The Importance of 1-on-1 Meetings

In Gordon Daugherty’s recent post, he encourages company founders to be deliberate about establishing management systems, specifically in the areas of meetings, communications, and decision-making. Based on a valuable lesson I learned from a small class Andy Grove taught on performance management, I respectfully contribute an additional topic to Gordon’s list.

My first software company employer, MRI, became the first software acquisition that Intel ever made. Intel’s annual revenue then was $850 million, less than 1.5% of 2014’s $58 billion. Andy Grove, Gordon Moore, and Robert Noyce traveled to Austin to meet us face to face and to share their plans for the future. (Gordon Moore’s prediction that refrigerators would eventually have embedded CPUs baffled me, but that’s another story.)

Intel CEO Andy Grove was deeply committed to teaching effective performance management to every manager in the company. His passion derived from his belief that building a strong management culture would support continued rapid growth of the company for decades. It’s hard to argue with that when you look at the company’s history.

Having effective 1-on-1 meetings was a critical component of the process Andy taught. He emphasized three aspects:

  1. Purpose – In the hectic day-to-day operations of a company, many issues must be dealt with immediately. Having regular 1-on-1 meetings creates time for “important” but not “urgent” discussions that would otherwise be overlooked. Between meetings, each participant compiles a list of important, non-urgent topics.
  2. Scope – No topics are off-limits. The only criterion for an issue is that it be important to the employee or the manager. Career planning, an idea not yet ready for a larger discussion, the scope of a project – any topic is allowed.
  3. Timing – Setting the right schedule is mutually determined. The relative maturity of the person to the position is the key factor. Increasing maturity allows for less frequent meetings. I may know a job extremely well and a weekly meeting with my manager would seem like micromanagement, but if I’m transferred to another position where I have little domain knowledge and experience, a weekly meeting schedule would be welcomed!

While some management systems may need to evolve as the company grows, making effective 1-on-1 meetings part of the company’s culture will pay dividends throughout the company’s life.