I read Michael Lopp's book Managing Humans shortly after being promoted to development manager back in February 2011. At the time, I was really excited at the opportunity but also nervous about the unknown.
His chapter on one on ones (also available online at his blog) was an inspiration to me. In all my work life, I'd never really had a one on one—much less a regular one. I had rationalized it that I didn't need the regular feedback and that I would just go to my manager with any problems as soon as they happened. But Lopp was adamant about their value so I gave it a whirl.
Six months later and I am completely enamored of my weekly visits with the six developers reporting to me. Four of those work at two different locations from me so I drive down there to meet face to face. I think it's absolutely vital for addressing things as they come up but also to be that presence in their lives that's lost by not working at HQ.
I have tried a few variations on the theme to see what works best. I originally had them scheduled on Mondays, but found that that took me out of the office when a lot of decisions needed to be made to start the week out right. I have since moved them to Friday afternoons; that freeing up of my Mondays was a godsend. Plus, talking about the week in retrospect on a Friday stirs up some of the vividness that a relaxing weekend can dull.
Today I conducted what I regard as my first significant contribution over what Lopp said in that chapter: a performance review. Yes, he indicated that one format a one on one can take is the mini-performance review but that was just stylistic. I actually conducted a performance review using the same template as our annual one. I went over each category and discussed the good, the great, and the could be betters using concrete examples from the month.
I really like this idea because it allows us to note areas of concern long before the annual review and work on them month to month. Ideally, they either never make it on to the annual review or they're used as a reference point to indicate growth. Either way, it felt really proactive to say, "Keep doing that and you'll get an Excellent rating!" or "Let's work on this behavior for the next month and see if things improve."
It is more work, to be sure. But management is about growing your team and getting them to produce the best within themselves. If you wait until the annual review to give them this sort of feedback, you're doing everyone a disservice—heck, even quarterly seems like forever at Internet speed.
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