One of the simplest and most overlooked ways for growing your career is to have productive 1:1s with your manager. You do 1:1s anyway, so why not make the most of this time?
Here is a four step plan to make 1:1s with your manager simple yet rewarding.
- Send a status email 48 hours in advance. Discussing status updates are a poor use of 1:1 time so the best way to get ahead of this is to send status emails in advance. Your manager might still want to discuss status during your 1:1, but by sending the updates in advance, you can preserve the bulk of your 1:1 for your other discussion topics.
- Keep your status email short — no one wants to read incessant details. Here is a quick format that I recommend — the 3P format
- Progress [what I did last week]
- Plan [what I plan on doing this week]
- Problems [what you need help with]
- Schedule time on your calendar to write status reports and don’t exceed the allotted time. You should not need more than 15 minutes to write a status report — if you go for longer, it is likely too long for your manager to read in the first place!
- Prepare discussion topics and rank them in order of importance. So if you run out of time, you still discuss the most critical items. You strengthen your own brand as someone that is focused and is on top of their game.
- Create a shared 1:1 doc. I love Google Docs , and not just because I work at Google. With Google Docs you don’t need to email the updated document every time you update it.
- In some cases, if you have a difficult topic to raise, then rehearsing the exact phrasing of how you will approach it and preparing responses to anticipated questions, will add to your confidence that the discussion will go well.
Opening your 1:1s — make small talk useful.
- Most meetings start with the easy but ineffective “How are you?”. In my experience, when I asked that of my employees, they just responded with “I am good, how are you?” as a reflex response. Instead this can be a really nice opportunity to learn more about your manager, so you can connect with them on shared interests.
- An easy to replace alternative is — “what did you do this past weekend?”. I discovered an employee’s passion for making homemade exotic ice cream, another is a boy scout leader and so much more by changing my “greeting”. You can learn a lot about their passion by changing your opening question! Just remember to keep it open ended without getting intrusive or too personal.
During the meeting
- Propose the discussion topics vs asking “what should we talk about?”. For example, you could say “Hi Sally, I listed the key topics I needed to discuss today. Does this list look good to you? Is there anything else we need to add to the agenda?”
- Make eye contact and lean in — for example, nod if you agree with something your manager is saying or smile. Little gestures matter.
- Adopt a positive tone — if you hear something you don’t agree with, just lean in and ask clarifying questions to understand the feedback better. Don’t push back or start problem solving…yet. To read more on how to receive and address feedback, read this.
- Close with something positive that happened during the conversation, which you can both genuinely relate to. For example “I learnt a lot more about the organizational challenges you are dealing with in hiring more college grads.”
- Or you can simply say “thank you”. If you can, make it more specific. For example, “Thanks Sally for the discussion today. You gave me actionable insights on what is important to Fred, that I can immediately use”
Right after the meeting, update your 1:1 doc with the key takeaways and AIs. Keeping your doc up to date serves as a handy cheat sheet when it comes to writing your self assessment during performance reviews. And if your manager has a lot of direct reports, she might appreciate reading your doc as a quick refresher of everything you talked about last time, including pending action items.
There you go! I hope you find these tips useful. Success is repeatable, one meaningful 1:1 at a time.