Don’t let the craik paper over the cracks – or how to win at 121s

It’s just two people meeting up for half an hour.

They even work a few yards away from each other in the same office.

What could be simpler?

And yet ensuring that 121s are carried out in editorial departments can be like nailing jelly to a wall.

I’ve done more than 30 in the last three weeks and have been reminded of their importance time and time again.

Admittedly, I haven’t been trying to keep websites updated or get papers out at the same time.

But when I tried to bring one to an end because I knew a manager had to do both of those things, he insisted: “No don’t stop, I’m really enjoying the conversation.”

The two things I hear the most are “I’m struggling to fit in the time” and its little brother “we work so closely, we’re talking all the time.”

On the first, the question is: Have you got time NOT to do them?

Time to deal with firefighting, unnecessary recruitment, disciplinary issues, poor performance, confusion and demarcation, that is.

I understand the second objection. I’ve used it myself on many occasions, and my 121 record was patchy at times.

But the last few weeks have taught me there are issues that can’t be sorted out in the cut and thrust of across-the-table office debate, and that the camaraderie that we all come to work for can lull you into a false sense of security. The craik, then, can paper over an awful lot of cracks.

So here’s why 121s make sense:

  • Nipping things in the bud: 121s can deal with issues before they become problems, minimising the number of nasty surprises along the way. You’d be amazed at how long people fester over things, and how long they will plough on regardless in the face of frustration and minor irritation.
  • Developing people: They are the first step in helping managers to make the transition from firefighting to genuinely managing and developing performance. They force you to consider the development needs of your people.
  • Feelgood factor: You will feel better about your job as you see your staff feel better – and get better – at theirs.

 Tips for managers in making 121s work:

  • Plan ahead: Put 121s in the diary for days when you know you’ve got a fighting chance of doing them, when you’re as well staffed as you’re going to be. This is one part of your working life that you can control. Diarying them for several months means they’re there as a default setting.
  • Stick to the time and date: Show the person you’re seeing just how important the 121 is.
  • Have a mini-agenda: Make sure you’ve got something to discuss, and use questions such as ‘what went well in the last month?’ and ‘if you were me, what would you do?’. But also accept there will be the odd month when the meeting can just last a few minutes.
  • Avoid Groundhog Day: Don’t keep going over the same ground, worrying away at apparently insoluble nightmares. Begin by sorting out the things that can be changed, and ensure there are tangible results each time. Keep people informed.
  • Acknowledge difficult issues: Listen to your staff’s take on the biggest bugbears of their job. Squaring the web vs print circle remains very much work in progress almost everywhere I go. So, as I said, it doesn’t make sense to keep having the same conversation. But it does make sense to see if there are bite-size bits of the problem that can be tackled, and to continue to acknowledge that difficulties exist.
  • Listen: You should do more listening than talking in a 121. Make notes, and follow up with an email afterwards.

 Tips for making your own 121 work:

  • Ask for feedback
  • Come up with possible solutions
  • Don’t get personal
  • Be honest
  • Don’t store up issues that could have been easily solved there and then
  • Make sure you have successes to share 

To me, the most important question for a manager about their people is: Do they feel valued, are they listened to and are they able to develop in skills and confidence?

The answer might be ‘yes’ to all those without 121s. But it’ll be a lot more likely with them in place.

And one final and sobering thought.

If you can’t make ensuring that your staff feel valued, get listened to, and see the potential for their own development a major priority, I’ve got news for you.

I’m not sure you should be managing people.

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One thought on “Don’t let the craik paper over the cracks – or how to win at 121s

  1. Great advice. Going to share with some other managers.

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