What Do You Talk about in 1:1s?

The title says a lot of what I’d like to ask people here. Not everyone has experience of 1:1s. Often those of us who have experience of them still don’t necessarily know how to act during a 1:1 to get the best out of them.

Of course, there are two sides to this, that of the manager and that of the employee. I’m eager to hear both sides as I think we can learn a lot from each other.

What do you talk about in 1:1s? How do you prepare for them?

As a manager here is my thoughts:

I have two main objectives. One is to help with the long term development of the individual so that they are improving, learning and being motivated. The other is for the employee to vent / share to see if there is anything that is making their situation less than optimal that I need to act on.

The second part is typically captured with. How is it going?

The first part is trickier since it depends a lot on the other person.

General rule number 1. For junior people I need to help them learn how to be a professional. Which can be a lot of different things. How to time report. How do you structure your work. How do you deal with conflict. How do you work with self improvement. The goal is to get to a point where anyone can ask the person “Hey can you do this work?” and they can say yes without any intervention from others what I call autonomy. For Senior people who already can do this. I instead will need to find out their goals and ambitions. Shape them into something that is useful for the organisation and help them achieve that. Once you have the “we are working on this together” the format becomes a little easier.

General rule number 2. You want to give positive reinforcement. Any steps they have taken to achieve the goals should be praised and any behavioral improvement also should be encouraged. As a preparation step (since I personally are bad at this) it is good to write down what you actually want to praise beforehand. Something I have gotten from several sources is the concept of you giving them feedback. I’ve come across a few different ideas about how you give good feedback. But all my efforts on it did not work. I felt awkward and they did not really change. Then one day it finally clicked. Attending a leadership course they said instead of giving feedback your job is to help them find better ways of acting and for that purpose the “feedback” is not cutting it.
I had a member of my team that was struggling and I was requested to try the recipe on that person by in the training role play the scenario. So I follow this recipe in the exercise and my partner who played the role of my colleague without knowing the person came to a very good action as a result of the exercise. So in the next 1-1 I did the same thing live. And my colleague came to the same action, and started doing it and changing their behavior the very same week. Mind blown!
Here is the recipe to help people find actions for improving, take ownership of it and the motivation to do it:

  1. Give them a complement to set the stage as a safe and positive environment.
  2. Bring the subject on the table without your colleague to lose their face. Most of us know the stupid things we do, there is no need to spell it out. But it needs to be clear that both of you know what you are talking about. Instead of “You are such and idiot for not be done on time so the entire release was delayed.” do “I know that you are really hard working and I really appreciate that. I saw that you were working like crazy the day before this release that was delayed, let me share one of my experiences”
  3. Share a story of your own experience. It do not need to be 100% applicable to the situation on the table. The important message is that you did something wrong or bad, learned from it, changed your behavior and had a better outcome. Here that might have been “This was some years ago, it was Sunday evening, I’m watching my clock, I’ve barely slept the last couple of days and I realize. I will not make it in time. I just wanted to blame my shame away. But this time the only person to blame was me. I should have started earlier, I had the entire week on me to do this but did a lot of other things instead. From now on I always keep a list of the highest priority tasks on my desk to help remind me of what I should be working on first. And I have never put myself in that position again since”
  4. Coach them to figure out what they want to do in order to address the issue on the table. They do not need to come to the same conclusion as you on what to do about it. They have the solution, and it need to be theirs for the motivation and ownership. Do not tell them what to do. Ask them to do something about. Just like you did in your story.
  5. Next 1-1 positive reinforcement.
    Step 1-3 you should prepare before the meeting.

General rule number 3. Follow up. If you have asked them to work on something you need to touch base with that. If they have asked something from you, you need to reconnect.

Sometimes I skip the improvement / vent loop and have a feedback session. Roughly once every 6 months or so I ask my colleagues to give me feedback if there is anything they want me to do better.

An agenda would then look something like this.

  • You are awesome because…
  • How is it going? How are you doing? How has your week been? Etc.
  • Last time we talked about this… where are we with this?
  • What is the next step?
  • Any other business

Some pointer for your actions during the meeting.

  • LISTEN!! Use paraphrasing (share back part of what they said) to make sure that you understood it and to make them feel heard.
  • Don’t be afraid to say. I don’t know, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.
  • Also if you or they don’t have time to have the meeting don’t have it.
  • It’s more of a workshop than a status reporting meeting.
  • 1 complain = 9 praises so don’t complain.
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