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Rafa de Castro
Rafa de Castro

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On one on ones

Brochures and user manuals

The other day I wanted to buy a DSLR camera and I noticed something: I was doing some research and I saw that all information before you buy the camera is extremely well explained. All leaflets are full of color printed in a high grammage beautiful glossy paper. It clearly explains everything and there is just enough information. There is a lot of marketing effort in making the brochures. Then, when I actually bought the camera I found the user manual. Well... black and white. The cheapest possible paper. Dull. All the information was there but it looks more like an effort to put all the things on a checklist to finish as quickly as possible than a real effort to teach. That is the difference between selling and caring about your already existing customer.

In our companies we tend to do the same. Before hiring our process is wonderful. We have a funnel, pages on how awesome is working with us and we forget about the experience of the people that is actually there. We can draw the parallelism on recruiting with the brochure making and managing the employees with the user manual. This post is my tiny attempt to close the gap and make the managing experience a bit more close to the hiring.

I've been doing one on ones regularly for some years now. To be honest the first ones I made were a mess and probably my current ones still are but I learned some tricks along the way and I'd like to put them into a blog post. This post is from a manager's perspective.

What is a one on one?

Let's start from the beginning. A one on one is a recurring meeting a manager has with each of his managees. I find enormously absurd how a lot of people never talk to their direct manager. This is a heartbeat. This is the way we have to ensure that connection happens. No one can be too busy not to do this. If somebody is too busy, solve it. No excuses.


People over process. Often the person in management is more resourceful in terms of finding people, resources, communicating to other teams or adapting the processes the company may have. That is why, as a managee, the one on ones should be extremely important to you. They should be your main source of improvement.

What is that about?

The first sentences I always say when I start having one on ones with someone are: "This is a meeting about YOU. Not the company nor your tasks. YOU. Where are YOU going and how we are going to manage to get you there."

This is, in my opinion, the basis of it. That is why I consider the one on ones paramount. It is the tool we as manager have to make our managees succeed.

Anyway, often, your company won't be a career management company. In order to go somewhere you first need to have a clue on where you are going. And the only person deciding where to go is the managee. It is up to the manager to align that to what the company needs at the moment and make both succeed.


We are all human. We don't trust anyone by default. My first task as a manager is to get to know each other and establish a safe space where both the managee and me can speak freely. It takes some time. Do not try to force it. Just relax and wait until it gets there.

Do not forget that the best way to be trusted is to be trustworthy. Trust is built with time but can be lost in a moment. Do use the information you get from one on ones wisely.


There must be a vision for the managee. Ideally, we should be able to put it into a few sentences so we can go back to it often and to ensure we are going into that direction. Think of it as a product and indeed somehow your managee should be your product.


We need to take steps towards that vision.

Take notes. Lots of notes. As a manager you need to monitor the process as much as you can. All the information you gather will be super useful to make some informed decissions on the way to go. Read you notes of the last session. Create a list of things to do and solve them before the next meeting. That is a simple thing you can do that shows that what you are doing is important to you.

Some common anti patterns

The status report

A one on one is not a status report. You can use any situation on the day to day job to make a point or to clarify something but you should never talk about "how is that task going".

Often we forget about career development in the heat of the day to day job but this is the moment to stop and reflect where we are going.


There is nothing I hate more than recurring one on one questions. One on ones should be the opposite of routine and when you define something you are creating a routine.


We need to be careful. One on ones need to be useful. If we constantly struggle around the same topics and nothing happens it is worthless to do them. Do not ask for feedback if you are not going to do anything about it.

Also try to keep a mentality of starting things. Do not "think about it and let's talk in the next one". Start now. Pivot later.

You, as a manager, are not understood

This is easy. This is not for the manager to be understood. There are other moments for that. The one on ones are to understand the managee's point of view. Your job is to help or give advice.

How to know if this is working

Once your one on ones start developing you should start seeing some returns. The most obvious is often from the morale perspective. People should feel appreciated. They should feel empowered. Now there are no excuses to make your best job ever. You should have paved their road to success. If that happens the relationship is working.

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