Managing Up: Regular One-On-Ones versus Career One-On-Ones

Melissa Niu

Product Manager at Cocoon



One thing that I have struggled with in my career is managing up. In the first two years of my career I went through 7 different managers. It was a series of unfortunate circumstances where managers were leaving the organization or leaving the company, and because of this, I had no one who was advocating for me. Especially because this was a larger company, there wasn't the culture of self-advocacy; you needed a manager to advocate on your behalf to their manager and so on. I quickly realized that I needed to figure out how to manage my own career. I needed a strategy for managing upward and outward.

Actions taken

The next company that I joined was a much smaller company than the previous. Everyone was running their own team and so it was up to me to evangelize the work that I was doing. I needed to have conversations with people directly and get them onboard. In a way, because there wasn't much of a managing structure, I was forced to advocate for myself and the work that I was doing. On the contrary, because of this lack of structure, and my previous experience, I felt that I was behind in my career and needed to play catch-up.

This led me to become more deliberate with my one-on-ones in the current company I work for. In these meetings I made sure that we were not only talking about the projects I was working on but how I was executing them. I wanted feedback on whether or not I was being communicative enough, proactive enough, and sending out enough comms. My manager and I would prep for the meetings the night before, writing notes of what we wanted to discuss. I would also include small status updates so that he could quickly glance them over. This allowed us to spend more time talking about how I was executing tasks and any insights he had on how to solve my problems (instead of him solving them for me).

Another aspect that I asked for was initiating career one-on-ones that were outside of the regular one-on-one meetings. This meant that on a separate cadence my manager and I would meet once a month to talk solely about my career. This gave great visibility to my manager and was a forcing function for me. I needed to determine where I saw my career in X amount of years. Then the two of us tactically talked about how I could get there. These meetings give me a line-of-sight to the goals I have and how I can achieve them. A second advantage to these discussions is that I am able to work on these goals in one month increments. I focus on a certain area within that one month and afterwards we meet and check in on my progress. This way, when performance reviews come around, I have documented proof of what I have worked on.

Lessons learned

I have found that in the past one-on-ones tend to be very project and execution focused. This leaves little to no time to have career conversations, except during the necessary performance review cycle. So by designating a specific and separate career one-on-one cadence with your manager, you ensure that you are working towards your career goals and that you always know where you stand in terms of your career.

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Melissa Niu

Product Manager at Cocoon

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationCareer Growth

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