Managing Up & Making Your Next 1:1 More High-Impact

Q&A: How do I make 1:1s with my manager more high impact?

Hi, I’m Crystal Yan. 👋 I’m a product and design leader and leadership coach. Here, I write about building products and teams. Every few weeks, I write about customer development, behavioral science, and management, and share resources to help you become a better leader.

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I’ve gotten a few reader questions about my independent consulting and coaching practice, so I’m sharing a brief update here for those curious.

Here’s a quick recap on what I’ve been up to and a reflection on what I’m learning:

  • Consulting: I led a public speaking workshop for a Microsoft PM manager’s team of product managers, and I’m advising an early-stage startup’s head of product, coaching them on doing customer interviews, hiring their first designer, roadmapping, and running design sprints. I’m learning that I enjoy engagements that combine strategic consulting with leadership coaching. If you’re interested in partnering, book an intro call.

  • Coaching & Teaching: I recently wrapped up leadership coaching for founders through a course for entrepreneurs, and I’m continuing career coaching for product managers and product designers on how to grow into the next level. I’m also teaching a user experience fundamentals course at MICA. I’m learning that there are often common themes across the people I work with, and I’d like to create more resources about those themes to make them available to more people who may not be able to access 1:1 coaching. If there’s a topic you’re interested in learning more about, tell me by sending me a question or a suggestion here.

Now, onto today’s post:

Managing Up

Today’s post answers this reader question:
Q: How do I make 1:1s with my manager more high impact?

Ah, 1:1s. These meetings have the potential to be the highest leverage meetings in your day, but most people are still learning how to make the most of them - myself included. Over the years, I’ve learned a few important lessons that have helped me ask better questions in my 1:1s: with my manager, and with the team members I manage. Making the most of your 1:1s is key to your learning and growth - it’s where you hold your manager accountable for creating an environment for you to be successful in.

First, here are some general principles for managing up:

  • Over-communicate: Before the 1:1, send in writing the agenda you want to discuss. This could include your top priorities, what your manager can help you with, and other questions or concerns you have.

  • Prioritize and clarify tradeoffs together: If your manager makes a last-minute ask, propose how you see it stack ranking in priority against your existing projects, share this with your manager, and adjust if needed.

  • Align on expectations: Make sure you and your manager are on the same page about what business outcomes you own, what resources you need to deliver on them, and on what timeline you’re expected to execute.

Second, here are some tactical tips for preparing for 1:1s:

  • Separate topics that warrant a discussion from topics that are simply FYI. Share FYIs in writing. Use 1:1 time to discuss topics to make decisions, align on priorities or expectations, or have feedback or career development conversations.

  • Keep a running doc of what you discuss and decide on in 1:1s that both you and your manager can edit. Make it clear that you’ll typically prepare the agenda, but that you want to invite your manager to add to the doc as well.

  • Consider themed 1:1s. For example, if you have 1:1s weekly, you may consider making 1 in 4 meetings focused on a specific theme, such as performance in current role or career development planning to grow into a future role. Then, rotate through different themes each week.

Finally, if you’re a manager, managing your team effectively is critical to managing up effectively. If your team members are struggling to make 1:1s with you useful, here’s my mental model for the types of conversations you can guide them to have in 1:1s:

  • Performance. How might you align on the expectations you have and commitments you make? How might you help your team surface risks that give you a clearer picture of what’s happening day-to-day?

  • Feedback. How might you create space to give and receive great feedback?

  • Career Growth. How might you help your team member grow and develop their career?

  • Humans at Work. How might you not only understand what matters to your team member, but also why?

Additional Resources

  • Read Managing Up for a primer on what managing up is and is not, and then read A Tactical Guide to Managing Up for many more tactical tips you can implement immediately in your next 1:1.

  • Try practicing writing a 5-15 update. To learn more about this format, read The 5-15.

  • Need help putting what I’ve written about here into practice? If you want to make your next 1:1 focused on career development as high-impact as possible, download The Product Manager Career Growth Toolkit or The Product Designer Career Growth Toolkit (exclusive discount for readers). Use the frameworks and worksheets in this toolkit to have more concrete career growth conversations with your manager in your next 1:1. With this step-by-step guidance on how to complete these and who to review these with, you’ll have the tools you need to get aligned with your manager on where to focus to grow your career.

  • For managers: Are you struggling to show up to 1:1s with thoughtful and intentional questions for your team members? Help yourself with this deck of cards. Use these questions in your next 1:1s regularly so you have ongoing career growth, rapport building, performance management, and feedback conversations throughout the year, not just during review season.

Catch up on the archives

If you’re a new reader, here are some popular posts that you may find useful:

Thanks for reading!

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