One-on-Ones: Just as Necessary for Managers

Last week at the Software Development conference, I met a software director. His group, a total of about 30-40 people (I've forgotten the exact number) is responsible for all the software his company produces. He has two managers managing those folks. He's busy, so although he requests that his managers have one-on-ones with their staff, he doesn't keep his one-on-ones with his two managers.

After my lessons learned presentation, he came up to me and told me I was right, that one-on-ones are necessary. And now that he's canceled his one-on-ones with his managers so often, they ignore the times he thinks he's set aside for their one-on-ones. Since this was Thursday, the last day of the conference, I asked him if he was going to have one-on-ones on Friday when he went back to work. He sighed and said that since he was off for a two-week trip to Asia, he'd wanted to stay home and take care of his life for a day. Can't say I blame him.

However, he's noticed a problem in his department. This director's managers no longer trust him to have one-on-ones. They don't even bother to come to his office when it is one-on-one time. The directors is allowing his managers to run open-loop, without feedback on their decisions or performance. The director doesn't know anything about the value of his managers' work. And when it comes time for performance evaluations, the director and the managers may all be surprised if the director is unhappy with some aspect of their work.

Managers leverage the work of other people. When managers make mistakes, the mistakes are magnified through the other people's work. The answer isn't to make fewer decisions, but to obtain more feedback on those decisions. If you manage managers, make sure you maintain your one-on-one schedule with your staff. They need feedback as much as the technical staff do. Maybe more.

In case you're wondering, I suggested the director have a phone one-on-one with each of his managers and to ask them for help scheduling one-on-ones when he returns from his trip.

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