Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Team Meetings Series: The Agenda

Actions to take: Send your agenda out at least 24 hours in advance of your meeting. Include start times, "owner," and enough context for each item to get your team thinking about the topics.

This is a post in a short series about running your team meetings, i.e. the regularly scheduled meeting with all of your direct reports in attendance. Many of the lessons apply to other meetings, but team meetings are the focus.

How often are you in a meeting where the facilitator asks for input, discussion, etc. and gets dead silence in response? How often have you run a meeting where that has happened? There are several reasons it may happen, but the first culprit is that the meeting facilitator failed to adequately prepare the attendees. 

The agenda is the plan for the meeting. If you are constructing a building, the agenda is the blueprint. Most agendas are about as good as a sketch in the sand—you'll probably make a building, but good luck keeping it together. It is possible to have a bad meeting with a good agenda, but it is not possible to have a good meeting with a bad agenda. Thrown together agendas make for thrown together meetings. Excellent, thoughtful agendas make for excellent, thoughtful meetings. 

The agenda shows people why they should go to the meeting. The following elements, which most agendas miss, will ensure that your agenda convinces people that they want to attend..

  • Start times: Including start times for each agenda item is the biggest improvement you can make to almost any agenda. It has a host of benefits. First, it forces you to really think about your agenda & how long you need to spend on each item. Second, it indicates that priority to your team. Third, it makes it much easier to say "we are out of time on this one," keeping your meeting on track. (Note: Duration is not the same as start time. When your agenda lists how long things will take, your team will spend the meeting repeatedly doing math to figure out how behind you are.) 
  • One agenda item per agenda item: If you put "9:20, discuss X. Decide on Y. Brainstorm Z," then you have missed the point of including start times. Invariably, your employees will spend the majority of the time on a single topic (usually the first), and the others will get short shrift. Separate them, with separate start times for each. The one exception is for your list of quick, purely informational items that you are telling to your team—those can be sub-bullets of your "information dump" heading.
  • Owner of agenda item: After the agenda item, put the name of the person running that item in parentheses. For your team meeting, your name will probably go after most items. Still include it. This has two major effects. First, it subtly reminds your team that the meeting is about interacting with people as much as it is about the information and topics. Second, it will encourage you to have others lead agenda items from time to time, which is important for developing their skills.
  • Describe each item: For any item that is not purely informational, provide a one or two sentence explanation. What will happen during that part of the meeting? Discussion? If so, what in particular do you care about? Decision? If so, what needs to be decided? Brainstorming? Delegation of tasks? When you spend a few sentences describing the agenda items, your employees will be primed to contribute something meaningful. When you wait until the meeting to ask these questions, you have to sit in silence while your employees think.
  • Space for notes: This is an obvious agenda element that is embarrassingly neglected. Any good team meeting carries expectations for those in attendance. At a minimum, the team is learning things they need to know. Better meetings have a host of outcomes and action items. If you decided to do X for Project Y, the people carrying out that task need to note X and its deadline.
  • Sent out in advance: If start times are the biggest improvement, this is the second. When you send your agenda out in advance, you give your employees crucial time to think. They will come to the meeting prepared. They will have thoughts ready; discussion will be lively; decisions will be smarter because the bad ones will be challenged. You must send your agenda out ahead of time.

There is universal agreement that most meetings are a waste of time. They are dull, the content often could have been an email, and it never feels like there is an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the items that do matter. A thoughtfully developed agenda, delivered ahead of the meeting, is the quickest, largest improvement you can make to your own team meetings. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Team Meetings Series: Introduction

Actions to take: recommends team meetings that are regularly scheduled, have a well-defined agenda that is published in advance, and are actively facilitated. Read future posts in this series to hear more specific advice.

This is the first post in a short series about running your team meetings, i.e. the regularly scheduled meeting with all of your direct reports in attendance. Many of the lessons apply to other meetings, but team meetings are the focus.

Let's break down a few clichés related to team meetings. We will put them into plain English and try to get something actionable out of them.

