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How To Hold An Effective One-On-One With Your Manager

Rachel Serwetz
Rachel Serwetz
April 19, 2022
How To Hold An Effective One-On-One With Your Manager

In order to thrive in your role and your overall career, you should practice “managing up” and hosting effective one-on-one’s with your manager so that you can get what you need in order to thrive on the job. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone where your manager is there to help you. While they may seem busy, a quick 30 minute meeting can do wonders for helping you pivot where necessary, rather than feeling stuck or alone. Here are a few tips to host an effective one-on-one meeting with your manager.

Be Sure You Have A Regular Meeting Cadence Set Up With Your Manager

  1. I’d suggest every two weeks at least, but oftentimes people will do this once per week, or once per month. Pick a cadence that feels right to you given how much support you need or want in your role.
  2. Oftentimes this can get blown off by other priorities and/or worrying that your manager is too busy, but remember that at least once per month this is a very reasonable request for you to ensure you can perform to the extent they want and need you to. Every company culture is different, but if you’re not seeing your manager make time for you, discuss with a mentor, peer, or coach how you can escalate or how to constructively provide feedback to ensure you get what support you need from your higher ups.

Prepare An Agenda

  1. This will ensure you can manage your time and their time well. You can break it down by “must haves” and “nice to haves” and put the items in priority order.
  2. Below are some areas that you can pick and choose for each one-on-one which topics would be the most important for you to focus on during that meeting.

Discuss Feedback In Relation To Your Expectations

  1. First, you want to be sure you know where your expectations are located and written. When it comes time for your performance review, what will you be reviewed on? Be sure to have that handy so you can give yourself a self-review once per month.
  2. Then, you can show up to one-on-one meetings prepared with ideas around what you think you can improve. This will make it easier for your manager to see how they can help you improve in those areas and to see if they think you’re missing any key areas of improvement that you didn’t already mention.
  3. You don’t want any surprises come time for performance reviews and promotions, so these meetings are a great way to facilitate transparency for yourself.
  4. Get specific in order to understand examples of where you exhibited that trait and what steps you will take to work on and hone that skill in the future.
  5. Keep it manageable by creating 1–3 goals for skills you’ll focus most on.

Discuss Your Time Spend And Priorities

  1. It is their job to ensure you have a manageable amount on your plate and to help you understand what the priorities are or are not.
  2. Is there anything that’s falling off and not getting done due to lack of time?
  3. Can they confirm whether the current prioritization you’re assigning to projects makes sense?
  4. Is there something you should reprioritize or deprioritize?
  5. Is there any task or project where you can get support from others?

Discuss Your Project Management System

  1. Do they feel like they get enough updates from you?
  2. Do they feel like they get enough questions from you?
  3. What platform and frequency is the best for them to receive updates and/or questions?
  4. What tools, process, or system are you using to ensure there is two-way transparency and support?

Should I Bring Up Project-Specific Questions During A One-On-One?

  1. I personally prefer to keep these to a minimum during one-on-one’s, as you can set up separate meetings for this, or leverage peers, or even email/slack/etc, whereas there are other topics that are more strategic to help you discuss and improve your performance during a one-on-one.

Discuss Your Career Path

  1. Where are you going next in the company?
  2. What would it look like for you to get the next promotion — specifically what do they need to see from you and how will you get there?
  3. Would you be interested in other teams or roles? (A supportive manager and company will be open to this discussion)
  4. Where do you want to go generally in your broader career path? (i.e. role, industry, environment)
  5. What would it look like for you to get there? How can your manager help you grow along your intended path?
  6. Are there any skill development programs, courses, certifications you could pursue (that would help given your ideal career direction)?
  7. Or, is there any career exploration you’d want to pursue to clarify your ideal path and career goals, in order to then better figure out your plan for progression?

Discuss How You’re Feeling and Doing

  1. How are you doing?
  2. How are you feeling?
  3. Where do you need support?
  4. Where do you feel overwhelmed?
  5. This is helpful for your manager to know so they can figure out where to support you regarding your mental health, morale, and motivation. A good manager knows that an employee who feels supported is going to be a more productive, innovative, engaged, impactful employee. If something is going on personally, you don’t need to share every detail, but recognize that this may help your manager to know how to best delegate new projects, and provide some extra empathy and support if you’re in a trying time in your personal life.
  6. This topic may even lead to interesting questions about your overall career path and where they can get you more involved in projects you find important or intriguing.

Be Visual

  1. I like to use tools or documents that allow for you and your manager to literally get on the same page.
  2. It makes it much easier for you to stay focused on the meat of the conversation, rather than risking any confusion which is natural and expected from everyday human communication.
  3. Also, it will enable each one-on-one meeting to be a progression from the last conversation.
  4. Whether its tracking your agendas, takeaways, goals for soft skills, hard skills, or your career direction, any and all of these items can be visualized and documented in a way that makes it easy for you two to discuss the progress and next steps, rather than clarifying or confusing each other’s messages.

Be Tangible with your Takeaways

  1. Be sure in your wrap up that you note down what you will do next, and what they need to do next.
  2. Send them a follow up in writing if they prefer, so they can keep track of the items they will be responsible for.

What is career exploration? Career exploration is a process that is distinct from and a precursor to the job search (and/or career advancement), including a series of steps of practical learning and self-reflection in order to compare, contrast, and clarify which career path you are confident in pursuing. This process will enable you narrow in on your best-fit role and industry (i.e. career direction and goals) so that you can be more focused, efficient, and effective whether you are pursuing a job search and/or career development.

How To Hold An Effective One-On-One With Your Manager

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Rachel Serwetz’ early professional experience was at Goldman Sachs in Operations and at Bridgewater Associates in HR. From there, she was trained as a coach at NYU and became a certified coach through the International Coach Federation. After this, she worked in HR Research at Aon Hewitt and attained her Technology MBA at NYU Stern. Throughout her career, she has helped hundreds of professionals with career exploration and for the past 4.5+ years she has been building her company, WOKEN, which is an online career exploration platform to coach professionals through the process of clarifying their ideal job and career path. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Binghamton University and has served as a Career Coach through the Flatiron School, Columbia University, WeWork, and Project Activate.

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