How to have a productive 1-on-1 with your manager

two businesswomen in a meeting
two businesswomen in a meeting

Preparation ✍

As your week is progressing, take notes of what you may want to ask or discuss with your manager. You may want to confirm some best practices as they arise. Do you understand what to do and why? Does the team need to adopt practices that you feel bring value? You may feel unsure about a decision you made and seek clarity. Was it right, and why or why not? What would your manager suggest you do differently in the future?

Prepare to drive 🚘

When discussing topics of interest to you, be ready to take charge of the direction of the conversation. If your manager gets off topic or misinterprets your question, redirect the conversation back to your intent. This meeting is for you. You decide what is discussed, and — behavior correction aside — you can determine that a topic is not worth your time. You do not need to wait for an eventual point that your manager is making if it is not the point you are wanting to reach. Don’t let a derailed conversation put your goals at risk.

Ask 🙋‍♀

Start your meeting by asking your manager if there is anything they want to discuss. It should not be common that the manager wants to drive a specific topic during your 1-on-1. If they do, it may be the advice you need most right now. Make sure they have the time to communicate that topic to you, and that you make time to absorb it. Given that this feedback should be rare and important, start the meeting by deep diving and addressing it before moving on to the topics you have prioritized for yourself.

Absorb ☁

Take notes on action items and personal growth feedback. Put what you have learned in your meeting in your own words and repeat it back to your manager. You can either do this for each answer your manager provides, or in summary at the end of the meeting. This will both ensure that your comprehension of the answer is correct and that it solidifies in your mind as you leave the session.

Be visible 👁‍🗨

I never appreciated the value of being seen until I had the tool to ensure it. Many struggle with the reality that your best work often goes unnoticed, that your quality contributions and inventions may be buried under busy work and repetitive tasks. So you increased test reliability by 20% and decreased build complexity by 50%? That task wasn’t assigned in your sprint, so who even knows you did it besides you and the handful of people who reviewed your code? It can’t contribute to your promotion or value if no one is aware of it.

Priorities 1️⃣

Make sure your work priorities are in order. Clarify to what your time should be dedicated. This can go beyond your sprint planning, into bigger picture visions, or what you may want to start developing during your free time. I recommend asking at least once per month where your priorities lie.

Current role 👩‍🎓

Earlier in your career, you may want to identify blind spots. “How has my performance been as a [job title]?” Make sure you are performing adequately at your current position before attempting to grow for the next one. I recommend asking this question once per 1-on-1 session.

Future role 👩‍🚀

Once I feel as though I am comfortably and reliably performing my current role, I like to “role play” my desired next level. Within Amazon, in order to be promoted, it’s typical to first function as the role you want, demonstrate success at it, habitually ingrain the behavior, and earn trust in your skill set.

Quarterly questions 🌜

In addition to the above, the following questions are valuable to ask at least once per quarter.

  • What are my areas for growth?
  • What is your vision for the team?
  • In regards to the long-term vision for the team, what do you expect of me?
  • What do you hope we achieve in the next 1–3 years?
  • What are your priorities for the team and the project?
  • What is the big picture this quarter?
  • Where do you see the biggest challenges for our team?
  • What are my next-level goals to demonstrate capability, development, and/or Leadership Principles of an [high-level employee]?

Conclusion 🔚

If you have any questions or great 1-on-1 meeting suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.

Senior front end engineer / charlesstover.com

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