  • Team meetings "ensure that the team is aligned." Translation: everyone hears you say the same thing in exactly the same way in a team meeting. When someone asks a question, everyone gets to hear your answer. When you give updates or answer questions outside of a team meeting, a sole employee may start doing things differently because they have different information than everyone else has. Team meetings are an opportunity to rectify that.
  • Team meetings "are a time to build stronger relationships." Average bosses often make the mistake of thinking they need to design activities with the express goal of teambuilding. That's like designing "falling in love" activities for someone you are dating. Cute if you do it once or twice. Creepy if you think it is a real strategy. The majority of your team gets nothing out of team-building activities and sees right through them. Instead, do work during your team meetings. Strong work relationships are an emergent property that comes from completing meaningful tasks together on a regular basis. Discuss issues, brainstorm around new ideas, encourage lively & respectful debate, get opinions on various issues, etc. 
  • Team meetings are a place to "demonstrate your leadership." This phrasing is dangerous because demonstrating leadership should never be your goal. Leadership is just a collection of things you do. Those things aren't your objective. Better performance, getting work done, achieving the goals of the organization, these are your objectives. This cliché is trying to articulate that team meetings, like one-on-ones, are one of the easiest places to do leadership. You can answer questions, make decisions, clarify plans, etc. Meetings are often derided as a waste of time, but when done effectively, they are far more efficient at these communication tasks than email, Slack channels, or other options.

Your team meeting can be one of the most valuable things you do. The forthcoming series of posts will help you get the most out of these meetings by explaining in detail how to do them well. Here is what the Team Meetings Series of posts will cover: 

  • The agenda
  • Frequency
  • Scheduling
  • Topic purpose
  • Ground rules
  • Facilitating conversation
  • Preparing for your meeting
  • Prewiring important topics
Stay tuned for these future posts in the Team Meetings Series! 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

More Reasons Why We Ask Before Giving Feedback

Actions to take: Ask your employees for their permission before giving performance feedback. Do it every time. advocates for casual, frequent performance feedback using the following formula: 1) ask if you can provide feedback; 2) provide feedback using the format "when you do X, it has Y impact"; 3) finish with a question asking them to change or an affirmation that they should keep it up. Feedback is short, simple, and can be about any work behavior. All posts about feedback assume this formula and strategy.

It is a little uncomfortable to say, "Can I give you some feedback?" That is particularly true when you are just starting this new feedback method. It feels overly formal. It adds just a little bit of reminder that you are the boss and they are the employee. It can feel unnecessary, especially with positive feedback. For these reasons, some of you will continue to resist asking the question, despite our first post explaining the importance of asking before you give feedback. The crux of that post was that feedback is advice, and you cannot force advice onto a person.

For some readers, that truth is not enough to balance out the awkwardness of asking. Here are several more reasons, which will hopefully tip the scales for you.
  • It is a signal: A huge complaint employees have about their bosses is that they don't get clear instructions. They find out weeks later that the boss hinted this or that. The employee didn't pick up on the hint, went a different way, and got in trouble for it. We want our employees to know without a doubt when we are giving feedback. One of the the questions HR always probes for with problem employees is, "Did you explain expectations in a way the employee can understand?" Asking first erases any possibility of misunderstanding. "Can I give you some feedback" could not be more clear. Your employees will hear, "Hey, employee! I'm about to make a comment about your performance! You might want to pay close attention!"
  • It gives them power: Perhaps unintuitively, we want the boss to be exerting as little power as possible while giving advice. If you don't ask, then you are telling. Telling an employee what they did wrong inevitably makes them feel like they're in trouble. We don't want the employee thinking about getting in trouble. We want them thinking about what the work we just commented on, and how to do it better in the future. When you ask before giving feedback, you are getting away from the "boss telling" power dynamic a little bit by giving them control of the situation.  
  • It is polite: Here is a simple reason to ask: it is the polite thing to do. All day, we ask when we could technically tell. We ask an employee to help that customer, to put out the closing sign, to take the lead on small projects, etc. Yea, you can tell your employee to do these things and earn a reputation for being a dictatorial jackass. Or you can ask.
  • It is free: There is no downside to this act because employees virtually never say no. I have given thousands of pieces of feedback, possibly tens of thousands. I can recall twice in my career when an employee responded no when asked if I could give them feedback. Both times, it was because they were distracted with something important in the moment. They followed up the same day to find out what my feedback was. 
I hope you will agree, these many reasons to ask your employees before giving feedback far outweigh the slight awkwardness of asking the question. It is easier not to ask first. It is less work not to ask. It is also less effective not to ask. Do the more polite, effective thing. Ask your employees before giving feedback.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Schedule Tasks, Not Just Meetings

Actions to take: Put important tasks on your work calendar, just like a meeting. Stick to the time you've allotted to complete the task, even if it means the work will be a little less refined. When others request your time during that block, tell them you have something scheduled. 


