Having better one-on-ones by tailoring them to your employees.

Oliver (Engineering Manager at Netflix) unveils a few tricks to make the most out of one-on-ones with your direct reports.

Problem

One day, I realized that I already knew the information my team members were giving me during their one-on-ones. I wanted to hear about things I didn’t know, so I realized I needed to change something to get the most out of one-on-ones, as they were not a good use of my time or my team members’ time.

Actions taken

I remembered having an employee at my previous company who had once said, after a busy day, “Let’s go outside to chat”. This chat ended up being extremely efficient. You should regularly (i.e. one in every four meetings) break the rules of one-on-ones, in order to get more from your direct reports. An easy trick is to change the setting of the meeting. Go outside, go for a walk, or get coffee. This helps to offer a different perspective, and it has some nice side effects. Walking side-by-side helps introverts who are uncomfortable with eye contact to open up.

Moreover, every so often I ask my team members to give me feedback. This trick has two advantages. It changes the conversation trigger AND you get feedback from your direct reports.

Lessons learned

Breaking the rules helps to ensure you get more information and better communication from your direct reports. I believe that everyone is different and your one-on-ones must be tailored to your employee. Some people need to break the ice with discussions about things that are unrelated to work, some like to talk about deliverables, some like to discuss their career path and others want to discuss their personal lives. As a manager, I think you should know where to put the emphasis in order to set up a safe environment for an open conversation. It doesn’t mean you won’t talk about other matters, but it’s a smart way to lead the conversation.


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