Jessica Powell's Guide to Great 1:1s
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Jessica Powell's Guide to Great 1:1s
Tips on running useful meetings with your direct reports from a start-up founder, former Google VP, and author of The Big Disruption: A Totally Fictional but Essentially True Silicon Valley Story.
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Jessica Powell
1:1s are a vital component of any successful employee-manager relationship. But too often they aren't well thought out, or sufficiently customized to the individual employee's needs. In addition, it's really easyーparticularly when there's no meeting agendaーfor both employee and manager to lose sight of longer-term goals, and instead over-prioritize short-term issues.

I don’t have a hard and fast rule for how to run 1:1s because I think the most important thing is that the 1:1 be useful to the individual employee. That said, I think most successful employee-manager relationships are built on 1) expectation setting, 2) focused agendas , and 3) an ability to connect short-term and long-term goals.

Setting expectations

Great 1:1s are built on a foundation of clear expectations—even though they're something both new and seasoned managers often overlook. Use your first meeting with a new employee to gauge what they are expecting from each meeting and to explain what you expect of them.

You may think your expectations are obvious and universal, but think again. For example, the micro-manager has dramatically different needs from a hands-off, big-picture manager.

Ask yourself what you most like to hear and discuss during 1:1s. Are there specific things you want updates on each weekーe.g. a read-out from a particular meeting or an update on DAUs? Are there times where you absolutely cannot be disturbed? Maybe you have a preference as to how you receive information. I've worked with plenty of people who are horrible on email, and only want to receive information in person. Personally, I hate wasting time in a meeting on something I could have read faster on my own, so I make sure to ask my direct reports to send materials in advance, so that I can digest and be ready with feedback and questions. But how would anyone ever know that if I didn't tell them?

In a similar vein, it's important that you ask your employee what they're expecting from you as their manager. I had one report who wanted to touch base each week on an area of development that had been flagged in a previous performance review. Another employee was in a remote office and wanted to spend more time understanding what was happening at HQ. So make sure to ask what your employee feels like they need.

Every 1:1 needs an agenda

Almost all meetings should have an agenda. Yes, there can be exceptions to this. But at the most basic level, an agenda is simply stating the purpose of the meeting. And if you can't state the purpose of your meeting, why do you need to have a meeting?

Since the 1:1 is to help your direct report, they should fill out the agenda—and send you a copy—before the meeting takes place. By setting aside time to create the agenda, they place themselves in a space to reflect on what they want to accomplish and discuss that week. And since you receive a copy ahead of the meeting, you can review the agenda and prepare any discussion points you may have.

There are a few specific agenda sections that I think belong in an agenda:

Updates to Goals
- Have your direct report log weekly updates on their goals. Like creating the agenda itself, providing goal updates forces them to reflect on how much progress has been made (or not). These updates also highlight appropriateness of current timelines and allow you both to alter those times if needed.
Sentiment
- Are they excited to share an accomplishment? Or do they need a moment to vent about a challenge? Although not everyone will want to discuss how they're
feeling
at that moment or on that day, offering the opportunity for your employee to communicate their sentiment can serve as an opening to a deeper conversation, if needed.
Topics for Discussion
- Outside of goal updates, discussion items should be the anchor of each 1:1. Give your direct reports the floor and see what topics are at the front of their mind. For example, what are the next steps on the project they're working on? And what roadblocks are they currently facing?
Notes
- Agendas are living documents—you never know when you'll need to go back to a specific agenda. The notes section can fill in the blanks of the above sections. Like, are there any action items that need to be addressed before next week? Are there are reminders that need to make their way into emails or calendars or Slack?

Some sections may not make it into every 1:1, and that's fine. Maybe you run out of time digging into a particular problem, or you use that week's 1:1 as a way to sync on OKRs. The point is to have
some
kind of agenda and make sure both parties see it before the meeting.

1:1s your way, with this Coda doc.

Use the rest of this Coda doc as a path to great 1:1s with your direct reports. Between the examples and third-party Packs, generating an agenda that the employee can send to their manager should be a snap. Take what you like, reject what you don’t! Edit the template to make it work for you.

Before you get started, here are a few tips for using the doc:

Clarify manager and employee expectations

I dedicated one section (
) for you and your direct report to dictate the "rules of the road." This way, both of you can go back to this section in the future to see the 1:1 expectations without opening a separate doc. You're also going to see a small table that looks like this in the
section:
Your Email
Direct Report's Email
There are no rows in this table

Have your direct report fill in their email address and yours to automatically email out the 1:1 agenda before the meeting starts.

Focus the 1:1 with your agenda

The best part about the
section is that your direct report can hook up their Gmail with this doc (using the
) and click a button to email you (the manager) and CC him or herself on the e-mail with the entire agenda in the body of the email. This way both of you will have a record of what topics to discuss and any pre-reading required ahead of the 1:1.

Here's what that email will look like:

Image 2019-12-10 at 2.29.21 PM.png

Once the 1:1 is over, copy and paste the agenda into
so there will always be a record of previous meetings!

Map work to goals

The final section in this doc is the
section. This section contains the longer-term goals your direct report is working toward, but can be referenced (even if just as a quick reminder) at every 1:1 meeting.

In this doc, the
will always show the goals your direct report is working towards using a formula in the canvas. You'll see something like this in the
section:

Increase website conversion by 20%
Revamp onboarding flow
Complete two manager trainings

These bullet points will change dynamically based on what you and your direct report enter in the
table. Give it a shot! Try changing some of the data in the
table and you'll see the bullet points above (and in the
) change dynamically!

Make a copy and get started!

This doc is meant to be used as a full toolkit - just
copy the doc
on your desktop and get started! Here's an outline of the different parts of this toolkit:

: to get on the same page
: for today's 1:1 meeting
: to see previous meetings notes
: to track quarterly or annual goals


👉 Begin with
to get started!

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