Tell me if you can relate to the following anecdote. It's Monday morning. You made your to-do list for the day, not too ambitious but certainly enough to keep you busy. Then the interruptions start rolling in. An employee wants to ask which week would be best for vacation; a coworker from another department calls to chat about the meeting last week; three of your eight bosses stop by to ask why you misfiled your TPS reports; and so on...You look up, the clock says 4:30, and you haven't even touched your to-do list. 

Managers are pulled in a hundred directions. When we allow it to happen, there is no way to focus long enough to do anything well. Sometimes it is impossible to get anything done at all. This post walks through a simple behavior that surprisingly few people engage in, yet it solves the problem entirely. 

Schedule time to do your work. Don't just make a to-do list—put time on your calendar as a scheduled event to do the work. I use the acronym WBO (work blocked out) as the "meeting" title. 

Scheduled things get done. There is a funny psychological element at play here, and it has to do with our capacity to make decisions. Throughout the day, those hundred distractions each ask you to make a tiny decision: "Do I continue doing what I was doing, or do I focus on what this person wants?" Our brains tend to go with the option that requires the least mental energy in the moment. When someone asks you a question, the default path, the path of least resistance at that point in time, is to engage. Each interruption requires you to decide that you will continue working on your task at hand instead of getting distracted by their request for your attention.

When you have scheduled something, the psychological script is flipped. Now the default is, "I should do what I have planned to do." When someone or something interrupts, the mental path of least resistance is to continue working on what you are "supposed" to be working on (i.e. the task you scheduled for yourself).

We're entirely capable of procrastinating and getting distracted without help from anyone else, of course. Scheduling the task helps with this problem too. When you just have a list of things to do with no times attached, you can get around to them whenever and however you want. There is no psychological pull to do anything at any particular time or in any particular order. So, when something new comes up (a gif from a friend or an email about a new task or anything in between), we naturally turn our attention to it—it is new, and new things are more attractive to our brains. 

However, if a specific task is scheduled for a specific time, there is more of an imperative to get it done. This little bit of guilt-tripping ourselves is usually enough to keep us on task. It doesn't matter that the plan is self-imposed. It still works.

Tips for scheduling tasks effectively:

  • Put it on your work calendar: For this advice to have any meaning, you must put your tasks on the same work calendar as your meetings, the one others can see and use when planning meetings with you. You will not get the same benefits if you just mentally schedule yourself to do it or put it on a private calendar. There are two groups of people who need to see it on your calendar:
    • You: Once something is on your calendar, it is part of the plan for the day. Sure, the plan can change. Meetings sometimes get cancelled. But not often. When you put a task on your calendar, you will treat it the same way you treat a meeting. It becomes work to change the plan, so you will be naturally inclined to do the task.
    • Everyone else: People from all over the organization make claims on our time. Our employees need to pop in with quick questions; our manager calls us up to review this or that; the business office and HR need to check in on budgets and timecards and all sorts of minutiae. When a portion of your calendar is blocked out, it eliminates a big chunk of those claims. Most (though not all) people tend to respect your time. They prefer to catch you when you are not busy. They will gladly pick a different time to talk with you or schedule that meeting if they know you are busy. (Even if you haven't shared your calendar, people will respect your reply that you've already scheduled something during that time. You do not need to mention what that something is.)
  • Estimate time and stick to it: There is an adage, "Work expands to fill the time given." How many times have you written an email to your boss, then re-worked it two or three more times to get it just right? We double or triple the time we take on a task for very little improvement. Assert to yourself that you will finish the task in the time you have given it and follow through on that assertion.
    • If you find yourself at the end of your time with the task incomplete, pause to review why it happened. Did you productively work on it the entire time, or were there interruptions and procrastinations? Make a note of which problem it is, and set out to do better next time.
  • Say no to interruptions: You are letting people make demands on your time. You do not need to do that. If you were running a meeting in your conference room, you would not answer your office phone. You would not let an employee pop in to ask a quick question. Treat your scheduled tasks the same way. It's simple: 
    • When your employee pops in, say, "I'm in the groove on something and would like to finish it up. Would it be alright if you came back in an hour?" Virtually everyone will be totally fine with that.
    • The phone is even easier. Just don't answer. Most phones have a button that silences the ringer or pushes to voicemail. Use it. When you call back later, you can give a quick apology that you were busy. Or don't apologize, frankly.

