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I'm a recent computer science graduate and have been working at my first developer position for about a month.

Today I got an email calendar request for weekly one-on-one meetings with my manager. I'm really freaked out by this; it has me worried that I'm not doing nearly as well as I thought, and that my manager thinks I need special coaching.

Do software managers do these type of meetings with people who are underperforming, or is this something that is a common practice?

  • 46
    Are you worried because you're the only employee who has such meetings with his manager ? If everyone else has them, then I wouldn't worry at all, 1-on-1 meetings are extremely common in the industry – Radu Murzea Jul 20 '16 at 8:57
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    Most professionals say there is a problem if there are no regular one-on-one meetings. – WorkerWithoutACause Jul 20 '16 at 8:57
  • 61
    Remember a meeting like this is two-way communication. This is your regular, scheduled opportunity to have your manager's undivided attention - so use it to your advantage. – alephzero Jul 20 '16 at 11:39
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    This could also be because they see a lot of potential in you and want to groom you for greater things. In any case, your value in any business is related to your ability to create value for the business (or, more cynically, to claim credit for having done so) you just got a fantastic opportunity to convince your boss of your value on a weekly basis. – Jared Smith Jul 20 '16 at 12:23
  • 15
    This is a great question to ask your manager in your regularly scheduled one on one. – BZN_DBer Jul 20 '16 at 13:52

11 Answers 11

193

That's totally normal and appropriate and shouldn't freak you out. Good managers frequently have weekly one-on-one's with all their direct reports. It's a way of ensuring that you have time with the manager every week to talk about what you're doing, get advice, bring up any issues that the manager can help with, etc. Everyone has things they could be doing better so there will be some coaching. But it's much better to have small conversations every week than to find out after a review that your manager has been wishing for a year that you'd do something better.

If it makes you feel better, you can ask other folks that have been around a bit longer what to expect in your organization's one-on-one meetings. There may be a standard(ish) format. But I'd wager that everyone on the team has a meeting.

  • 23
    Once per week does seem a little often to me. There's just not enough events and issues that come up in 1 week to fill even a 20-30 minute meeting. In most cases it will be an empty meeting with nothing to talk about. – Radu Murzea Jul 20 '16 at 9:11
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    @RaduMurzea then you can quickly wrap it up and both of you can go do other work-related stuff, can't you? :) – Ivan Kolmychek Jul 20 '16 at 9:18
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    I have meetings like this every other week, and around one in three my manager simply turns up at my desk, says they have nothing to talk about this week, I say I have nothing to talk about either, and we skip the meeting entirely. – anaximander Jul 20 '16 at 9:47
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    Yep, I'm guessing it's normal. I have a fortnightly meeting with my manager, but it's mostly for my benefit, not his. He is a busy man and happy to cancel. Since we do not work on the same projects though, I find it really useful to catch up every now and then because it's the only way to stay in touch and solve any of my problems that might need his attention. Having said that, I had stretches where I cancelled a few times in a row. – Andrew Savinykh Jul 20 '16 at 9:56
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    @RaduMurzea: You might be more experienced and self-confident, which allows you to handle more issues without management involvement. So even if the rest of the teams has monthly meetings, it's not necessarily bad if the junior gets weekly meetings – MSalters Jul 20 '16 at 12:04
58

Today I got an email calendar request for weekly one-on-one meetings with my manager. I'm really freaked out by this; it has me worried that I'm not doing nearly as well as I thought, and that my manager thinks I need special coaching.

Do software managers do these type of meetings with people who are underperforming, or is this something that is a common practice?

In my > 30 years as a manager, I always held weekly one-on-one meetings with each of the folks on my team.

This was a time to talk privately, find out what was going on, find out how I could help. We talked about current and upcoming projects, but also about career progression.

I met with everyone on my team - the most senior, most junior, best performers, and worst performers. For me at least, it was just a part of being a manager.

Consider it a great sign that your manager spends this time with you. Almost certainly it has nothing to do with your performance, and everything to do with being a manager who wants to help his team succeed.

32

This is fantastic. You should be overjoyed!

