One thing we all do (or should do!) as managers is have regular one-on-one meetings with our manager (VP, CxO, what have you). Many technical managers report in to people who are extremely busy, so this can be the only time we can know that we’ll have their attention – we should be incredibly thoughtful about how we use this time. I’ve started using a simple framework in how I prepare for and approach these meetings to help ensure we both get maximum value for our time.
This meeting is your best chance to share what’s going well and where you need support. Walking in with no preparation just says you don’t value the time, and you might as well just not meet. I now start a new shared document right after every 1:1 and start collecting my discussion items for the next meeting right away. As things come up during the week, I just open the doc and drop them in. We use Quip at New Relic for this, but you could use Google Docs, a shared folder on Dropbox, or even a private folder on a network drive.
If your 1:1 meeting is face-to-face, or at least video chat, your agenda items can be quick bullet points: “XYZ project status”, “Performance review schedule”, etc. If you’re having to do emailed status reports, you can still use this framework, and just write longer updates for each item.
Every item that goes on the agenda gets classified into one of three headings:
These are items that I just want my supervisor to be aware is happening. Quick-hit status updates on how projects are going, how a particular employee’s performance is doing, or anything that is something my supervisor should be aware of.
This is for topics where I want to make clear that I could use some direction, advice, context, or any other supporting information/perspective. I might have an idea of how to proceed on something and need formal or informal approval, or I might want to validate an idea to see if it’s worth pursuing.
A ‘Decision’ item is one that needs a specific, decisive course of action defined before the meeting is over. In my particular case, these are pretty rare, since when I have a direct need I usually get feedback on it before our regular meeting, but they do come up.
During the meeting, I’ll walk through each of the items, and also add notes to the bottom of the agenda doc. That way, everything’s captured in one place and both of us can go access it at any time. Of course, I also make sure and leave time for any items that need to be passed down to me, as well, and capture those in the notes, too.
By using a disciplined system like this, you’re communicating to your supervisor that you take this time seriously, and want to extract as much value from it as possible. You also are able to clearly and methodically communicate everything that you feel your supervisor should know, while also clarifying the context for your various items and clearly defining items you need assistance with.
I’ve been using this framework for a little while now and, while it requires some consistent effort and self-discipline, it’s working well. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the comments!