There are exceptions to all of this. Use your judgment for what should and what should not displace your plan. The crux is, treat your important tasks like meetings. You would cancel meetings, interrupt meetings, push meetings around for something more important. But you wouldn't pause or cancel a meeting at every minor request for your attention. Use the same criteria for your solo work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Performance Appraisal Meetings

Actions to take: Appraisal meetings are one of the most awkward tasks bosses and employees go through each year. Make it a little less awkward with the following advice: Never introduce new information in an appraisal; send the appraisal document to the employee ahead of the meeting; plan your meeting; don't expect your employees to do much talking; and spend some of your time in the meeting giving a personal thanks to your employees.

Okay, we wrote the appraisals! We spent every spare minute over the past month getting these done. The work is over, right? 

Sadly, our work is never finished. There are always ways to be a little bit better. In the case of appraisals, one of the biggest areas for improvement, ironically, has virtually no bearing on the official appraisal. Most organizations require you to have an appraisal meeting with the employee to discuss what your have written about the their work. These meetings can be a major factor in how your employees interpret their appraisals. Done well, you can smooth over any minor frustrations and leave the employee focused on the positives from their review. Done poorly, the employee will interpret everything in a negative light (and blame you for it). 

Here are several ways to improve your chances of making a positive impression with your employees about their annual evaluations:

  • No surprises: When you introduce new information at a year-end review, you are going to get resentment. Your employee will feel like you are pulling a dirty trick on them. And they will be right. It is bad management when you don't give people a chance to improve before dinging them on an official document. Search "performance review horror stories." Virtually every example will be people frustrated about an issue that the boss had never mentioned before. If you have not spoken to your employee about it earlier in the year (presumably soon after the issue occurred), leave it off the appraisal. It doesn't matter how big the issue is; you missed your chance. Appraisals are review. 
  • Send appraisal ahead of time: It doesn't need to be far in advance. Just enough time for an employee to master their reactions before talking with you about it. If the meeting is in the afternoon, that morning is fine. The emotional stakes are high in performance meetings. People are going to be defensive and sensitive to any threat. Even a "perfectly fine" appraisal might disappoint an employee who thinks they are a top performer. It is a favor to both of you to let the employee have that reaction in the relative privacy of their desk.
  • Have a structure to the meeting: Performance appraisal meetings are already awkward. Everything is written and decided by that point. In some sense, there is no real purpose to the meeting (The purpose is largely HR driven, pushing managers who never talk about performance to do it at least once per year. For followers of this blog, that is not a problem.). Plan some kind of structure to the meeting so that you two aren't staring at each other. These meetings don't need to be complicated—just make sure you have a clear opening, middle, and closing.
    • I recommend that you spend the bulk of the meeting highlighting the most important/meaningful parts of the appraisal. Yes, you are basically just reviewing the appraisal, which is itself a review of past feedback you've given. Put the comments into more natural language and speak directly to the person (i.e. don't just read off the page).
  • Don't expect much from the employee: It is good to ask the employee their thoughts somewhere near the end of the meeting. That said, don't expect anything ground-breaking. Remember, you took weeks to think about and compose these appraisals. Your employee shouldn't be expected to come up with anything especially insightful off the cuff. Also expect to do most of the talking throughout the meeting. As you go through the appraisal, feel free to ask if they have questions or comments, but don't try to "make it a conversation." First, it isn't really. Second, again, you've had time to think all this through and they have not.
Bonus tip:
  • Great time for thanks: The appraisal meeting is a fantastic time for praise and thanks. As mentioned above, there is not a lot of "official" business related to the appraisal itself. If you've effectively minimized the tension of these meetings, they have something of a high school end-of-year vibe. The mood is excellent for giving some personal thanks and saying what you appreciate about the employee. Do this, and your employees will leave the meeting feeling satisfied and proud, even if you were obliged to give everyone middling scores.

Average bosses tend to make an already-tense part of the year worse in their appraisal meetings. They commit a variety of managerial sins, from springing new negative feedback on the employee to simply having nothing planned. Better bosses think through the appraisal meeting with the same consideration they used for the appraisal itself. They recognize that having a positive meeting will do almost as much for the employee as getting a positive written appraisal. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Performance Appraisals are Political Documents

Actions to take: Don't treat annual appraisals as an especially important task that needs perfect accuracy. Do them competently, but quickly. Instead, spend your time and energy on work that has real impact on your efficacy. 

