Force your leaders & peers to do better than "off the top of their head"
Copy/pasted from an internal blog post originally from Jan 2021 entitled “Bo’s 1-1 format version 2.0”. Retitled here for a wider audience.
I’ve been thinking hard about how to scale myself, and scale all of us as managers as we get bigger and the business gets more complex. One aspect I want to iterate on is how we do 1-1’s, since for most of us managers it occupies something like half the meetings on our calendar. (I’m making this a blog post to the whole company, not an email to a select few managers, because I think this will help everyone I meet with understand my thinking and hopefully help all current and future managers).
So, I thought I’d start with the goal: Speed. Speed is the only thing where startups have a structural advantage over incumbents; luckily it’s also the most important (if speed were less important there’d be many fewer startup success stories). I believe the best way to continue to be fast, nay get even faster as we get bigger, is to have each business unit, team, and person move independently forward as quickly as possible with as few dependencies as possible. Not incidentally, I think this level of independent action driven by CIO (Curiosity Initiative and Ownership) is also how we’ll be a place that develops the greatest leaders.
So then, how do we stay coordinated and by doing so produce a single great customer experience? Context. What are my and my team’s goals / OKRs? How far am I from them? What’s working what’s not? What I’ve tried, learned, and what am I doing next by what date? What prevents me from going faster? How will this affect others teams? Are they ready? What are our unexamined assumptions? Constraints? Places where I need help? A good piece of context writing addresses most if not all of these questions, and more. Context allows us to see into each other’s brains.
This means as leaders of your business unit, leaders of your team, and leaders of your own time you should always be regularly (i.e. weekly or biweekly) broadcasting the context in your mind in writing. Some examples of this writing can be seen in recent writing from the PMs [internal link] and functional leaders [internal link]. I encourage you to opt for as public as possible, so the context is more broadly known. But, I realize you will likely have a separate section in our 1-1 document for private issues, especially as our biggest decisions as leaders are personnel.
How does this impact our 1-1’s? When we meet, I’ll have read your latest context document (or we can do a table read if updates were very recent) and we can spend the time discussing specific issues of your choosing in context! Sometimes we’ll end up meeting just as often or more often, but the discussions will have higher leverage. Sometimes, after writing it out, you may realize you don’t need anything from me and we can either give each other back the time or just catch up socially to better understand each other as people rather than spending the time transmitting context verbally. Plus, Writing is Thinking, so your context will likely be higher quality thinking than if you just talked off the cuff about it. If I have a question that comes up before our 1-1, unless urgent I’ll likely add them to a list of “things I suspect you’ll cover in your upcoming write-up” in our 1-1 document. This will keep us out of Slack, and let us do more deep work and deep thinking.
In school, we’re taught that we write, and the teacher edits/grades. That allows us to outsource being our own skeptic, and the volley of back and forth pushing on the logic in the writing. That’s totally not going to work in the business world. Boards of Directors expect thought-through writing that stands up to deep scrutiny, they expect to dive into the details (and for you to know them cold), and they expect they’ll have very little to add at the end of the day. I want each of you as leaders to get there, and the first step is to expect that of you, the same way the board expects that of me.
Think of the list of questions above as a template, not a form. Go beyond the template by thinking of your own even more applicable and dispositive questions, and together we’ll add to the template (and actually make one) in time. Templates don’t constrain creativity because they’re a platform to build on, not a form to fill in. They give us a specific direction by example, and we’ll each be judged by how much better our own output is compared to the example.
Excited for version 2.0. There’ll always be a version 2.1 and eventually 3.0 depending on what we learn together! Thanks, -Bo