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An Organizational Hack: Repurposing a Direct Report's 1 on 1 Slot When They're Out
Sep 24, 2020

If you’re a manager, you probably have regular 1 on 1s scheduled with your direct reports (and if you don’t, you probably should).

If you’re a manager of managers, you probably have regular, but less-frequent, “skip-level” 1 on 1s scheduled with the direct reports of your direct reports (and if you don’t, you probably should).

Those “skip-level” indirect reports likely depend on their manager–your direct report–for a two-way flow of important information. That is, they surface important things to their manager that get passed on to you, and you likely tell their manager important things that get passed on to them.

So what do you do when your direct report goes on an extended leave (medical, parental, multi-week vacation)? How do you maintain those important channels of communication? I’ve tried a couple different options, and haven’t been in love with any of them.

  • Stick with existing skip-level 1 on 1s

This has the virtue of no extra calendar churn, but runs the biggest risk of important communications breaking down or getting delayed.

  • Schedule extra skips-level 1 on 1s while your direct report is out

This ensures communications don’t break down or get badly delayed, but the calendar churn is high. Additionally, the burden of organization falls on you, and is therefore much more likely to fall through the cracks, since it’s usually your direct report–the one who’s going to be out–who is focused on and incented to make the arrangements to ensure smooth function of their teams in their absence.

Recently I tried a different experiment, which so far I like a bunch more. Assuming you’ve already got 1 on 1s on the books with your direct, which will occur at a higher frequency than your skip-level 1 on 1s, you can ask your direct report to invite all their direct reports to your normally scheduled 1 on 1s with you that would occur while they’re away.

Now you’ve got time on the books to talk to all your skip-levels as a group, and make sure communication is flowing on a quicker cadence, and meanwhile you’ve done it with no extra calendar burden or churn to your calendar (you already had those regular 1 on 1s scheduled), and no extra calendar burden to your skips compared to your scheduling extra 1 on 1s with them. In addition, you’ve put the responsibility for the scheduling on your direct, who is going to be focused on getting things set up for their leave and is less likely than you are to forget this step.

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