(Note: the following post applies to organizations of a certain size. If your organization is big enough to have a separate HR department, you can safely trust that this advice applies to you. If your organization is very small, there are fewer political factors at play.)

How many times have you been totally satisfied with your year-end appraisal? How often do you read it and say, "Yes, this is an excellent, accurate reflection of my work and abilities?" I haven't met anyone yet who agrees with that statement. It seems that no one is satisfied with their appraisals, no matter how much time the boss spent on them. 

I am going to offer you some practical and controversial advice. Most HR departments would take issue with me if the blog were big enough for anyone to notice. The advice is this: Don't put much effort into annual employee evaluations. As a good boss, you will want to write thorough appraisals that accurately reflect your employees' skills and accomplishments. You will want to show how great your top performers are and show the problems with your bottom performers. Your organization, on the other hand, will push you to write watered down, middle-of-the-road appraisals. They'll do it gently, and they would never describe it that way, but they'll do it.

Don't fight the organization's will. Just get them done and off your plate as quickly as possible.  

Performance appraisals, as an organizational process, are built to fail. The performance appraisal process means too many things to too many parts of the organization. For the employee, it is: 1) a review of their work, 2) the manager's opinion about their work, 3) a factor in future salary earnings. Those are three huge, distinct things. 

For the manager writing the appraisal, it is: 1) all the things mentioned above, 2) a comparison with the manager's other employees, 3) a reflection of the managers work, both in that they wrote the review and that they are responsible for their employees' performance. These reasons, and especially the third, incentivize the manager to write largely generic, generally positive appraisals. To do otherwise invites scrutiny on their work. 

For the HR department, the appraisal is again, everything mentioned above. Plus, it is an evidentiary document for disciplinary decisions. The first thing HR will ask about a poor performer is, "Are the problems reflected in their performance appraisals?" At the same time, HR will demand ironclad documentation of the problem before they allow it to be put into an appraisal. A real chicken-egg situation. Yet another incentive pushing managers in the direction of generic appraisals. 

We could go on. We could talk about how the manager's manager has their own opinions about the employee's appraisal, how managers of other departments have some influence, how the culture of the organization pushes us to give certain ratings and speak about employees in certain ways. The list of influences doesn't end.

How can one document succeed in all of these different goals? Frankly, it cannot. It is not possible to write a set of truly exceptional, accurate performance appraisals for your team. You can’t have a single document that functions as conversation from manager to employee about their work over the past year, and is also the key document in determining salary increases, and also sidesteps scrutiny of the your own work, and is also formatted as documentation of problematic behavior, and so on, and so on. There are too many pressures from too many directions. 

Use that energy elsewhere. Take the advice from our previous post about performance appraisals, and just get it done with. The appraisal does not have much impact on your employees' success and productivity, truly. Humans are not motivated once per year—we are motivated by the everyday feedback we receive. The faster you finish this largely bureaucratic task, the faster you can return to the valuable task of everyday communication about the work.

You can ignore this advice. You can try to write excellent, accurate appraisals with top ratings for your high performers and low ratings for your poor performers. I certainly attempted it early in my managerial career. The appraisals don't last the onslaught of upper-level review. Your decisions and opinions will be softly poked and prodded by HR and by your manager until you relent. Your ratings will be pushed to be whatever the average score is. It will be strongly implied or outright stated that you don't have quite enough evidence to justify the highest or lowest ratings. Your comments will be watered down. 

Save yourself the grief of fighting that lost cause. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Performance Appraisals are Easy

Actions to take: Give casual, frequent feedback as this blog recommends. Note each piece of feedback when you do. At appraisal time, consult those notes and use the feedback for concrete examples of each employee's behavior.

In my first year as a boss, I dreaded performance appraisals more than any other task. I was supervising over twenty people. I hadn't learned the fundamentals of management discussed in this blog. I didn't really know how well my employees were performing. I wanted to write accurate, meaningful appraisals, but I just didn't have the tools or knowledge to do it. It left me paralyzed. I'm embarrassed to admit that my appraisals were routinely two or three months overdue. 

We make everything so unnecessarily challenging for managers. As with most managerial behaviors, I dreaded appraisals because no one took the time to give me comprehensive training on how to do them well. Sure, I was given an overview of the rating system and a few examples of what other managers had written. If you spend an hour showing someone which notes correspond to which keys on a piano, that doesn't mean they know how to play. Let me save you some of the managerial heartache I went through by explaining how to write an effective appraisal.

