Mastering the 1:1 in Order to Control Your Career

1:1s are, hands down, the best tool you can use to manage your career. Our talent devloper expert gives tips on mastering the 1:1.

1:1s are, hands down, the best tool you can use to manage your career. They allow you to check-in on goals, calibrate on progress and establish action items so you can work toward achieving your career aspirations - in this case, a promotion.

Know the process

The first step to achieving your career goals is to understand how your company approaches job levels (e.g. software engineer, senior engineer, lead engineer, etc.) and the performance management process (e.g. when do you set goals, when do you review performance, when are promotion recommendations made and how promotions are approved). Familiarizing yourself with these concepts will help you set realistic expectations and strategically manage your development. To learn more, reach out to your manager or your HR team.

Set the foundation

Once you understand the performance management process, it's time to set your goals. This will be done during the goal-setting cycle which, depending upon your company, may be annually, semi-annually or even quarterly. Goals take on multiple forms - many companies require business specific goals while others also encourage value related, professional and even career goals. If these are part of your company's goal-setting process, maximize the opportunity to set clear, actionable goals that will help you achieve your career goals. For instance, if your career goal is to move into a Sr. Software Engineer position in July, your professional development goals should speak to the competencies or skills you need to hone in order to be successful in that role. After your goals are set, meet with your manager to align, calibrate on your strengths and areas of growth and establish a plan to achieve your goals.

💡Protip: although goals may be set at a standard cadence, changes to goals can happen any time. When these changes happen, you can set yourself apart by doing the following: express your understanding for the change, showcase your flexibility by asking how you can help your manager and the team pivot, inquire about any resources or support you may need to be successful and confirm that you will update your goals (e.g. if you have a tool that you use for goals or in your 1:1 agenda).

Establish an agenda

To keep 1:1s focused and organized, collaborate with your manager on an agenda that serves both of your needs while also allowing you to continue building your relationship. 1:1s are your moments to demonstrate your potential so be sure the agenda you set gives you an opportunity to highlight your progress, growth and commitment to achieve your career goals. A sample agenda might include the following: kick off and connect on a personal level, check in on goals (business, professional and career), check in on progress and calibrate on needs, discuss feedback and coaching, recognize and celebrate achievements.

If possible, use the tools available to you to document this agenda and set recurring invites and reminders so you and your manager come prepared.

Come prepared

One of the top concerns we hear from managers is that team members don't come prepared to 1:1s and, in turn, they end early. While the previous tip helps combat this by ensuring that both the manager and team member are bought into the agenda, it's your responsibility to reflect on your goals beforehand and come prepared to drive the conversation. In other words, 1:1s are yours to own. To prepare for your 1:1s, we recommend the following tips:

  • Ask yourself the question - how emotionally intelligent am I? Having a deep sense of your EQ will not inform how you see yourself and your opportunities, how you will respond to feedback, and how you can prepare yourself to self-regulate during those conversations so you always promote your best personal brand.
  • Ask for feedback from your peers and partners. One signpost of a high performer is someone who solicits feedback from others and swiftly actions on that feedback.
  • Practice self-reflection. Block ten minutes on your calendar before every 1:1 to self reflect on your goals, your needs, your progress and your continued areas of growth.
  • Help your manager come prepared by using your tools to document or connecting 1-2 days before your 1:1 to share what you're excited to talk about.

Be an active participant

As I mentioned before, you own 1:1s so it's essential that you play an active role in them if you want to achieve your career goals. During conversations, use the agenda you and your manager created to walk through your goals. Highlight progress you've made on both your business and professional development goals. Share feedback you gathered from your peers and partners, ask for your manager's thoughts and plan for steps you will take to action on that feedback. Use 1:1s to discuss exciting or challenging scenarios you may be experiencing, propose solutions and ask for coaching. These steps will highlight your self-awareness, openness and vulnerability, critical thinking and commitment to collaborating on solutions. Finally, refer back to your career goals. Ask your manager for feedback on your progress and what areas of growth you should continue working on to achieve those goals. Throughout the conversation - takes notes, ask for clarification and work with your manager to set action items or commitments.

Follow up and follow through

Another signpost of a high performer is someone who follows up and follows through. After setting action items during 1:1s, circle back to share progress with your manager. As it relates to your career goals, I recommend following up once a month to pulse check on where you are (highlight progress/calibrate on areas that you should continue to focus on), where you want to go (Sr. Software Engineer) and how/when you will get there (how are you trending and what support or development exercises would be helpful). Following up on your career goals and following through on the action items you and your manager have set to achieve those goals will help you lay the groundwork for the promotion or review cycle - possibly June or December. If you've trended well, achieved your goals and received encouraging feedback from your manager, use one of your 1:1s to reference promotions with humility and curiosity. Thank your manager for their support, speak to the progress you've made and express your interest in being recommended for a promotion. If your manager agrees, inquire about what steps you should take to follow up (usually this just means waiting until the end of the review cycle to receive your performance check-in and any updates). There is also a chance that your manager may disagree with the proposal. If that happens, don't panic. Take a pause, request their feedback, seek to understand and ask if it would be okay for you to reflect and circle back to discuss a plan later that week. During that follow up conversation, align on a go-forward plan.




This post was written by Destini Burns. As the Sr. Manager of Learning & Talent Development at Acorns, she's spent the last few years mentoring and training a vast majority of the company. She's run leadership development programs, emerging leader programs, sessions on goals, sessions on learning how to leverage your strengths, and more. Prior to Acorns, she supported leadership and talent development efforts at Vans, Chipotle, and ConAgra. She's spent the last 10 years helping others hone their skills and is a fantastic leader herself.