Having a great 121 conversation

Orange Pip - Development and Learning Consultancy

Having a great 121 conversation

“I had a really 121 with my line manager this week, we looked back over the past month, exploring what went well, what I had achieved and learnt, and what I can do to build on my strengths next month. We also looked at the month ahead, what’s coming up, my concerns and how we can work together. We also reflected on my development goals, how I am growing and learning, and what my growth opportunities are for next month. We also chatted about some business performance numbers and KPIs, and some market changes. I look forward to my 121s as we are both open, reflect and have quality time to focus on me.”

How can you have 121 conversations that have these outcomes and features?

It’s your role as manager to help your colleague reflect on how they are doing, helping them to value their strengths and to agree areas for development – you are facilitating and allowing space, all the while being prepared to add and contribute feedback.

Firstly prepare, stop, think and prepare for the 121.

Essentially there are three elements to the conversation:

Step 1: Understanding and valuing – looking back

Step 2: Exploring – looking forward

Step 3: Agreeing and summarising – accountability, action plan, next steps and next meeting date.

By using these questions to help you prepare, and asking these questions during the time together the meeting can be more meaningful and supportive.

Step 1: Understanding and valuing – looking back:

The first part of the meeting is about understanding the big picture of their performance. Ask questions such as:

Big picture headlines:

  • Over the last few weeks what have you been pleased with – what went well?
  •  What have you achieved?
  •  What could have gone better?
  •  What feedback have you had? Who could you ask for further feedback?


  • How are you progressing with your objectives?
  • What are you pleased with?
  • What have you learnt?
  • What has been completed?
  • How can I help and support you going forward to achieve these objectives?
  • What have been your positive behaviours?
  • What situations are you pleased with?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What feedback have you received – both positive and improvement?
  • What help do you need ?

Do your preparation too!

  • What strengths feedback will I give?
  • What improvement feedback will I give?


Step 2: Exploring – looking forward

The second element explores what’s coming up, next week or month’s meetings, what to prepare, how you can both get ready.

Key thoughts:

  • How can I help them achieve success?
  • What I am aiming to achieve in the team in the next month, and this is why it matters…
  • What do I think their hopes will be for the next month?
  • How can we work together to ensure these goals are met?


  • What new objectives can be added?
  • How can I help and support you to achieve your new objectives?
  • How can I help you?


Step 3: Agreeing and summarising – ensuring accountability, action planning, agreeing the next steps and next meeting date.

Creating ownership and accountability creates mastery and autonomy. These subtle skills can help you encourage your colleague to create ownership and accountability.

Great questions to ask:

  • What are your first steps going to be?
  • How will you measure your success?
  • What help or support do you need from me?
  • How can you support me?
  • How could we hinder each other?
  • What could prevent you achieving? How can we avoid this?
  • What is the key learning you have gained from our meeting?
  • This is what I have learnt
  • What are the action points that we both commit to follow up on?
  • When should we next meet?


By following a structure, by facilitating and helping your colleague to think of their own work, their own successes and how you can help them you are showing you trust them and want to help.


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