Performance appraisals are easy—if you give frequent performance feedback to your team throughout the year. 

The challenging thing about appraisals is that you are trying to remember everything for every employee all at once. Most appraisals either break out ratings based on categories of job duty or core competencies (teamwork, resourcefulness, motivation, etc.). For every employee, you have to decide how well they accomplish that category, and you usually have to justify it with at least a few sentences about their work. Your brain is not a database. You cannot select the keywords "teamwork" and "[employee name]" and expect your brain to return all relevant results. Your brain might do this okay once or twice, but this sort of thinking tires us out very quickly. You will be floundering for meaningful things to say by the 4th section of the appraisal. 

Bosses typically overcome this challenge with two equally ineffective strategies. First, they resort to generic language. We can't think of anything particularly meaningful to write, so we just don't. The deadline for these appraisals is fast approaching, and we've got 12-20 of them to do. We compromise by putting something platitudinous that no one can disagree with. The second strategy is to copy-paste the same language on multiple employees, making sure to change the name. If we write something that is generic, but sounds pretty good, we end up using it for everybody. If you are a manager who has done more than 50 appraisals, I guarantee you have done this. Prove me wrong with a comment if you like. 

The point of an appraisal is to assess the employee's effectiveness over the prior year. Both of the above strategies utterly fail in that goal. There is a more effective way. It also happens to be even easier. You'll be done with your appraisals faster than your colleagues, and the content will be more meaningful.

If you follow the advice of this blog, you give small, casual performance feedback to your employees throughout the year. That feedback will be the basis for your year-end appraisals. Here is the process:

  1. Each time you give feedback, just make a 1-sentence note of it. I use the same documentation for feedback as I do for weekly one-on-one meeting notes. If the feedback happened outside the meeting, just mark it somewhere in that week's one-on-one notes. I tag it "FB" to conveniently find it later.
  2. At year end, scan through that documentation, pull every note that says "FB," and put them in a list. If you keep paper notes, this may take as much as an hour. If you transfer your notes to a digital resource, ctrl+F will make quick work of this. 
  3. You now have a list of, ideally, at least 50 pieces of feedback (even 20 pieces of feedback will put you way ahead of your colleagues). Now, just slot them into the performance appraisal categories. For instance, you may have noted feedback from march saying, "FB: + Ben contributed innovative idea to new service model plan." That might go under "resourcefulness." 
  4. Once finished, you'll have several pieces of information about each category of the appraisal. From there, it is simple work to decide how to rate the employee. You will easily see the employee who has two or three times as much positive feedback as others in the "teamwork" category, or the employee whose only feedback on "motivation" relates to several problems throughout the year.

This method for writing appraisals benefits everyone. It is vastly more accurate than using your recollection. It uses concrete examples of their work—both the employee and the HR department are going to like that. And it saves you time and energy. 

Average bosses struggle with performance appraisals. They are overburdened by the process and do mediocre work, like the college student who waits until the last night to write a term paper. Better bosses spread the work throughout the entire year. They use comprehensive notes to write better, faster, easier appraisals that satisfy everyone. 

Note from the author: if you enjoy this blog, please consider sharing your favorite posts with others.

Monday, June 7, 2021

One-on-Ones Basics Summary

Actions to take: Following the advice from this blog, you now have all the information necessary to begin regular one-on-ones with your employees. Use this post as a reference point to previous entries.

To be a truly effective boss, the most important thing you can do is build a trusting relationship with each employee. By far the easiest way to do that is through routine one-on-one meetings. recommends that those meetings are scheduled, 30 minutes, weekly, and rarely missed, with the first half of the meeting spent on whatever they want to discuss and the second half for whatever you want to discuss. All posts about one-on-ones assume this strategy.

When done correctly, regular, scheduled one-on-ones are the most valuable behavior you can engage in as a manager. This blog has now covered all the basic elements to help you run these meetings effectively.

We started with a post explaining why one-on-ones are the most important thing you do as a manager. Our next post gave an overview of the most important elements to conducting effective one-on-ones:

The first one-on-one will go a little bit differently from the rest, as you are all getting used to this new process. Finally, if you ever need to justify the value of one-on-ones to your superiors, remember that one-on-ones are efficient.

Once you institute this kind of one-on-one meeting with your employees, communication will transform. You will know what is going on with your team in a way you didn't realize was possible. You will have a genuine understanding of exactly what your employees are doing and how they are doing it, rather than just vague notions of how they spend your time. They will stop feeling anxiety about coming to you with questions, instead looking at you as an important resource for helping make decisions about their tasks. 

