Calling all non horn-tooters - how to get the most out of a 1:1
July 23, 2019 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I have a one-on-one meeting with my manager every two weeks. It’s an open-ended discussion meant for me to bring up anything I need help with, but it’s also the only time I have to share what I’ve accomplished (he’s a high-level people manager without any insight into my day-to-day work). I am not great at tooting my own horn, but I want to be sure to advocate for myself. What are ways to communicate accomplishments in a conversational way, that doesn’t sound like bragging?

I’m a woman in tech (engineering). In general my team is blessedly free of braggarts and self-promoters. However, there’s a difference between not bragging, and not communicating to your boss that you are doing a good job with your work. My boss doesn’t have much visibility into my day to day, AND he is managing a bunch of people so isn't following my progress closely.

I also tend toward the self-deprecating, both because I have really high standards for myself, and because it is objectively a challenging job and I’m working with team members who are much more experienced than I am, so even when I do accomplish things well, and am praised for it, I know that others on my team could have done it much more quickly so I feel reluctant to talk myself up.

I want to nip my self-deprecating instincts in the bud, and set the stage for a good annual review and a raise.

* What are ways to communicate my accomplishments that don’t sound like bragging? Specific phrases or big-picture advice welcome.
* Have you developed a system that works for recording your accomplishments?
* What are ways you slowly build a case for a raise when the 1:1 is just a casual conversation?
* What else can I get out of a 1:1 to build my career?
posted by rogerroger to Work & Money (15 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in a job where I had a bi-monthly 1:1 I found the most useful thing was to bring in a short bulleted list of what I'd gotten accomplished (data-driven if at all possible, your boss probably reports to someone) as well as specific questions I had that could wait til a meeting. I could just keep these in a text file in-between meetings. Collating it all before the meeting helped ME see what I'd been up to as well as offer it up to my boss. It also made it clear when my boss was, for whatever reason, not following up on things (I would literally email my document and bring a printed copy to the meeting). I think the "circle back" function of regular meetings is super important "So, as I mentioned last meeting, I am trying to learn a new thing. Well this is what I've done towards that goal"

I think building the case for a raise in many cases is about indicating that your work is improving or that you are taking on increasing responsibility. If you're slower than your colleagues, don't say that but indicate that you're getting faster or that you're mentoring newer folks or whatever the things are. Above all, look into how the things you are doing with your work are furthering whatever the values of the workplace are (if possible) so if they appreciate work/life balance (ha) talk about how you go home on weekends and still get your work done. If they value teamwork, talk about projects you've worked on with others, etc.

Your boss's job should be to remove obstacles to you being awesome at your job. It also does not hurt if the work you do can make your boss look good to their boss. Also, it's sort of a trope but if you come with problems/issues, show that you've done some of your own "working the problem" before you show up at the meeting. This is a pain for women in tech sometimes because your problems may be "my co-workers are sexist" or something, but managers tend to appreciate just getting to green light ideas ("So I need to move to an office away from the one person that gets in the way of this") and not feeling like meetings are where they get problems dumped on them.

In short, even though some of this is not technically your job, it can be good to think about what your boss wants to get out of the meeting as well and work on that. A good manager won't make this your issue and will help you bring out your own accomplishments and achievements, but be ready to maybe have to nudge them along the way somewhat.
posted by jessamyn at 3:33 PM on July 23 [12 favorites]

At your next 1:1, I’d say something like “I want to let you know how much I appreciate these meetings and getting a chance to talk to you. I think it would be helpful for my own goal-setting if part of our discussion every meeting was for me to update you on what short terms goals I’ve accomplished since our last meeting, focused on how that progress impacts our long term goals.”

Then every week, at the same point in the meeting, present a list: “This week I finished writing X report. As a result, we’re now 75% of the way toward our goal of compiling Y series of memos. In addition, we had a productive meeting on the Smith project. Like we talked about earlier this year, I was able to keep the team focused and on task so the meeting was a good use of our time. Lastly, I made 10 calls, touching base with half of my client list. Client Brown had some questions for me about our customer relations team, so I sent him a summary of our procedure.”

