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It’s Time to Rethink Your 1:1 Meetings
With these tips from management expert Lara Hogan, your weekly 1:1 could become the most impactful meeting of your week.
If you’re managing a remote team, your weekly 1:1s are more important than ever. Lara Hogan, a management coach, founder of Wherewithall, and author of Resilient Management, explains that while the goal of the 1:1 hasn’t changed since remote work became more common, the “emotional weight” of these meetings feels very different.
“Today, there’s a lot more gravity to things that are happening at work because of what’s happening outside work,” she says. And that means you, as a manager, have to get better at reading your direct reports’ signals. “When we were co-located, we got those signals in a lot of ways. We got them passing somebody in the hallway or peeking through the conference room windows. That’s not the water we’re swimming in anymore. So we’re hungry for those signals.”
Luckily, Hogan—formerly VP of Engineering at Kickstarter and Engineering Director at Etsy—has some great advice to get you started.
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Design your alliance.
Great 1:1s don’t just happen. Hogan encourages managers to “design their alliance” with their reports. This meeting needs to be mutually beneficial, so you and your report should think about how you’ll run it together.
- How often will you meet and for how long? Hogan suggests starting with weekly and adjusting if necessary. While 30 minutes may have worked well in the past, 1:1s for remote or hybrid reports may need to be longer.
- When should you meet? Managing people well requires a lot of energy. Schedule your 1:1s on days and times that enable you to minimize context switching and be fully present. Hogan offers more insight on how to do this here. Resist the urge to reschedule or cancel your 1:1s. Consistency is always important, but in times of change and uncertainty, people crave predictability even more.
- Video or no video? You might answer this question differently from week to week, depending on your agenda. On the one hand, seeing your report’s body language improves your ability to collect signals. On the other, your 1:1 may provide a great opportunity for your report to take a break from being on screen.
Address core needs.
Hogan learned about the concept of core needs in the workplace from coach and trainer Paloma Medina. Meeting these six core needs—represented by the acronym BICEPS—is what makes your team feel safe and secure. “Everybody has a different hierarchy of which of these matter most in their world,” says Hogan, “but they all show up eventually.”
- B is for belonging. How does your report feel in relation to their team, their employer, their community?
- I is for improvement. Does your report sense forward progress in their career or work? Or do they feel like they’re stagnating?
- C stands for choice. Do they have too little autonomy? Too much? “They might be craving less decision-making power, or they may be overwhelmed with how much choice they have,” says Hogan.
- E is for equality. Your report might need to talk through things that feel unfair or inequitable. They might want your help problem-solving, or they may simply want to flag something for you.
- P stands for predictability. “This need is especially hard to meet now,” explains Hogan. “With so much of their personal life feeling out of control, it can be very reassuring for your report to better understand what’s coming down the pipeline at work.”
- S is for significance. Your reports need to be recognized for their achievements and given opportunities to make an impact.
Don’t skip status updates.
Some managers say that 1:1s are not the place for status updates. Hogan adamantly disagrees. In fact, she says, because we’re not physically together to share a high five or a celebratory toast, status updates are more important than ever. Remember, significance is a core need—for you and your report. “I’m a person who really wants recognition for the work that I’ve done,” says Hogan. “If my manager doesn’t create time for status reports, I can’t celebrate what I’m proud of—what I’m excited about—with them.”
That said, status updates shouldn’t dominate your 1:1. In fact, Hogan suggests you spend only 5-10% of your 1:1 sharing news and updates. For the bulk of the meeting (80-90%), you should focus on providing a blend of mentorship, coaching, and sponsorship.
- Mentorship is especially helpful for people who are new to the company or in a new role. As a mentor, you offer advice based on your experience and practice problem-solving together.
- Coaching works well when you’re helping someone develop new skills. Ask open-ended questions and plenty of follow-ups so they uncover their own answers.
- Sponsorship helps your report advance their career to the next level. Identify stretch projects and opportunities you can nominate them.
“Everyone will need a different blend of these three based on their stage of growth,” says Hogan. “And you should revisit this blend as your teammate grows.” Then spend the last 5-10% of your time identifying next steps and wrapping up.
Create and maintain boundaries.
When you live where you work and work where you live, boundaries dissolve. This creates challenges for you as a manager. Your teammate may not come right out and say they’re unhappy, but if their core needs aren’t being met, you’ll observe at least one display of resistance, such as bonding, avoidance, or escape. This kind of resistance needs to be addressed right away, but you can’t sacrifice yourself at the altar of teamwork. If you’re responding to messages 24/7 or creating too much space for somebody to vent about a problem you can’t fix, you need better boundaries.
“I see a lot of managers trying to be all the different kinds of support that this person might need: an ear to vent to, a therapist for the challenges happening outside work,” says Hogan. “It’s a level of support that might be beyond the role of a manager.”
If your boundaries have become too porous, Hogan suggests reframing conversations to focus on the workplace and the future. Is your report struggling with childcare? You can’t help them find a full-time nanny, but you can reschedule team meetings for days when they have coverage. Is your report complaining about burnout? Teach them how to defrag their calendar.
Rethink the relationship.
Whether you’re establishing a relationship with a new report or just trying to reset expectations in the new year, now is a great time to rethink your 1:1s. Start by asking Hogan’s series of foundational questions to think through how you’ll handle feedback, recognition, and other important conversations.
We have to recognize that we’re all a bit world-weary. And although the word “resilient” is in the title of her book, Hogan wants to shift talk about leadership away from resiliency. “It’s important for managers to think about what they need in order to feel stable and safe and secure, not just resilient,” she explains. Look inward, figure out which of your needs aren’t being met, and put that on the agenda for your next conversation with your own manager.
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