How to Stay Confident Without any Templates
Managers focus on questions when planning 1-on-1 meetings. It explains why there are hundreds of articles and templates containing such questions on the web. We ran through them to come up with a few question categories that encompass them all.
Most companies operate in teams. In those teams, there are hierarchies, where employees and their managers have regular conversations that are a part of their work schedules. These are also known as 1-on-1 meetings. Here at WorkTango we call them Sync-Ups. A lot of things are discussed during this 1-on-1 time.
Any conversation is based on questions, or it just becomes a monologue from each side. When it comes to one-on-ones, the web has no shortage of question material. There are articles, guides, and templates, all of which contain a plethora of questions to ask during these meetings.
We thought it would be interesting to perform textual analysis on all such questions to come up with a few broad categories to guide your next Sync-Up. These categories capture the wide range of questions that currently exist.
Managers, directors, or any other role that has the task of managing a direct report can use question lists or templates to conduct their Sync-Up meetings. But it helps if they have a mental framework of all topics to cover during such meetings.
In this article, we find a way to be confident going into these meetings, without any templates.
We first discuss the importance of the 1-on-1 meeting and why we focused on questions in particular. We then dive into the methodology we used to perform our analysis, and conclude by discussing our findings.
The Universal Usage of the 1-on-1 Meeting
The Sync-Up (1-on-1 meeting) occurs between a supervisor and their direct report. It has become a de facto management style for a lot of organizations. Both small and medium businesses and large enterprises have embraced it, and it’s easy to see why.
The person-to-person style of communication allows for the following to happen:
- The 1-on-1 meeting creates the ideal space for syncing up person to person but also for developing strong interpersonal relationships, an essential piece to the success of any organization.
- The manager can provide honest feedback where no one else but their report is privy to the discussion. Employees can also provide similar feedback on the management style of their supervisors. It’s important to note that leadership engagement surveys can help prepare managers for these meetings, where they can not only receive feedback in advance from their direct reports but compare the feedback received with other managers or directors.
- In the meetings themselves, they can discuss topics and issues identified in previous leadership engagement surveys. Such meetings provide a great 1:1 format for resolving any pending issues. Regardless of whether the feedback is anonymous or not, it allows the supervisor to reflect on their management style.
- The manager can provide ongoing coaching to employees. When both people are aligned on goals and priorities and have discussed everything that was on their minds, it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
These 1-to-1 Sync-Up meetings are a great time for the manager to mentor their direct reports. It is one of the ways in which the employee can grow in the organization and build a robust and long-lasting career.
The Need for Questions
Given the popularity of the 1-on-1 meeting across companies, it is natural that managers want to ace this part of their job requirement.
It is why so much advice exists on the internet on this subject. In particular, there are many examples of questions and meeting templates posted on various sites that can be used to conduct such meetings.
The “list of questions” article format is very popular among those who are interested in the topic, most notably managers. It makes sense. After all, you want to have a free-flowing conversation in these meetings.
As a manager, you want to accomplish two things in particular:
- Cover all things you want to talk about
- Cover all the things your direct report wants to talk about
The question format works wonderfully well for accomplishing both these things.
Because we tend to forget, both parties may not remember to bring up everything during the course of the meeting, so a list of questions helps you to remember your agenda, but also bring up topics that aid the person you manage in remembering aspects of work they want to discuss.
But you don’t want to walk in there with a template or questionnaire in hand. That makes the meeting way more rigid than it should be, killing any natural flow that exists.
You also obviously don’t want to memorize the questions themselves. That is exhausting. When prepping for the meeting, there has got to be a better way than simply listing what you want to ask your direct report.
Thinking of these challenges, we wanted to analyze a large set of questions that are posted online. We wanted to come up with a few broad categories that any manager can use to recall an area that needs to be discussed.
We describe our methodology in the next section.
Methodology – Topic Modeling
Altogether, we looked at over 500 questions from 9 blog posts that were featured in the top 2 search result pages in Google for the term “1-on-1 Meeting Questions”. These questions formed our dataset for performing further textual analysis.
Textual analysis, or qualitative analysis, is the analysis of text or language. Whereas quantitative analysis is the analysis of numbers.
We used the software WordStat to conduct topic modeling, which is a type of textual analysis.
Topic modeling is a textual analysis approach, where you take a large amount of textual information and extract a few topics that explain the breadth of information contained in the text. A topic consists of a cluster of words that most frequently occur together and convey a certain meaning.
It has common applications that you have probably encountered before. It’s used to filter spam emails where spam is a large topic. It’s also used to operate chatbots where different questions posed by the visitors are assigned to topics.
It’s important to note that in topic modeling, one keyword can be featured in multiple topics. It’s understood that each word can have more than one meaning based on its definition, and its use with other words.
