5 mistakes to avoid in your one-on-one’s with your manager

Ever feel like your one-on-ones’s with your manager aren’t that helpful?

Here are five reasons why that might be:

1. Using the time exclusively for updates rather than for having a real dialogue. Too often, people use their one-on-ones to run down laundry lists of updates on projects. But when that information could easily be captured in a quick bulleted list that you email ahead of time, you’re squandering time with your manager that could be more productively spent on actual interaction: talking through challenges that you’re facing, getting advice, formulating strategy, and getting feedback. And speaking of feedback…

2. Not asking for feedback. One-on-one’s are a perfect place for you and your manager to talk about what’s going well and what could be going better. And sure, your manager should proactively give you feedback on her own without you needing to ask for it, but the reality is that plenty of managers won’t give feedback until or unless something is dire – which puts you at a disadvantage, because you’ll perform better if you’re getting feedback along the way, rather than waiting until something goes wrong. So don’t be shy about saying to your manager, “How did you think that meeting went?” or “How are you feeling about how I’m handling X?” or “I’d love your thoughts on how I could approach Y more effectively.”

3. Not debriefing recent work. In addition to getting feedback on your performance, it’s helpful to talk through projects after they’re over. What lessons can be drawn? Are there things you should note could be approached better next time? The next time a major project ends, try asking your boss to spend 10 or 20 minutes doing a post-mortem on it with you, to draw lessons that will help you do even better in the future. (This kind of reflection has been shown to dramatically strengthen people’s performance.)

4. Not driving the agenda. If you’re just showing up to check-in meetings with your boss waiting to hear what she’d like to discuss, you’re missing out an opportunity to get more out of the time. Before each meeting, spend ten minutes thinking about what would be most helpful for you to discuss. Is there a project you want her feedback on? Do you need to communicate that there’s some time-sensitivity on that draft that’s been sitting in her in-box for two weeks, and that you can’t move forward until she signs off on it? Are you struggling with getting something from a partner organization that she might have more pull with? By thinking through what you need from her, you can come prepared to get more out of the meeting time.

5. Not scheduling them at all. If you and your manager don’t do regular one-on-ones, you might be missing out on an opportunity to get better results in your work, as well as strengthen the relationship. If weekly seems like it’s too frequent, consider doing them every other week – but do make a point of making time for them. They’ll almost certainly help you and your boss be better aligned, which translates into what type of results you get and how your performance is assessed.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. lhh*

    Salary negotiation help…

    I’m applying for an internal position that would move me from a mid-level analyst to a manager in the department. I would be managing analysts and client relationships.

    I have an interview/meeting regarding the position Monday and I’m trying to prep myself for negotiation talks. We’re a lean organization so salaries aren’t generous. I feel like I am on the low end for my position but think a 20k raise would be appropriate for the positions (30%).

    Any articles or tips you could direct me to? I feel like if I don’t get the 20k, I’ll seriously start looking for other jobs

        1. Guest*

          lhh – we have a weekly open thread on Fridays. You can post your question there and we will all weigh in.

  2. bored...*

    I have regular check ins with my manager, once a month. Lately I’ve been feeling really bored at work. I feel like I’m kind of being held back from the things that I’m capable of doing. I of course wouldn’t word it like that (suggestions are welcome) but is this a good thing to talk about in the one on ones? Or should I separate it from the rest of my updates with a different meeting?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it’s something you want to discuss, there’s no reason not to bring it up in a one-on-one; no need to schedule a separate meeting about it. I think the way you’d probably want to frame it is “Now that I’ve been doing X for (amount of time), I’m really interested in finding ways to continue to grow in the position. I’d love to talk with you about what that might look like.” Even better if you come with specific suggestions of what you’re interested in taking on.

      1. CAA*

        Yes, please bring your specific suggestions about how you’d like to modify your work or suggest additional projects you can take on that would benefit your team or department. We managers are not mind readers, so if you make it as easy as possible for us to give you what you want, you’re far more likely to get it.

        Also, if your growth requires offloading some of your existing work onto someone else, then please don’t pick all the tasks that everyone would consider drudgery. (I actually can read minds well enough to recognize when that’s happening. :-)

    2. JangleFish*

      I’ve been through this multiple times. Best thing to do is to approach your superior and bring your desire to do more to the table. This will prove that you are proactive and score points with your boss. Above all, it will likely get you work to do, which is always better than sitting idle.