I’m sure you always do this, but 1:1 is a good time to ask for feedback because if there are any concerns or red flags, you can hear about them quickly and nip them in the bud before any more formal evaluation.
posted by sallybrown at 3:33 PM on July 23 [2 favorites]

See Get your work recognized: write a brag document by Julia Evans
posted by caek at 3:50 PM on July 23 [3 favorites]

You aren't bragging. You are reporting. The idea that talking about good things you've done is self-promoting or bragging is toxic, whether you are thinking about yourself or other people. Try to lose this notion of people:
In general my team is blessedly free of braggarts and self-promoters.

You have pigeon-holed folks to the extent that you aren't even talking about their behaviors, but you are describing them negatively based on the fact that they talk about themselves positively. If you spend so much time trying not to be this, you are only hurting yourself.

However, there’s a difference between not bragging, and not communicating to your boss that you are doing a good job with your work.

You're trying to walk a delicate line here... but I think that line doesn't really exist. What happens if you cross it? What happens if you brag to your boss about something good you did? When you do well, it's good for your boss! It gives him information he can share up the line, and it reflects better on him! He has a great person working for him, and he even gets some of the credit for that! Make his job easier by talking yourself up.

You're a woman in tech. No one is looking out for you if you aren't looking out for yourself. Cultivate some of that bragging and self-promotion, if not for yourself, then for the women who come after you. The better you do, the easier it will be for them.

In my workplace (not tech), there are some folks who want us all to communicate more about what we are doing. There are a few folks who see this as bragging. It's ridiculous. I benefit by knowing what my colleagues are up to; it makes my job easier.

I think it would be helpful if you read up on impostor syndrome. I think it would be helpful if you spent some time thinking about why you are so worried about appearing to brag. I think it would be helpful if you stopped worrying about bragging. I think it would be good if you started bragging. I think it would be great if you started watching videos of high achieving women talking about their accomplishments. Your colleagues, especially your male colleagues, are talking about themselves positively. Act confident to your boss. Tell your boss what you've done in list form. Get over this idea that this is bragging or there's anything bad about it.

It's hard to be a woman in engineering. You earned that job, so own that, and you work it!
posted by bluedaisy at 4:19 PM on July 23 [10 favorites]

Use the P.P.O.P. format every week for consistency.


It's short, sweet, and to the point. For quarterly or annual reviews, just go through them and gather up the bullet points to tell the story of you kicking ass.
posted by dum spiro spero at 5:38 PM on July 23 [9 favorites]

My team uses an “APIC” format- just a short bulleted list of what’s going on, in four categories.

Accomplishments: What got done during the week
Priorities: What you plan on working on next week
Issues: The problems you ran into
Considerations: Potential events that you’re looking out for (possible issues, planned vacation time that might impact a delivery, etc).

This kind of prep work has made it really easy for my team of software developers to consolidate their thoughts into stuff that can be easily communicated up and down the ladder. Maybe try something similar?
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:40 PM on July 23 [8 favorites]

Oh, and definitely save these as suggested above- either the APICs or the PPOPs (those sounds great too!) because they’re invaluable when it comes to annual review time.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:42 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]

I sit on the other side of this table, as a manager running 1:1s with a folks who aren't normally given to self-promotion. I'd like to underscore what bluedaisy said above - there's a fair-to-middling chance that you're into things and accomplishing stuff that's not on management's radar is important for a couple of reasons:

1. they might be able to bring air cover to assist on stuff before it gets overwhelming
2. they may decide to retask you if you're getting pulled into stuff that you'd rather not be doing (a variation on 1 above); ie, firewalling you off from Dumb Shit
3. gets management into the loop sooner if something is about to blow up.
4. selfishly, bosses hate getting surprised by others when it comes to good stuff their team is up to: hey did you hear about the fantastic work rogerroger is up to? uh, no. no I didn't.