They make you feel appreciated (or, at least, noticed) and are an excellent opportunity for two-way feedback that doesn't need to wait until your annual performance review.

I wish we had either of those features here. :(

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 23 '16 at 21:36
25

I graduated a year ago onto an IT grad scheme. I now have 1-on-1s with my scheme manager, team manager and a senior manager/VP. I even run a 1-on-1 with a grad that just started so I can experience what it is like being on the other side of the table.

Frequencies vary between biweekly to monthly and quarterly, and I find varying degrees of value in all of them. For young professionals, I'd be worried if you weren't having one-on-ones with at least one manager.

A graduate is normally a good investment to a company, and they will be looking to guide and nurture you, in the hope that what they invest in you will be paid back if you stay in the company and move through your career.

Realise all of the benefits of this face time with your manager. They not only have the best knowledge of what you should be doing currently in your role, but are also going to be well versed in company structure and culture, and looking to see how they can help you grow professionally. If you want to discuss training, visiting conferences, maybe even an MBA, this session is the best time to do it.

They will also probably be senior to you in age, so it can be a great session to discuss soft skills and out of work responsibilities. One of the senior managers I have had a 1-on-1 with has offered me advice as I look at buying a house, and I ended up spending most of another session with my scheme manager discussing the company's share save scheme and presenting in stressful situations. These sorts of discussions equally help you build a stronger relationship with your manager, cementing your value in the team.

As a final note, our company is large and split up into smaller businesses; each business has a CTO and I know each of these CTOs still has to have a 1-on-1 with the global CTO!

You aren't getting singled out, and these sessions are great for you and your career. Embrace them, and don't just limit it to "what I've done this week".

  • Or 1-to-1 or (what you used later) 1-on-1. 1-2-1 seems like some kind of scheme in a sport with 4 players on a team ... – GreenMatt Jul 21 '16 at 17:26
  • We have an internal template of "EmployeeInitals:121" for 1-on-1 sessions, thus 121 or 1-2-1 being the style I am in the habit of using. I have amended to fit the style used originally by Hans however. – ajfstuart Jul 22 '16 at 12:30
13
+150

One of the things you mentioned should also be addressed:

I'm really freaked out by this; it has me worried that I'm not doing nearly as well as I thought, and that my manager thinks I need special coaching.

I've been in the same industry for over 30 years, and quite a few employers during that time. Meeting regularly with my team is critical part of getting to know them, building my team, and understanding their strengths and needs. I try to meet as a group, one on one, and try to encourage peer meetings as well.

The emphasis will always be on performance. There will always be eyes on performance in one shape or another. Consistently, its about understanding where they are at and working at the speed they are capable. What I measure and admire is when they approach me with questions to improve, or things I can do to make things better for them.

So during these one on one sessions with your manager:

  1. Come prepared:
    Come to the meetings with a few agenda items of your own, be it questions, concerns, and observations you'd like them to talk about.

  2. Stay humble and open:
    They don't want to harm you, he/she has enough issues to deal with on their own. Feedback is a positive. Be more afraid if they have no feedback.

  3. Don't let it feel like an interogation:
    They, like you, want to integrate you into the team successfully. To do so, they will ask questions and such (hopefully). So stay positive and trust. Offer ideas and suggestions and look for opportunities to collaborate.

  4. It IS an interogation:
    Meaning, be mindful of respect and boundaries. Try to compartmentalize aspects of your life from your professional life. What you do at night outside of work should have minimal to no impact on your professional life, so don't share about it. If your personal life does impact your professional life, then it is open for scrutiny. That scrutiny will either be active questions, or passive aggressive observations. Stay sharp. Don't take anything personal unless it is in fact...personal. In time you will gain the wisdom of the difference.

  5. Regarding Performance:
    Your performance should never be a surprise that waits till your "annual" review. A good one on one prevents that evil, lazy tendency. If there is something to improve, discuss it, ask for suggestions, and work hard to do better than expected, and get lots of restful sleep without worrying.

All in all...one on ones are great!
Frequent ones are for mutual edification!
A bad one on one is one that is promised, scheduled, but rarely happens.