      1. Steve G*

        Yup – because if you feel like you are in ninth grade but are ready for eleventh grade , you don’t automatically put in the next grade at work, sometimes you have to ask.

        And this is directly to AAM – I noticed this article had 1/12 of the comments as the one about the rabbi. I wanted to say that it’s these more “boring” issues that make at least me keep coming here. These are the type of things that come up at my very intense, long hour job, and its nice to come here and see “oh other people think about this too?” Please don’t ever think that the more controversial topics are the only ones we want to see covered.

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, seconding Steve G’s comment. I definitely find the rabbi-type posts entertaining, but it was the more prosaic stuff that got me interested and staying (either when I was job hunting or having trouble at work).

          2. Kyrielle*

            I find less to say to the more everyday ones, because they aren’t often as open to discussion, but I often find them more useful in my day to day life, and more informative. (Which is not to say I don’t like the other kind: only that I hope I never have an opportunity to apply, say, the advice related to the post about the vomiting coworker!)

  3. Cath in Canada*

    Alison, I just wanted to mention that I sent my manager your last article on this topic (http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2014/06/12/how-to-make-weekly-1-on-1s-more-useful-for-your-team/ ) and we’ve implemented most of the suggestions – it really does work better than when we spent much of the hour just going over updates from the last week! The regular debriefs on what went well, what didn’t, and how I could do things better next time are particularly useful. So, thanks!

    (also, my manager seemed impressed that I read such articles!)

  4. ThursdaysGeek*

    I’d like to schedule one-on-ones, but my boss is in a different state and time zone. In almost 2 years at this job, he’s visited my work site twice, and I’ve gone there twice. We could still do it by phone, and I suppose I should push for that.

    The last time I visited in person I asked for a meeting. He was surprised but accepted. I asked how I was doing, what I could do to improve. He said I was doing great and didn’t know. I asked what it would take to move up in title, and he said taking ownership of a project or two would be useful, and he’d look around. I think I need to do the looking around.

    I guess I don’t push for the one-on-ones because I’m not sure I’d get that much value out of them. I haven’t gotten much value yet. On the other hand, perhaps we would build a relationship, and the value would come.

    1. Jen RO*

      My boss is remote and, for a short while, we had weekly one-on-ones. It was great! (Then he got too busy…)

    2. Robin*

      I don’t think there’s any reason these 1-on-1s can’t be done by phone in your situation. I think it’s probably even more important, if anything, to make sure you and your boss are on the same page, since you can’t have the little informal check-ins you can have if you are in the same office.

    3. LJL*

      I think these can absolutely be done on the telephone. it may help to schedule a regular (say, weekly or every other week) meeting and keep it to 15-30 minutes. Don’t use all the time if it’s not needed. That way you can be building a habit of regular check-ins that you would probably both find valuable as time goes on and the relationship grows.

    4. The IT Manager*

      These meeting can be done by phone. I am remote. My previous supervisor did weekly check-ins. My current one scheduled every other week. Personally I preferred the weekly check-ins espscially since both have to occassionally cancelled and that means that with my current superviosr we can go 4 weeks between check-ins.

      For the time you did schedule the meeting with your boss in person, did you tell him the topic in advance? something by the way you described it made it seem like he was put on the spot and wasn’t prepared to answer.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I had to go back and check. Nope, I was very clear: “While I am here, I would like to meet with one or both of you (whichever is appropriate) for a mid-year status meeting: how I am doing; what I need to improve; what you and I see me doing in the future; compensation adjustments now and in the future; and a general road plan for achieving goals.”

        I do send a status email every week, telling what I’ve done, any roadblocks or successes; what I plan to be working on in the next week; and a general overview and status of each project. But…that’s all one way.

    5. Jillociraptor*

      I’m in the same situation, and I’ve done this with three managers! With my current manager, I check in 3x per week, two brief touchpoints for all those “watercooler” things, and then one formal check in with an agenda. I think it works pretty well – it’s a different skill to check in by phone because you don’t have body language, inevitably you’re both looking at your email, and all that. But I still find them very fruitful!

