. It’s both virtually impossible and inefficient for managers to have complete visibility into their direct reports’ everyday activities. This was especially difficult for my manager since she was managing her fair share of projects while leading an entire department.
One-on-ones should be seen as the solution to resolving this potential pain point. They allow managers to develop transparent relationships with their direct reports, especially around accomplishments, challenges, and expectations. Additionally, they give managers the opportunity to gain a glimpse into their direct reports’ job satisfaction and development — crucial metrics of employee engagement. Once we began our one-on-ones, my manager realized I was eagerly seeking more coaching and she was able to act on this rather than letting it go undetected.
For the direct report, the one-on-one is a great way to gather feedback from their manager. This allows positive work to be reinforced while allowing for more frequent opportunities for course correction when the manager shares constructive feedback. This eliminates the likelihood of disappointing surprises when performance review season rolls around, one of the many disadvantages of not receiving frequent feedback. For me to become a better project manager, I needed to further develop skills such as timeliness and organization. These meetings allowed my manager to mentor me in these areas early on before they negatively impacted any major projects.
Another advantage of frequent one-on-ones is they reduce the number of impromptu conversations between a manager and their direct report. Before we committed to recurring one-on-ones, I found myself continuously interrupting my manager — and vice versa — throughout the course of each week, with questions or status updates. These conversations easily added up to the amount of time needed for a one-on-one. The advantage of one-on-ones is that they allow both parties to give their undivided attention to the conversation, which isn’t necessarily the case for unanticipated conversations throughout the week.
How to Ensure 1×1 Success
It’s one thing to convince your manager that these meetings are worthwhile. It’s quite another thing to successfully implement them into your week. These meetings must immediately become habitual, or else you risk damaging their value proposition. There are several ways to ingrain these meetings into your work relationship with your manager and ensure their success.
[bctt tweet=”The key to making sure one-on-ones actually take place is to schedule a recurring calendar” username=”reflektive”]
I found that the key to making sure one-on-ones actually take place is to schedule a recurring calendar event in advance that my manager and I could both commit to moving forward. Trying to schedule them on the fly won’t work, because calendars get busy and excuses become more likely. It’s also important to not create a habit of canceling these meetings. Inevitably, there were times where one of us had to cancel our one-on-one due to more pressing matters, but we always made sure to reschedule them immediately to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to their importance.
Ensuring that the meeting is effective is another way to guarantee that you and your manager will take them seriously. Without proper preparation, a 30-minute one-on-one will fly by, leaving both parties unsatisfied by the lack of topics covered. It is, therefore, crucial to define a shared agenda throughout the course of the week to ensure the conversation stays on pace to cover as many topics as possible. My manager and I found these meetings more efficient and effective when we began doing this, as it helped us cover everything noteworthy from the previous week. However, we found that it was equally important to be flexible with our agenda and adjust where necessary if certain topics required more attention during the meeting.
Ultimately, it was amazing to see the positive impact that a simple 30-minute meeting each week could have on my professional development. It helped my manager and me pinpoint which areas I needed to work on while staying on the same page with our ongoing projects. I even had the chance to begin mapping out my desired career trajectory with her and have more candid conversations about which career goals I should focus on.
It was also motivating to see that regardless of my age or rank in the organization, I could take charge of improving internal processes that would make the company run more effectively. Although I didn’t end up pursuing a career in project management, I was able to make the most of the experience and come away with many of the skills that help me succeed as a customer success manager today. In case you were wondering, one-on-ones are thankfully (and unsurprisingly!) already a part of the company culture here at Reflektive.