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Silicon Valley CEOs Swear By This Super Simple Meeting Technique


How does one become awesome at running a startup?

Like anything else that’s relationship-based, it’s a matter of communication.

Take it from Ben Horowitz, the high-profile VC and bestselling author.

He says that building the structures of communication is one of the CEO’s most important jobs.

“Absent a well-designed communication architecture,” he writes, “information and ideas will stagnate and your company will degenerate into a bad place to work.”

Communication happens in many ways: over email, through social networks like Yammer and Slack, and all-hands meetings, to name a few.

But Horowitz advocates the most fundamental form of conversation: the one-to-one meeting.

“[They] provide an excellent mechanism for information and ideas to flow up the organization,” Horowitz says, emphasizing that they’re for employees rather than managers.

“This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas, and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email, and other less personal and intimate mechanisms,” he says.

So how should you run them?

If you like structure, Horowitz says that the employee should set the agenda and send it to the manager in advance, which communicates to the employee that it’s their meeting.

To reflect that priority, he says that managers should do 90% of the listening and only 10% of the talking.

Other startup leaders, like Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, swear by the one-on-one.

“I’m a strong believer in doing 1 on 1 meetings with each of my reports every week,” he said in a Reddit AMA. “Sometimes I feel like the company’s psychiatrist, but I do feel like listening to people and hearing about their problems (personal and professional) cleans out the cobwebs and keeps the organization humming.”

The lesson is clear: To have a productive organization, you need high-bandwidth communication, which one-to-one meetings help provide.

If you’re wondering what to ask an employee in a one-on-one, Horowitz has a few suggestions:

• If we could improve in any way, how would we do it?
• What’s the No. 1 problem with our organization? Why?
• What’s not fun about working here?
• Who is really kicking ass in the company? Who do you admire?
• If you were me, what changes would you make?
• What don’t you like about the product?
• What’s the biggest opportunity that we’re missing out on?
• What are we not doing that we should be doing?
• Are you happy working here?

For more from Horowitz, head to his blog or pick up “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” his excellent book on surviving as a startup CEO.

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Josh Sandberg

Josh Sandberg is the President and CEO of Ortho Spine Partners and sits on several company and industry related Boards. He also is the Creator and Editor of OrthoSpineNews.

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