    6. SC in SC*

      I’d ask for them. I’m in the US and my boss is in Europe but we still schedule calls every two weeks for some one-on-one time. That’s in addition to the monthly staff conference calls as well as the instant messaging and impromptu calls that happen every week. We see each other about 2-3 times a year but the calls work fine once you get a good relationship going.

      As for your current situation, I’d say you’re basically having no communication. Written weekly updates are better than nothing but chances aren’t being read and even if they were it doesn’t really tell your boss very much. Considering we’re an ocean apart and my boss is fine to leaving me to my own devices, we still talk a good bit about our approach to work or how things will impact our groups. That kind of thing is almost impossible to get in an email.

  5. Stephanie*

    Oooh, these are helpful! I’ll keep this in mind the next time I have to do regular check-ins with a supervisor. With my penultimate boss, we scheduled weekly one-on-ones that were frustrating and unproductive for both of us. Eventually, he just stopped coming to them.

  6. Haleyca*

    Any advice for when your entire work life is a one-on-one with your boss? We are the only two workers in our very small office (the other one is remote) and therefore check in with each other multiple times a day. I suppose it would be more of a matter of setting aside a time to talk more about performance and the specific things on this list. Does anyone have any thoughts about how this might differ for people who are constantly interacting with their managers?

    1. Jen RO*

      I am also curious about this. In my case, I an the team lead and I sit 3 feet away from the other people on my team. Aside from the occasional feedback session, what could I address in a weekly one-on-one with someone I see and supervise closely every day?

    2. Dan*

      It sounds like you’re already on the right track. Regular daily check-ins don’t count. I would suggest you set aside a special meeting time to talk specifically about performance, progress, hurdles, and feedback.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly – the idea is to have a specific time to step back and reflect on stuff that you might not spend time on in your day to day work (feedback, development stuff, debriefing, progress against big picture goals, etc.).

    3. Arjay*

      I work very closely with my boss day-to-day, so we schedule one-on-ones every two weeks instead of weekly. It works out well for us to check in on big picture items a couple times a month instead of rehashing the daily stuff we work on together in a weekly meeting.

  7. Student*

    This is a great wish-list of manager-employee interactions.

    Frankly, my boss doesn’t have time for all of that. One-on-ones are rare, because he has other more important things to deal with and I’m expected to work independently for the most part. I don’t even disagree with his prioritization – he really has other things that need more attention than managing me.

    Given that, could you give me your rough priority order for the things you’ve mentioned here? Let’s narrow it down to:
    A) Dialog about ongoing problems
    B) Dialog about strategy
    C) Asking for advice
    D) Asking for feedback
    E) Doing post-mortems on completed work

    Assume that I can get maybe 2 of those 5 into a conversation. Which two do you think are most useful to me, peon-employee? Which two are most useful to the manager?

    1. Dan*

      A) – D) on your list can all be weaved into the same conversation. Post mortems probably need a separate meeting.

  8. MilitantIntelligent*

    Just startled a new job very recently, and am finding it difficult to connect with my manager. She is super gregarious, whilst I am introverted and reserved, and open up over time. I like to soldier away in my cube, while she makes rounds and chats with people until well in the afternoon, then gets down to work, and often staying very late. She likes to pop in at various points during the day, which almost makes me feel bad: do I need to visit her personally to check in multiple times a day, when I don’t have much to say as far as pending work goes! am super busy and would just act awkward? ( Visits are not my style, plus I am truly trying to focus on my massive, massive workload and make this person glad she hired me). I like her as a person, but any advice on strengthening the bond with two different work styles, and personalities?

    1. MilitantIntelligent*

      Should clarify: I offered to schedule weekly one on ones, but don’t think she wants them. Also, I send a written update/report weekly and email daily, as necessary.

  9. Mabel*

    My former manager used to include (as part of our meetings) telling me everything that was going on in the office that might possibly affect me. I really appreciated it because I work remotely from the rest of my team and probably wouldn’t ever know the information otherwise. My new manager isn’t so chatty, but he’s great in other ways, and I try to keep in touch with my old manager as much as I can (she’s very busy, but we’re working on a project together, which helps).

  10. D'oh!*

    I had a Homer Simpson “D’oh!” moment with this. After reading the article, these seemed obvious, but I wasn’t doing all of them. Thank you for taking on the simpler stuff in addition to the more complex issues.

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