4

it has me worried that I'm not doing nearly as well as I thought, and that my manager thinks I need special coaching.

If there are performance concerns, then she will probably address that at the beginning of the meeting, like "Dave, I know you're just starting here and I want to make sure that everything goes smoothly. I've seen that you had some trouble with the Foo project, and so I'd like to have these meetings for a while until you get on your feet."

If by the end of your first meeting your concerns haven't been addressed during the course of the meeting, then specifically ask about them:

"Jennifer, so far we've talked about status on the Foo project, and you've explained some of the projects coming soon. Do you have concerns about my performance that I should know about? Should I take these one-on-one meetings as an indication that you see a problem? And if so, what can I do to help allay those concerns?"

Wait until the end of the meeting to ask, because chances are, she'll have said things that put your mind at ease. If not, there's nothing wrong with asking.

2

This is a good thing, and it's a window to give you more (indirect) product control. I have weekly or daily meetings with my direct reports. The dailies are about 5 mins. long and are a great way to do "what problems are you having". Weeklies are longer and are more like team meetings.

In both cases, none of my direct reports are under-performing. It's just a simple, formal way to make sure that while I am off doing management stuff, I make sure they have what they need to do their jobs. In all cases that I can think of, it's actually been a great way to cut down on meeting times, and has helped both them and me. It's hard to have a long drawn out meeting when you have one every day.

To be clear, these are short 5 min meetings. If your getting a 3 hour one on one meeting once a week, that's a warning sign.

Most of the time if you were under-performing that would result in a single meeting with a written letter of some kind, stating what you need to do to perform better.

  • Five minute meetings? Either you're exaggerating or you're not allowing enough time to discuss anything of substance. – Jim G. Jul 23 '16 at 20:10
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    Of course you are, if meeting have a set purpose and they are daily one on ones, they really just devolve into "What are your blockers? Ok, I'll look into that. You already know what to work on, any questions? Don't forget we have xyz client meeting tomorrow. " If there is a big issue, then you state it in the 5 min meeting, and schedule a longer meeting where everyone can prepare for the topic. Remember theses shorties are just a formal way of going "Hey, whats up?" – coteyr Jul 24 '16 at 1:15
2

I'm a software development manager at a large organization, and on occasions I ask the same of my direct reports. Here is why:

  1. It gives them time with me; which is important especially for new hires as not all are quick to open up. We are in an open office environment so that makes matters a bit more tricky for those that are a bit reserved or shy.

  2. It gives everyone an easy target to look forward to raise issues, rather than stopping in the middle of the week for things (this is distruptive to all involved).

  3. You can think of it as an extended daily stand up (if you are familiar with those). The point being you don't have to be nervous about it. Meetings generally are not a one-way affair.

  4. Sometimes, it is easier to deal with items in a one-to-one setting, especially if its something that requires a lot of input. For example, deciding on the way forward on a new module for an existing piece of software.

  5. Finally, if I feel a new hire is not performing well - it gives me a neutral opportunity to dedicate time to them directly.

Therefore, do not be nervous about this.

Regarding your specific concern:

I'm really freaked out by this; it has me worried that I'm not doing nearly as well as I thought, and that my manager thinks I need special coaching.

If your manager thinks you need special coaching, it is not a bad thing. They are as much vested in your success as you are.

Even if it ends up being that your manager thinks you need assistance, why is that a bad thing? It just means that the manager thinks you have potential and need help - which is not really a sign of weakness.

The absolute worse case for this is the much dreaded "PIP" (Performance Improvement Plan) which (from what you describe) does not look like the case to me.

I believe it is simply a way for your manager to check up on you to see if you are having any issues - discuss them with you, and decide how best to resolve them.

I have been on the receiving end of these as well - were my boss asked for a weekly meeting with all the department heads; this gave us a good opportunity to find out if there were things that we could combine efforts on, and it gave our division head a chance to plan major projects as all of us were in the same room for 30 minutes.

1

If I talk about my personal experience then its not a bad, its common practice that most of the organization follows.

