What are one-on-one meetings?
Your boss is the main stakeholder in your career development, which means that you need to put much more effort in that communication. In this article we will leave informal communication aside and focus only on formal part. Formal communication is structured around meetings, either regarding projects and operational activities (majority) or it is a employee-manager feedback session. Somewhere in between are one-on-one meetings, where topics can vary – from personal performance to project status update.
One-on-one meeting is a two person meeting (deep insight here!), organized as a safe environment for the employee to openly state facts, opinions, concerns. In the same time, it is a tool for the managers to get unfiltered updates and deeper insights about certain topic which would not be possible to get in larger meetings.
How to propose one-on-one meeting to your manager?
Best way is to make it simple and honest.
If you don’t have a scheduled One-on-one with your manager, you should do it or at least talk about setting it up. Unless your manager is at the very bottom of emotional and social intelligence – your suggestion should be acknowledged as a proactive and noteworthy move. Just in case, be sure to prepare your argumentation upfront and be ready to explain why you are requesting time from your manager. If you need to sell it to her then you need to show what incremental value it is bringing. Taking time for planning and preparation for the meeting is very helpful for introverts to handle the meeting (read additional guidelines for introverts here – Career development basics for introverts
In case you are dealing with the manager that is not practising one-on-ones with his team, before you approach him about the topic you should check in what way the updates are transferred to level above your manager. Idea is to understand the background of not having one-on-ones, is it overall company culture or manager’s personal choice. If you are working for a small company, startup or family business reason could be that nobody thought about this until now. This is also a great opportunity to stand out and make it your advantage.
Advice – if you are only starting to build a quality relationship with your manager, avoid having one-on-one meeting over lunch or coffee. One-to-ones should be recurring meetings, scheduled in the fixed time slot. Give yourself and your manager time to build the habit of having the discussions in a interruption free environment. Very important – do not cancel or reschedule your One-on-ones, you are showing how this meeting is important for you by making it as high priority and managing other responsibilities around it.
How to prepare for one-on-ones?
Send the agenda (bullet list of topics you would like to discuss) at least a day before the meeting. That way the manager has time to prepare for the talk and you have the possibility to steer the discussion in the direction that you see as needed, especially if you have a manager who is a storyteller with a gift of wandering off in the discussion.
Timeslot reserved for the meeting should be at least 30min long, if it is a weekly meeting. If you decided to go with monthly meetings, schedule a longer meeting and prepare topics with more detail. For business topic, it will help you to prepare a simple Powerpoint and have printed handout with you in the meeting. For the private part and personal and career development topics, Powerpoint will not help you much but be sure to notify your manager upfront that you want to discuss it. When sending the preparation materials ask you manager for feedback and if there are topics that should be added.
Good career advice is always plan long term – same principle applies here. Put career development discussion on the agenda in regular intervals, quarterly or bi-monthly should be enough in most cases. Every one-on-one meeting where discussion is about the career planning should produce an action plan with clear steps. This opens an opportunity to have more frequent updates about your personal and career development on the agenda without giving the manager a feeling of being pressured to discuss it. To respect that, keep career updates short and with no further action requested from the manager.
Great advice for keeping track of what had been discussed on One-on-ones is to open a shared document with the manager and have all major topics tracked inside. There are multiple benefits for this: agenda will be easy to set up, manager will need less time for preparation and you can spread the discussion throughout several meetings without losing track of the topic. More advices how to manage this you can check in this great article: The direct reports guide to meaningful one-on-ones
Should career advancement be the topic in one-on-ones?
We covered the preparation part of the process, so let’s discuss the actual meeting. As in all activities in life, attitude brings 50% of the success. In the case of one-on-ones, as your activities will be discussed, be ready to discuss the topics that are not progressing well. Focus on rational reasoning of why something is not working as planned, what are the blockers and especially invest a bit of time to understand if and how your manager can help. Resist the temptation to go into the blame game scenario and emphasizing the influence of others on your work.
Have in mind that career advancement is a sensitive topic to be discussed with your manager. Unlike career development, advancement can bring major changes in the manager-direct report relationship. Be sure that you stated your ambitions in the previous sessions where career development was discussed. Your should feel comfortable about your performance, and if you achieved all agreed targets – you are ready to discuss where to go next and what are the repercussions on your career.
In one-on-ones you should fill comfortable enough to speak openly what you could have done better. You should approach this kind of situation by acknowledging the issue and prepared plan what you will do about it. Manager should have enough information to give you constructive suggestion what will work and what not. Avoid giving multiple suggestions and asking the manager to make a decision instead of you. This will never help in showing that you are ready for the next step in your career plan.
One more thing to avoid in one-on-one meetings is to turn it into a status update meeting. You can do the same with sending the excel list with all the activities and current status and your manager will soon realize that there is no added value of reserving one hour of her time to talk to you compared to receiving and e-mail with the update.
How to know if one-on-ones are bringing value to my career ?
As you see, there are few things to avoid in the meetings. How you will construct the meeting, depends completely on your situation. Just make sure you have a positive attitude, even with the things that annoy you. Another advice is that you consider tracking your satisfaction with the meeting and have a regular check up of the expectations. One option how you could do it is to do a NPS survey about the meeting where you would be the only respondent. Value of doing this is taking a deep breath and reflect is the meeting bringing enough value for you and your manager. If not – it is better to make changes sooner than later.