So, topic modeling forms topics based on the frequency of keywords and the meaning they form in conjunction with other words. It uses natural language processing (NLP) to decipher the meaning of words and other similar terms, and it uses statistical analysis to see its co-occurrence with other words.
Using Factor Analysis – The Nuts and Bolts
There are many approaches out there to conduct topic modeling. WordStat, for example, uses factor analysis. Factor analysis is a great approach for coming up with coherent topics when compared to some of the other techniques that are out there.
We were working with only one document consisting of 1-on-1 meeting questions. The topics identified would be based on the co-occurrence of words in the same sentence, which in this case would be each of the 1-to-1 meeting questions. Hence, we opted to segment by sentence, since our level of analysis was per question.
A factor loading cut-off point of 0.40 was used, meaning that the keywords in each of the topics would need to have at least 40% correlation with each other to be included in the topic. A factor loading of 0.40 has been used by many researchers in the past for factor analysis. It was a safe bet to get coherent topics.
Let’s now see the results!
Our analysis resulted in 26 topics that had an eigenvalue of over one. They are listed in the image below titled “WordStat Topic Extraction”.
WordStat Topic Extraction
An eigenvalue is a measure of how much of the variance of the dataset (our list of questions) is explained by a single word. So, by its very definition, the eigenvalues have to be over 1, as it means that the topic captures more variance in our set of questions than any solitary word.
The higher the eigenvalue is, the better. Hence, the topics are ranked from the highest eigenvalue to the lowest.
To demonstrate our point, an eigenvalue of 3 and over indicates that the topic explains at least three times as much variance in the document as a single word.
The frequency column shows the number of times the topic occurred in the dataset. Note that a higher frequency does not automatically mean a greater eigenvalue. This is because popularity is not the same as explanatory power. In our case, we want topics that are best at capturing the breadth of all the questions (high explanatory power) not just the ones that show up the most.
The next step in our analysis involved looking at these 26 topics to find further similarities.
We organized them into a lesser number of categories for easier interpretation. We came up with 5, see the table below. The topics are listed under each of the categories.
Organizing the Topics into 5 Categories
Even if textual analysis judged these 26 topics to be different from each other, we could see certain themes emerging from the discovered topics. Each of the 26 topics from the “WordStat Topic Extraction” image were slotted away into one of the 5 categories as seen on the table.
Another way to look at the analysis is to say that these 26 topics act as the 26 most prominent questions from the list of 500 plus questions. But to derive further value, we came up with the 5 categories.
We look at each one in the next section. They are the fruits of this analysis.
It’s important to talk about any unresolved issues that have emerged recently or in the past. The Feelings category demonstrates just that. The questions ask if there is anything that can be done differently or more for the employee. It also inquires about the things the person has done to make them feel one way or another. Everything revolves around feelings in this question category.
This Feedback category attempts to solicit feedback directly from the employee. It urges them to think about how the manager can better do their job. It also urges them to think about how these Sync-Up meetings can be more beneficial to them. Both parties get to have a better understanding of each other and jointly improve the meeting process. In this question category, it’s all about learning from each other.
The Work Optimization category involves the nitty-gritty aspects of daily work life. It talks about the employee’s role, how they are doing the work laid out in their job description, how they are improving, etc. More so than any other question category, Work Optimization focuses on the present, where the aim is to solve something before the meeting is over. The present can mean that very day or in recent times, in a one-week window after the scheduled Sync-Up meeting.
The Vision category is future-oriented. If everything is going well, one still has to groom employees to be leaders for succession planning or help them transition to a new phase in their work life. All such topics having to do with career enrichment are covered in this question category. It asks employees many questions, all of which are designed to make them contemplate their future. A potent narrative can be created this way for the employee, where they have a higher purpose of doing what they do.
Team & Company
As important 1-to-1 relationships between managers and direct reports are, they are not the be-all and end-all of company success. Often, there are other players in the equation such as the rest of the team members. Some of these colleagues may do the same function as the employee, while some may perform different functions whose collaboration is needed. Going beyond human resources, there is the company itself, and all the power hierarchy, structure and culture that comes with it. The Team & Company category holds all such discussions. This question category asks about the fit and working relationship among employees, and between employees and the organization.
Next time you are having a Sync-Up meeting, remember the 5 question categories. The topics that are in them are all products of topic modeling via factor analysis. It is data science!
We arrived at the 5 categories naturally by seeing how the topics from our analysis fell into place. But it’s also good to know that the average human mind can remember 4 things at once. So, adding just one more to the list isn’t too bad.
Recalling these 5 areas will give you an advantage heading into a Sync-Up session. Yes, you can defer to your cell phone, tablet, or PC at any time. You can look at pre-meeting notes. But these 5 categories will serve as a natural template for you to remember all the pertinent question areas.
As a manager, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are covering everything and leaving no stone unturned. As an employee, you will have the satisfaction of voicing your opinion on topics that matter to you most.
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