Written by Pete Wilkinson

Last updated 1 June 2022 ·

Perform without preparation: How to hold highly effective 121 meetings with minimal prep time

It’s no secret that the best way to perform well in any domain of life is to practise and prepare beforehand. Without preparation, you will come across as lacking in knowledge, professionalism and experience, leading to a lack of respect. Such vital preparation can take time, especially if you manage a large team. However, what if there was a better way? A way that meant you didn’t have to scramble around collecting information beforehand? Just imagine a culture where your employees ask for a 121! Let’s explore this ideology further and learn how to perform without preparation so you can hold effective meetings when you don’t have lots of time to prepare. Make the most of your sessions by learning how to make them even more effective, even when you haven’t planned or done any prep work.

What exactly is a 121?

A 121 is a regular meeting, usually monthly and lasting around 30 minutes to 1 hour. It allows employees and managers to check-in and assess how things are going and what they can improve. It also gives each person regular opportunities for feedback from peers. For those managing large teams, the monthly cadence can require time.

What should be discussed during a 121?

A 121 should focus on relevant work topics, including goals, career development, performance issues, team dynamics, etc. The key is to encourage open and honest communication between employees and their line manager, ideally combining coaching tactics and any conflict resolution that may be necessary.

Communicating progress

Without a structured method of regularly communicating individual progress, managers may spend time searching multiple files for the latest version of outdated documents detailing each person’s objectives. Many businesses are guilty of setting objectives at the start of the year and filing these away for six months or more before digging them out and frantically trying to remember and record their progress before the meeting.

One of Google’s critical tools for workload planning, execution, accountability and transparency is OKRs, Objectives, and Key Results. OKRs provide a structured way for employees to track progress continually against predetermined business objectives. Each employee has their own set of OKRs, informed by the strategic OKRs set at the leadership level of an organisation, broken down into daily/weekly tasks or milestones that they commit to achieving. This dramatically changes the way employees track and monitor their progress and performance levels. Furthermore, OKR software facilitates the real-time tracking of progress and allows many different stakeholders to view the live performance at any one time.

Having a structured OKR system for each employee makes it easier for their manager to perform without preparation during their 121 meetings. Their up-to-date performance details are displayed clearly and accurately for instant access and review. It removes any grey areas in performance; key results are measurable by nature, and so they have simply been achieved, or they haven’t. OKR software will also show the steps required to complete a key result which are visible to their manager.

No surprises

It’s important to regularly monitor performance levels throughout the month, address any issues as they occur, and ensure there are no nasty surprises for the official 121 meetings.

Have the employee do a brief self-assessment of how they feel their performance has been going so far. Stick to fundamental questions about what they think about their performance and where they think things could improve. What needs extra attention? What are they doing well? Make sure you celebrate their successes during this time too.

How to minimise the preparation time

If you’re looking for a way to cut down on 121 preparation time without jeopardising the quality of your meeting, consider these two approaches:

  1. Using OKRs, objectives and key results to plan out exactly what each employee should be focusing on to achieve their specific outcomes. OKRs give you specific goals to be completed within a certain timeframe, maybe each quarter or six-month period, providing a precise reference point for your meeting agenda and dramatically saving time.
  2. Encourage self-assessment from each employee at the beginning so you can identify how they are feeling about their performance before you dive into reviewing their OKR progress.

If you are keen to learn more about how you could implement OKRs into your business, download our free resource - The OKR Builder™, today! It includes a step-by-step guide on how to write compelling OKRs at each level of your business, with real-world OKR examples and tips on practical implementation. You’ll be jumping into those 121 meetings with minimal prep and still feeling ready for a productive conversation.

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