How Disqus hacked their way to better 1:1 meetings


Kim Rohrer – VP of People & Culture at Disqus. And champion of 1:1s.

Kim Rohrer is VP of People & Culture at Disqus, a service which helps digital publishers increase reader engagement. As Disqus grew, Kim set about to establish a regular system of personal check-ins between managers and direct reports. Disqus’ HR department has established a series of resources for its managers to hold better 1:1 meetings, including a cheat sheet that has a reputation of its own within the HR community in Silicon Valley. Small Improvements wanted to find out not only how Disqus introduced this culture (and continually improved their methods) and any tips they have for HR managers looking to do the same at their organizations.

SI: How did you develop a culture of regular 1:1s?

Kim: In the early days, everyone talked to each other every day, so there wasn’t a real need to have a 1:1. Once we got to 15 to 20 people, we started asking: “Do we do Performance Reviews here?” The first time doing real Performance Review nothing was really written down. They were all really informal conversations involving us sitting around a table and saying: “Here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not working.” When we grew to 25 people, that’s when we started with documentation and providing some sample questions to help have better conversations.

How’s a typical 1:1 at Disqus?

We like to let team members drive them. We usually start with a personal check-in to get on the same emotional page and see how people are doing. Then we ask them: what’s going on that you’re really excited about? What’s going on that you’re a little concerned about? How can I help you? Often we’ll do a little strategy and a little clarification around projects and next steps. But the 1:1 is really more for a personal check-in. We try hard to not do a lot of status updates or discuss questions that could be answered over Slack. We try to use the 1:1 as a time to personally connect and have a deeper conversation.

What is a manager toolkit?

When you are a small team, you can’t necessarily provide the kind of coaching that you may want to. So we’ve provided a toolkit. It’s essentially a checklist to help managers prepare: accomplishments, things that you’re blocked on, things you’re going to be working on over the next week, your quarterly goals. There’s also a grid for our managers to look at to see if they know how employees will answer certain questions: “Are you working on anything interesting? What are you most concerned about? What would you say is the best part of working here? What is something you’ve like to see improved on our team? What can I do to help you with your work?” If you don’t know the answer to that question, pick one, and then ask that question in your 1:1.

How do you respond to people who say: “I don’t have time for 1:1s”?

You have to make the time. It’s so important for managers to have regular time with their people. That’s how you keep a pulse on your employees and on your organization. Managers need to be informed so they know how people are doing – not just in their work, but emotionally. Are they still committed to the company? How are they feeling about their career development? Are they feeling stagnant? Are they feeling like they’re struggling with their work? All of those things can get lost if you’re just focused on the work. And if your 1:1s are just status updates about the work, then you’re losing that personal connection. Then the manager-employee relationship becomes very much like a project manager relationship and not a people manager relationship.

The best way for other companies to implement 1:1s

To build a successful 1:1 culture, you have to have everyone on board. People have to want to do it. The way that people are going to want to do 1:1s is by seeing that they’re useful. And the only way to make them useful is having people that actually commit to doing (1:1s). It has to be a top-down thing, led by the management, but the way to convince the top is to show that feedback is coming bottom-up. We show that feedback by sharing results from engagement surveys, exit interviews (and soon, through manager 360s); it’s proven really valuable to have data to back up our recommendations.