As a manager one of the things that you will experience is taking on the management of a developer who has recently joined the company. As part of this it is important that you have an initial one to one with them to help you get to know how they like to work and how they like to receive feedback.

In this post I will share my approach to these initial one to ones. If you have your own ideas on how you can make these initial one to ones effective or you have any questions please post in the comments as I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

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The first one to one with someone you are managing for the first time is incredibly important as it allows you to set the expectations for how you will work together going forward. It is also one of the early opportunities to get to know your new developer a little better outside of the recruitment process they went through.

When I first take on the management of a new developer I like to spend some time getting to understand how they like to work with their manager. I don’t believe in having a one size fits all management style and I want to be able to adapt how I work with each person that reports to me based on how they want to be managed. I want to give the engineers that report to me the best possible support and guidance I can in a way that suits them.

Choosing a suitable location

When I do an initial one to one I usually will suggest a choice of locations for the one to one. Giving them the option to either stay in the office and grab a meeting room or to pop out to the local coffee shop. The key thing here is I want them to feel comfortable to talk openly and honestly about how they prefer to work.

Introducing the one to one

Having arrived at our location, grabbed a coffee (or in my case a water) and a seat I start by introducing one to ones to the developer.

Unfortunately one to ones can sometimes be a foreign concept as not all managers practice them so I usually will ask them if they have had one to ones with their manager in the past. If the answer is they haven’t had them previously I will explain to them the reason we have them and the benefits they bring.

Having explained what one to ones are I will then discuss the frequency that we have one to one’s and also highlight that if they have any pressing things that can’t wait until our scheduled one to one that they can still grab me at any time.

Initial questions to ask in the one to one

Having introduced one to ones to the developer, the next part of my initial one to one aims to help me to learn more about them. As a manager I need to understand how they like to receive feedback, how they like their successes to be recognised, what makes them feel good about themselves and what makes them feel low so that I can properly support them.

To enable me to find out this information I will ask them the following questions:

  • When do you feel most productive?
  • When do you feel most low?
  • What makes you grumpy?
  • What activities challenge and motivate you?
  • Tell me about the last time you felt truly energised and enthused about your work?
  • What type of people do you love working with?
  • What type of people do you struggle to work with?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • How do you prefer to receive feedback?
  • How do you like to receive recognition? Publicly, privately?
  • What is important for you to get from me?
  • What is the most important thing I can do for you straight away?
  • What should I not do?
  • What is the biggest gripe you have with (Company Name)?
  • What is the biggest opportunity you see for yourself?

These questions were designed to give managers insight into someone they manage and I find them to be a really valuable way to find out more about someone I am managing for the first time.

When framing these questions, I will explain that these questions are to help me ensure I am providing the support they need as they grow and develop. I also like to point out that while I will make notes of the answers they are kept confidential and I won’t share them with anyone else.

All these questions serve a purpose and give me a good starting point when starting to manage the developer answering them. They can also provide me with some actions to take away and work on to help them.

Other things to talk about

In the remaining time I share more information about the engineering team and their own personal development within it to help them understand what progression they can expect at the company. As part of this I will take them through the Engineering Career Ladder so they can properly understand the different levels, roles and responsibilities in the Engineering team.

It is also useful at this point to get some feedback from the developer on how they found the recruitment process. As the new employee will have also have just gone though both our recruitment and on boarding processes it can be incredibly useful to hear their insights into how it went so if there are necessary improvements we can make them.

Wrapping up the one to one

At the end of the initial one to one I will open my calendar and we will agree on a time that we can meet fortnightly to have our regular one to one. When putting this in the diary I will try to find a time that is unlikely to have conflicts with other meetings in the future.

Finally I will ask them if there is any additional questions they have before we go back to the office.

Summary

The initial one to one is an opportunity to set up a good working relationship with your new developer. It allows you to set expectations of what they should be able to expect from you and what you expect from them. It gives you the opportunity to learn more about how they like to work so that you can be an effective manager.

In this post I have focused on what I do in my initial one to ones, there is a lot of different ways you could approach these one to ones and I just wanted to share mine with the hope of helping others, especially those who are new to engineering management.

Finally I wanted to point out that the questions I mentioned were originally given to me by Joel Overton who managed me when he was at Beamly. I don’t know the original source of these questions so unfortunately I am unable to credit them back to their source.

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