The Top Four Priorities for 1:1s

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Hopefully, you will have seen our recent post on the pitfalls to avoid when planning 1:1s. If not, don’t worry, you can always check it out here.

Now we’re back to offer a supportive hand to guide you through the actual event with our four top priorities to consider when conducting 1:1s. These will ensure the sessions are comfortable for your reportees, you come across as approachable and they lead to successful outcomes for everyone involved.

1. Focus on the person not the project 

1:1s are not the time for a project status update – while it may be tempting to ask about the day-to-day goings-on of your reportee, you risk derailing the session and not getting the information you need from them, in terms of their feelings, goals and career development. 

It is worth bearing in mind that remote working has brought new challenges to the fore and therefore 1:1s can act as a much-needed checkpoint to pick up on and discuss any issues, including those that might be affecting their mental health and stress levels. But it’s also a great time to ask them about their wins, especially if they aren’t the type to celebrate their achievements in ‘public’.

Some people may be more ready to share than others, so it’s important to give them the time and space to answer, but also find ways to elicit the information in a way that feels safe and welcoming rather than direct and demanding. This involves doing more listening than talking and invoking your emotional intelligence (EQ) – the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to ease the pressure, communicate effectively, empathise with your reportee, surmount difficulties and defuse potential conflict. They, like you, are only human. 

2. Discuss passions and purpose over performance

If an employee isn’t performing, you’ll understandably want to find out why, but 1:1s may not necessarily be the right time; save that for performance reviews if possible to hold them separately. 

While it’s natural for performance to be covered briefly, use the majority of the session time to talk to your reportees about their interests – both within and outside of work – and what their short and long-term career plans are. Doing it this way gives a more holistic, global view of how motivated they are and where this might be improved through goal-setting, more/fewer responsibilities and better project/work alignment.

Passionate workers are committed workers and it’s your job to keep people engaged, happy, and on an upwards trajectory that hits their markers of development and success, as well as the company’s. By understanding what your supervisees need to feel purposeful at work (and thereby, passionate), you’ll be able to analyse where the gaps are, whether something within the environment is working well or needs to change, and how you can support wider passions of theirs i.e. working on tech projects for good or building communities for underrepresented groups. This utilises the winning combination of extrinsic motivation – performing for external reward – and intrinsic motivation – performing because it matters. 

3. Remember it’s a two-way street

Whilst you’re there to give feedback and offer support, don’t shy away from receiving it and where necessary, ask for feedback directly. Deploy active listening – a technique of engaged hearing and observation of non-verbal cues, with feedback in the form of accurate paraphrasing, used in situations to minimise tension and conflict and resolve disputes effectively and productively solving disputes or conflicts – and where appropriate, read between the lines to understand what they may be asking of you, as well as telling you. 

If, for example, your reportee shared a challenge or difficult situation in which you were involved or had an indirect impact upon, ask how you could have supported them better once you fully understand the obstacles they faced and why. It may be that nothing could be done because it was an isolated incident or that they may need to come back to you once they’ve thought about it. But crucially, make sure you provide the space for them to evaluate your management performance, as they see it personally, and share any observations. 

Be careful however, when asking for a constructive critique that you do not centre yourself within the issue. Ask for feedback in a calm, curious tone, repeat it back to your supervisee to make sure you are clear on what they have communicated (and enable them to rectify any misunderstandings), thank them for sharing and explain the steps you will take to address it.

People who have managers that believe in authentic connections and seek to self-improve will often mirror this. Because as we know, a problem shared is a problem halved. 

4. Empower them to be their own hero

People need to feel in charge of their own story and in control of their days, as well as outcomes. If they see themselves as a small cog in a giant framework that is dispensable or like they can’t effect change or make impact, their morale will suffer. Get them involved in shaping their path, when discussing difficulties, ask them what resolution they seek and brainstorm together how that can be achieved. 

Go further and use tricks like visualisation and conceptualisation to help reframe their mindset about situations in which they may have felt disempowered to help them focus on problem-solving so this becomes more automatic in the future. And finally, confirm that whatever happens you will have their back and want what is best for them both in their career and on a human level. 


If you or your CTO / technology lead would benefit from any of the services offered by the CTO Craft community, use the Contact Us button at the top or email us here and we’ll be in touch!

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