“I hate to say this, but I get no support from my manager.”
“My boss is clearly just checking the box regarding our touch points.”
“We just talk about project updates. We never talk about me, my goals, or my development.”
We’ve heard statements like this again and again from coaching clients. Most managers are well-intentioned, but for one reason or another, people are left feeling like they are lost and alone in career development. If you’re one of these people, the empowered way to navigate a situation like that is to focus on what you can control. One way to own your development is to take the reins with your manager check-ins.
Before you launch into a completely new approach with your manager, consider their perspective. As a trend, managers are being asked to do more with less. They’re often overbooked with meetings, navigating a never-ending series of crises, handling more direct reports than a year ago, and unsure of how to lead effectively. The impact of all this is that the one-on-one check-ins with you may become rare, deprioritized, and focused primarily on urgent project updates rather than longer-term goals. When your manager is dealing with all that’s thrown at them, they will likely appreciate you taking more ownership of your check-ins and ensuring they are productive, effective, and meaningful.
There’s a lot that you can do to take ownership of the meeting and your professional growth. Flip the script by using these strategies to make your check-ins work for you:
Own the administration
A straightforward, tactical way to build ownership is to take control of the literal calendar invitation. Don’t wait for your manager to schedule a meeting. Set a meeting invite that you know will work, invite your manager, and make it recurring. This puts the check-in on a routine and saves both of you the time and effort of scheduling it moving forward.
Take it a step further by also developing your meeting’s agenda, and make it a point to include that agenda in your calendar invitation. At the very least, the presence of an agenda makes it less likely that your manager will cancel. But beyond that, taking 15 minutes to think through some of the questions below before each touch point helps you maximize your time with your manager—they will appreciate your proactivity and know the meeting will not be a waste of time. Focus on areas like:
- Where do I need the most support?
- What hurdles am I facing concerning achieving my longer-term goals?
- What feedback do I need concerning my progress?
- What areas of focus will I have between now and my next touch point?
- What would I like to ask of my manager?
Set and work towards your own development goals
Regarding your development, if your check-ins have been loosey-goosey in the past, or development conversations were limited to a once-a-year review, consider a different approach. Make your development a regular topic of conversation, and make sure your manager knows what your development goals are. The more often you talk about it, the more it’ll be top-of-mind for your manager, and the easier the conversations will be.
There are going to be some ways that your organization or manager can support you—and helping your manager find those ways is an important part of your development. But often, it’s going to be your initiative that will make the difference.
Here are several steps you should follow when creating an Individual or Personal Development Plan:
1. Identify your goals:
- Consider both short-term (1-2 years) and long-term development goals.
- Focus on specific skills, exciting challenges, and opportunities to excel (not promotions or other factors out of your control).
2. Map out your development:
- Define success for each of your goals.
- Check if your organization offers stipends or allowances for development activities.
- Think outside the box on how you can grow. Try reading relevant books, online certifications, or networking with mentors.
3. Share your plan with your manager:
- Seek your manager’s input on your development plan.
- Ensure that most aspects of the plan are within your control, so you can actively drive your career growth.
- Ask your manager to identify new challenges or stretch opportunities that provide additional chances to practice and develop skills.
- Ask for their buy-in and support for the plan.
Super-charge the conversation with powerful questions and deep listening
During the check-in itself, one of the best ways you can drive the conversation is to ask powerful questions. Powerful questions are open-ended and often begin with where, how, what, and when. These questions are designed to move ideas forward and draw in the person you’re asking. Notice that these questions don’t begin with why. Questions that begin with why are more likely to put your manager in “defense mode” and less likely to open up your conversation for real candor. By using powerful questions, you are both leading the conversation and connecting with your manager.
Some examples of powerful questions include:
- What project could I take on that would help me develop my [insert desired skills]?
- Where can I experiment and learn on this team/at this company?
- Who should I be building relationships with?
- How might we measure progress against my goals?
Similarly, you can use active listening skills during the check-ins to strengthen the quality of the conversation. First, pay attention to your non-verbal communication. Make eye contact, nod your head, keep your body open, and avoid multitasking. By setting an example, your manager will more likely join you. Then, pay attention to the nonverbal communication your manager is putting out, too. Focus both on what is said and what is not said and ask about it if something feels off. For example: “I noticed that something just shifted in the energy between us… what shifted for you?”. If something is unclear or your manager leaves something unsaid, ask a follow-up question to get clarification, such as: “I noticed you didn’t mention my project with Suzie. What’s behind that omission?”
Before each one-on-one, make it a habit to practice deep listening:
- Model non-verbal communication that is inviting. Make eye contact, nod, and don’t multitask.
- Focus both on what is said and what is not said.
- Listen “below the surface” to your manager.
- Clarify and follow up.
Reflect and iterate
Owning your touch points also means owning the in-betweens. Take it upon yourself to manage the follow-up, track your progress, and stay on top of your plan. Find an easy way to take notes and document what happens in the meeting and any items you take ownership of. Make sure you can quickly identify what you’ve already talked about, what you’re working on, and what your next steps are. This is a great space also to note any recognition you receive and celebrate your wins.
Finally, harnessing the power of one-on-one check-ins with your manager can be a game-changer for your professional development. As you reflect on your approach to these interactions, consider them as mini-experiments in which you constantly refine and improve your strategy. After each meeting, take a moment for a pulse check – seek feedback from your manager and self-reflect on what went well and where there’s room for adjustment. By maintaining this intentional and growth-focused mindset, you’ll undoubtedly improve how effective your check-ins are and, in turn, own and accelerate your professional development. Embrace the journey of managing up, and watch as it transforms your career into a path of continuous advancement and success.