Weekly Reviews for Workers

 Posted by on 13 April 2010 at 7:00 am  Advice, Business, OList, Productivity
Apr 132010

I’m delighted to report that the three new OLists — OProducers, OShooters, and OGardeners — launched without so much as a hiccup. One week later, they’re humming along nicely! Hooray!

As a taste of what these OLists have to offer, I submit the following informal essay, posted to OProducers on Friday by Santiago Valenzuela, on his sit-down weekly reviews with his workers. (He gave me permission to post it here.) It’s exactly the kind of good advice that motivated me to create the OProducers list.

In case you don’t know him yet, Santiago is the leader of 3FROG, the manager of OShooters, and an all-around good guy. Now, without any further ado, here’s Santiago:

I was reading all the fascinating posts about GTD’s “weekly review” and how useful y’all find it. It got me thinking about a management practice that I think fills a similar role in a different context that I’d like to share – weekly one-on-ones.

My understanding of the GTD weekly review is to get you “above,” conceptually, the day-to-day concretes you have to deal with and let you dedicate time to thinking about things that these concretes are supposed to be contributing to – longer-term goals, projects, etc. A one-on-one serves a similar purpose, I believe, in management.

Every week I meet with each of my people for our own weekly review. It lasts 15-30 minutes, depending on them. The purpose is for them to be able to air out any concerns, questions or information that I need to know primarily – though I don’t forbid friendly chatting either, as I feel that the more I know about them, their circumstances and what motivates them to work as hard as they do, the better. This serves three main purposes:

1) It lets me spend time with them individually, allowing me to better understand what drives them, get to know them more personally, and put any concerns they have on my radar.

2) It allows me to give them the “bigger picture” – how were sales this past week, how did our department do, what are my plans for the future growth of this department and how does this person fit into that plan, exactly?

3) It serves as a “bucket” – a place to put niggling things for either of us that are not pressing but should be discussed at some point – discussion about inappropriate behavior, a day where personal efficiency slacked, days off requests, updates on family and so forth.

The reason I compare it to the weekly review is because I often think of management as the conceptual level of productive work, if you think of productive work in terms of concretes (I don’t mean to demean the many specialists on this list who obviously are not working with concretes; it is simply a comparison.) With individuals stuck in concrete or specialist work all day, it is refreshing, motivating and assuring for them to have a small break each week to get “the big picture” and some one-on-one face-time with The Boss.

I found in my management travails that my guys were coming up to me for the smallest stuff – problems that they were clearly qualified to work on, or at least were not so pressing that they couldn’t wait – but wait until when? I think the issue was that they wanted that face-time with me. People understand, I think – on some level – that a departmental manager is their link to the “big picture” and they gravitate towards that in an effort to better understand where they stand, if the people above them understand how good a job their doing (or if there are any problems,) how the company is doing in general – what we would call the big picture. This is a real human need in productive work and I do my best to fill it for my people. In addition, the “bucket” of the one-on-one also saves time as we bundle all the small stuff that may take 5 minutes (or more) every day to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but takes 5 minutes in a week when bundled together.

I call the need to understand what is going on above you and get face time with the boss a real human need – and I think a rational one, just like a weekly review is a rational exercise on the personal level – not only for the theoretical reasons above, but practical reasons as well. It has increased honesty, trust and communication between myself and my team by quite a bit – it has been many months since I have had to deal with anything at all unexpected on the part of my team members. Personal efficiency has skyrocketed – by about 50% since I implemented one-on-ones, the reason, I think, being that individuals are inclined to work harder when they better understand how what they are doing contributes to an overall productive goal, trust their boss and know that their hard work is being recognized on a weekly basis, not just in terms of sporadic pay increases.

I think this would be a useful practice to adopt for most managers. In the 30 minute time usually allocated I give 10 minutes (the first 10 minutes) to my employee, the second 10 minutes to any issues on my end, and the last 10 minutes to discussing “big picture” stuff – growing the employee’s capabilities to make him more valuable to the company, how our department is doing, how the company is doing, etc. At first I had a hard time finding the time and justifying it to my superiors, once they asked – but now there is so much time saved in terms of issues that can wait until the weekly one-on-one, and so many efficiency gains, that the meetings justify themselves no matter how busy we are.

Does anyone else have a similar system? Or do you have similar problems with your direct reports? I would be very happy to help anyone who’s interested help roll this idea out, if my description of what happens and the corresponding results have piqued your interest.

I originally got the idea from manager tools, a podcast website, but I think they explain the rationale poorly (mostly in terms of concretes) and I’ve done some thinking on the reasons why its so effective, which I think I’ve hit on here.

That’s good stuff! Oh, and you can find the “manager tools” podcasts here.

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