This new level of communication will make every single aspect of your work better and easier.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Onboarding Training Schedule Example

Actions to take: Follow the advice from Onboarding New Employees Part 1 and Part 2. Use the sample schedule below to get a sense for how yours might look.

To supplement our posts about onboarding new employees, I am providing a sample onboarding schedule for a new employee. The sample below is a real schedule that I planned at one of my positions as a branch manager for a library (with minor tweaks). My hope is that seeing a real schedule will give you a concrete sense for how you might do this with your new employees.

A few notes:

  • Remember, the manager does not make these alone. We work with our existing team to 1) come up with the most important things to cover in the first week, and 2) decide who should do which trainings.
  • The schedule is addressed to the new employee. Also sending it to their coworkers provides a variety of benefits (confirms times for those who are training, lets them know when the new employee is potentially free for a chat, makes your managerial work more visible, etc.)
  • The schedule is sent to the new employee before their first day. If that is impossible for some reason, make sure it is in their hands first thing on their first day.
  • In my sample, you see “Manager” or “Coworker X” in parentheses. In a real schedule, it would be the name of whomever is running that part of the schedule (i.e. instead of “manager” the actual schedule said “Ben”). Among other benefits, this helps the new employee remember who their coworkers are.
  • Note how much time is allotted to be “their” time. Day one has two hours. By day five, it is five hours. This is a highly autonomous position, so the expectation is that this employee will quickly take charge of organizing their day. 

Without further ado, here is the sample schedule:


  • 8-11: At administrative offices downtown.
  • 11-12: (Manager) Arrive onsite. Meeting w/ manager. Introductions to team.
  • 12-1: (Coworker 1) Introduction to our library’s shelving system. Tour of collections.
  • 1-3: Lunch/your time to use as you see fit. Ensure computer & email login work.
  • 3-4: (Coworker 2) Backroom storage & event programming space: Layout of storage area, what goes where, etc.
  • 4-5: Your time.


  • 8-9: Your time.
  • 9-10: (Manager) Keys, swipe badges, and combinations.
  • 10-12: (Coworker 3) Shadow curbside delivery service. Suggestion for any downtime: wander around space to get more acquainted with it.
    [blog note: this schedule was developed during the COVID-19 shutdown. Curbside service was a major part of the library’s service model at the time.]
  • 12-2: Lunch/your time.
  • 2-3: (Coworker 4) Reference Services: Using the library catalog to help customers, commonly used databases and resources, digital media. 
  • 3-4: Employee’s time.
  • 4-5: (Coworker 5) Integrated Library System software: overview of interface; basic checkout procedure; customer accounts; item records; creating new accounts.


  • 8-9: Your time.
  • 9-10: (Coworker 6) Integrated Library System training #2: placing holds & searching records; Account Renewals; Phones; Notes on customer accounts & item records.
  • 10-12: (Coworker 2 & 4) Event programming: programming checklist, virtual programming guidelines, outsider performer process, ordering supplies, room reservation, etc.
    [blog note: a major part of the new employee’s job was event programming. Coworkers 2 & 4 were also event programmers and decided it would be effective to tackle this training together.]
  • 12-2: Lunch/your time.
  • 2-3: (Manager) review shared office drive and intranet: IT tickets, timeclock portal, library policies documentation, etc.
  • 3-5: Your time.


  • 8-9: Your time
  • 9-10: Staff meeting
  • 10-12: (Coworker 3) Shadow on customer service desk. Suggestion: while on desk, ask questions about what services we offer & don’t, ask about responding to mask/other noncompliance issues, etc.
  • 11-2: Lunch/your time.
  • 2-3: (Manager) Person In Charge (PIC) duties & training manual.
  • 3-5: Your time.


  • 8-9: Your time.
  • 9-10: (Coworker 7): Shelving workflow in detail: Book drop; using self-check machine (inc. common errors); item sorting; reviewing material condition (grubby vs damaged, checking location, missing items, damaged cases); Exceptions, bins, & routing to other libraries; etc.
  • 10-11: Your time
  • 11-1: Scheduled on desk. Not shadowing—be sure to have your questions/concerns addressed before this shift.
  • 1-4:30: Lunch / your time
  • 4:30-5: (Manager) Debrief about first week. Clear up any questions about following week.

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