Even I personally request to my superiors for the weekly meeting. Because sometime manager don't feel like reading the daily reporting mail at the end of the day is enough to make any decision regarding employees productivity towards the organization.

The possible reason behind this for our organization is:

  • The want to find out actually how you managed your work in week.
  • You might have faced some issue during working and you got it worked after some efforts and they wanted to know because they might want to avoid such kind of issues in future to any employee.
  • You might have gone through any technical problems and due to which you had spent some extra efforts.
  • You may want some change in your working environment
  • Last but least but they also might want you to involve yourself in communication with your superior too.

These are some common factors for which our organization conduct weekly meeting.

So personally I don't believe there is anything wrong in doing regular one to one meeting.

0

I'm really freaked out by this; it has me worried that I'm not doing nearly as well as I thought, and that my manager thinks I need special coaching.

As a senior programmer I can tell you that, yes, you need special coaching. But you don't need to freak out at all.

I don't really know your particular situation but, being a recent graduate, I am quite sure that they didn't hire you for what you can do now, but for what you will be able to do in the future. Part of the responsibility of your manager is to coach you and make an experienced developer. In this meetings he will probably review your code with you, talk about development, and he will probably suggest you to read some books.

Actually, you should be happy about that. That means that they care about you and that they are keen to spend time in your education. Accept this as a really good opportunity for you and enjoy. Hopefully, this will accelerate your career progression.

-3

Yes, it's bad, but not for the reasons that you're probably thinking about.

First of all, as others have already said, many software development managers still schedule weekly one-on-ones with their direct reports; so the weekly one-on-one isn't necessarily indicative of a performance problem. But it does imply that your manager feels that he/she needs to schedule time to speak to you. This is an anti-pattern because feedback is best dispensed in a timely manner, whenever it's appropriate. It's far less effective and efficient for a manager to collect feedback during the course of a week and then deliver it in a batch at the end of a weekly interval.

[To Managers]: Give feedback as soon as it’s possible or practical, preferably right after the behavior is exhibited. The only exception to this is when emotions are running high and you or your employee need time to let these settle before you can communicate effectively.

20+ years ago, when the WWW was getting popular, and GitHub and Bitbucket didn't exist, weekly one-on-ones were more common because code reviews were done in person, face-to-face. Nowadays, regular feedback can be delivered electronically and a asynchronously through a myriad of channels; and regular code reviews can and should be done through pull requests because they are much more efficient. While it's very healthy and encouraged to speak to your manager face-to-face, the fact is that productive development teams need to collaborate and communicate much more frequently than weekly one-on-ones will allow.

Two more points:

  1. Expect your manager to cancel many of your scheduled one-on-ones because, like most managers, he/she will be busy. Over time, this will become especially awkward because you won't be able to help but think that your one-on-ones (and by extension you) are somehow less important than so many other things in the workplace.
  2. Fom Radu Murzea:

    Once per week does seem a little often to me. There's just not enough events and issues that come up in 1 week to fill even a 20-30 minute meeting. In most cases it will be an empty meeting with nothing to talk about.

Relative to asynchronous electronic communication, face-to-face one-ones are extremely expensive. In addition to the time it takes to actually have the one-one meeting itself, the meeting typically includes a half hour of preparation time (from both parties) as well as two context switches for both parties. Managers should have one-on-ones with their direct reports on a regular basis (perhaps quarterly) but weekly is too much.

To conclude:

  • Direct reports deserve regular face-to-face meetings.
  • But weekly, face-to-face one-on-ones are bad because they are insufficient, inefficient, and too expensive.
  • 3
    Not a down-voter. But as a manager, I welcome feedback at any time. But the reality is some developers won't bring up their issues. Be it with code, other team members, best practices, etc. A year down the road that disconnect will likely be more costly than spending time with each member for a few minutes a week. – Joe Jul 23 '16 at 18:12
  • @Joe: Fine. Then schedule one-on-ones every now and then. Weekly one-on-ones are too expensive and don't scale with a team as small as five. – Jim G. Jul 23 '16 at 18:55

protected by Monica Cellio Jul 21 '16 at 17:49

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