Regular meetings between managers and their employees (1-1’s, one on ones, or weekly meetings), have been increasing in popularity across the corporate landscape – and the positive impact they’ve been having is irrefutable. One on ones are most common in organizations where “Company Culture” has a strong emphasis. Most advice in popular business literature, however, is geared towards the manager and executive perspectives. If you’re a manager, I recommend the following books as a good place to start developing your 1-1 coaching chops (read in this order):

I also encourage you to drop me a line to inquire about our 6-month Integral Manager coaching series. In this article, however, we’ll focus on 3 ways employees can help take the reigns and get the most out of their 1-1 meeting with their manager.

It’s not new to poke fun at the manager who regularly “checks in” on “how your work is going”. As top-performing employees (and managers) we’re craving for something more. We want to be engaged, challenged, inspired, and critiqued. We want to learn, grow, and push ourselves harder than we thought we could – then look back six months, a year, 2 years from now and say “Wo….I’ve come a hellofa long way.” As a manager, it’s good to have a coaching role model – somebody that, when in a challenging position, you can ask yourself, “What would they do?” My coaching role model is Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Best damn coach on the planet. Go Panthers.

Being actively engaged with your manager is super important for your career. A recent study by Gallup found that regular engagement between managers and their employees can lead to an increase in productivity by upwards of 20%. Digging further, the Harvard Business Review shows that employees who don’t have 1-1 meetings are 4 times more likely to be disengaged. It makes sense, then, that 75% of employees considered their boss to be “the worst part of their job,” according to research completed by Hogan Assessments.

But what if your manager isn’t Coach Taylor? Does that mean it’s time to throw in the towel and look for a new gig? Maybe. But it’s possible you might be able to help turn this ship around with a few straight-forward steps to improving your 1-1 with your manager.

1. Own you-1: make an agenda 1 day ahead of your 1-1 – every time

  • Schedule a 30-minute block of time every week to prepare for your 1-1 one day in advance. Seriously – block off a recurring time on your calendar for this and do it – it’s that important. If you don’t use all 30 minutes, no problem – you get a little time back in your day. This activity, though, should take you a minimum of 10 minutes even on a slow week, regardless of your job.
  • Go “old-school” with e-mail. Start an e-mail with a few bolded sections to prompt you every week – these sections should stay the same every week. A good start might include: 1) Highlighted accomplishments from last week, 2) My top 1-5 goals for this week, 3) Things I’m stuck on or anticipating needing help with, 4) What I want to learn more about this week, 5) Someone in the company that made a difference over the last week.

  • Every week, forward the email string from the previous week, copy/paste, and fill in new answers for this week. Make sure to CC yourself when you send it to your manager.

Your manager may love this, hate this, or not even notice. The thing you have to ask yourself is: How do you feel about yourself after taking time to do this activity? Remember that your 1-1 should be for you. If you want to learn, grow, and challenge yourself in your career, that will only happen with thoughtful intention. Taking this 10-30 minutes for yourself every week will help strengthen your clarity, focus, and purpose over the next 7 days. If your manager has a different format they want you to follow, great! Then send the email to yourself!
2. Ask for help

As crazy as it might sound, not all managers are mind readers. Asking for help can be a vulnerable, difficult thing to do – especially with your boss. In her article Sometimes Crushing it Means Asking for Help, Meghan Breen talks about the myth that “in order to fit the category of doing well, [we have to present as though] we are not struggling or…having difficulty.” So yes – it’s normal to feel like you need to have your shit together. AND, asking for help is actually more aligned with the same human experience everyone around you is having. That said, there are a couple approaches to asking for help in your 1-1 that will go a long way in improving the help you receive:

  • “Can you check my thinking on this?” Asking your manager to check your thinking before handing in a final product is always a good idea. Start by describing the scenario, your envisioned approach, and then any challenges you’ve identified so far. Following with something like “Is there anything you think I might be missing?” or “Does that sound like the approach you might take?” leaves the door open for constructive feedback.
  • “I found this thing challenging. I considered these options but don’t think they’ll get the result we want. Do you have any suggestions?” It’s totally, 100% OK to not have the answers to everything. What most managers want to know is that you’re doing your level best to be part of the solution. Communicating to your manager the options you’ve thought of will help give them a head start and reassure them that you’re in this with them.

3. Send progress updates between your 1-1’s

Waiting until your 1-1 to show progress on your work is bound to consume the short amount of time you have with your manager – and make it all about that individual project instead of about the meta-work. To keep work-review to a minimum, send regular progress updates to your manager in between your 1-1s. Giving them email briefs about what you’ve done so far and what you plan to do the rest of the week will improve your feedback loop on your work, keep you accountable to deliver on time, and save valuable 1-1 time spent simply reviewing the work you accomplished over the last week.

To see improvements in your 1-1 with your manager, try applying these practices over 4 consecutive weeks. Seeing results takes time, so you’ll want to give yourself (and your manager) a chance to start seeing improvements in your 1-1. If you feel like things still aren’t improving, it may be time to think about making a change. I also would encourage you to get more information about our Integral Career 3-month coaching track to help you plan for your future and rocket your career track the next dimension.

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