I generally expect it to go something like this:

- here's what I'm working on
- here's what I might need help with
- here's something that's getting hot, just letting you know
- here's something I got asked about and I need some help/resources/time to deliver on it

Making sure the last 2 are addressed is what helps me to help you do good work work on the first 2. Still, I understand that it's tough for some folks and I try to ask questions to get things rolling.
posted by jquinby at 5:45 PM on July 23 [5 favorites]

Let me bring you up to date.

Then you just tell him all the great stuff you're doing. Make a list before hand. Write down everything. It's important to let him know you're busy as well.
posted by xammerboy at 10:58 PM on July 23

Good advice above! One additional piece of advice I've heard that has served me well is to write a physical list of what you've accomplished and bring it with you to the meetings. Having a physical, written list in front of them seems to help managers take in your accomplishments and take them more seriously.
posted by aka burlap at 6:32 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]

I'd also recommend you read The Managers Path by Camille Fournier, even if you aren't looking to becoming a manager. She talks about 1-1 meetings and what you can expect from your manager and what they expect from you. Additionally, it talks about different roles a Tech Lead does that can help give you ideas on concrete things to work on for a future raise or promotion.

Good luck!
posted by jillithd at 10:07 AM on July 24 [3 favorites]

I'm male, but otherwise, same setup. My mentor is female, and gave me some of the world's most solid advice.

1. Find a manager with whom you click. This is the most important. Without the right manager, most people do less well than they would with that person at their back.

2. When you write up your accomplishments, find a buddy/mentor/colleague who's ideally senior to you (and good at this specific skill!), and have them edit what you write about yourself. Remove self deprecation in print; you can self-deprecate with a manager you trust, but when it's written, just put down your greatest hits.

3. Make a case for raises and/or promotions midway through the performance cycle; if you're reviewed formally twice a year, make the case three months early, so they have time to build the case for you.
posted by talldean at 5:50 AM on July 27 [1 favorite]

As a middle manager, I want to second what jessamyn said. Bring a bulleted list of your achievements each week, walk through them, talk about problems you solved independently and things you learned. Also, forward your manager any complimentary feedback you get from other teams, and if someone from another team sends you a thank-you note, feel empowered to ask them if they can share that with your manager.

In terms of asking for a raise specifically, my guidance here won't be as direct because my company has a very specific and structured process for raises and promotions, but I think my general advice would be to demonstrate enthusiasm for stretch opportunities. Also, talk about your development areas (though not in comparison to your coworkers--a junior/new employee being slower to complete a task than a senior/tenured employee is totally expected). It's a very good sign if you can recognize your own weaknesses, come up with a plan to improve, and flag areas where your manager can provide you more support.
posted by capricorn at 8:35 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]

And once you start keeping a list of accomplishments and progress and setbacks in some sort of regular diary, _keep_ it. I won't deny that I rolled my eyes at my manager's insistence on a weekly status report, but by golly it was great to have 52 weeks worth of accomplishments and kudos in my outbox when my annual review came up and I had to write up what I did for the past year. Instead of just "uh, stuff? y'all kept paying me, I guess it was important..." I could come up with legitimate projects I had closed out and process improvements I had worked on, etc etc etc.
posted by Kyol at 9:07 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

Another manager here. We absolutely want to hear about what you've accomplished, because we pass that up the line and we look good by associatiation. We want to hear about how the approach you've taken is better than another way that is more expensive, or more time consuming, or relies too much upon X dodgy thing, because this informs our picture of the working enviroment and helps us do our jobs better as well in the future (by avoiding dodgy thing X or associated salespeople).

And the thing is, if you are genuinely excited that you have done this cool stuff in a cool way, we won't even think of it as bragging, because we're just so happy to have an employee that is obviously enjoying themself. We want to help that person do more cool stuff, and so we are motivated to keep their path clear by providing what they need. It's the rising tide lifts all boats situation. These meetings shouldn't be considered adverserial, but rather an opportunity to collaborate, because the manager should be getting as much out of it as you.
posted by Sparx at 2:46 PM on August 15

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