Managing Up: a One-on-One with Ivan Orellana

Jun 7, 2023

Janjira Sun

In this interview series, I’ll be interviewing managers across different industries to learn more about their management styles and share their own tips on how to be a manager if you’re planning on becoming one in the future!

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Ivan S. Orellana is an Ecuador-born, Queens-raised, and Pittsburgh-based People and Culture Manager at North Street Creative, a creative services agency that engineers the thoughtful transformation and success of great organizations.

From project management to HR, Ivan is passionate about helping folks find their way while creating strong connections with everyone he meets. ✨

IO: I’ve been at North Street for four years. I started here as a supporting role on the project management side. I’ve always been into, loved, and have been very passionate about people ops, hiring, and onboarding. I used to do that a lot at my previous job, and I would always kind of fit in those kinds of roles.

I always ended up being that person even before I officially was like, “I wanna do this.” I always felt the best when I would be that person that can help someone even if it’s just just give them just a little a little boost in their day.

There were a lot of open conversations with our CEO about everyone’s strengths, and everyone saw that I could really shine by moving my role to people ops and culture. It’s been great having direct communication with the CEO and having a culture of being open and honest while being able to think about some sort of path for everyone based on what they’re passionate about.

IO: My favorite thing is when someone new joins the team, you get those new perspectives from them because they’re just seeing everything with fresh eyes. Working with other people and seeing what their strengths are and trying to foster that as much as possible while giving them the space to provide feedback to help them grow [in their role].

It all comes down to being able to work with people and getting all of the different perspectives that you can get. When you put [all of those perspectives] together, you become a very strong team.

JS: Constantly learning from people and having that human connection is something we all crave, so I can resonate with that.

IO: Even if you’re in a position where you’re leading a group of people, you’ll eventually realize that you don’t know everything, and you’re able to learn from those who are just starting their professional careers.

JS: It’s definitely a humbling experience. Regardless of where you are in the hierarchy, that experience really brings us down to earth.

IO: [Managing is] really about channeling your empathy and being vulnerable. Even saying “I don’t know,” can help the other person (direct reports, team members) feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and ask questions and feel like they’re not being judged.

IO: It’s always important to have some sort of agenda to make sure folks know ahead of time how it’s going to be structured. At [North Street Creative], our 1:1s are pretty informal, but there are always two questions that will prompt a lot of good discussions:

  • What’s working?

  • What’s not working?

Aside from those two questions, I make sure to include some action steps to move forward with the discussion that was had so it doesn’t feel like, “Hey, I hear you” and then nothing happens. I’m most likely going to tell you three things if you bring something to my attention:

  1. “Great, it’s my responsibility to fix this for you, and I’m going to get on it and keep you posted whenever it’s done.”

  2. “I’ll give you the tools so you can approach [an issue] yourself and learn how to do it, and I’ll keep tabs to ensure you feel empowered to take on the issue.”

  3. “Hey, I hear you, but right now where we are, we’re going to have to live with this for a little bit, but let’s keep checking in about this. If something changes, we can move on and create the steps to get there.”

Even before these, always make sure that there’s a 1:1 human element to 1:1s, it doesn’t have to always be just business. You want to get to know the person by asking questions about their life.

I’m a naturally curious person, and I’m always asking folks questions. It helps to get in the know of what makes them tick and what their passions are by asking simple questions, like, “What do you do for fun?” or “Are there any projects you’re working on outside of work?”

Other than the team member doing better work, they’re just able to be generally more comfortable around you.

JS: I understand this sentiment, and I agree with you. When it comes to 1:1s, it’s so easy to make it all about business, and I think there’s a clear line between a status update and another human wanting to get to know another human. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of people fall into the latter.

IO: I think that it’s important that we [follow up with each other]. We document things that are important and put them somewhere, especially if it needs some sort of follow-up.

We use Asana for task management, especially when there’s a lot of steps involved [in the follow-up]. We put things into Asana, and create and outline [goals]. This helps with the next 1:1 because we can check in on, like, “Hey, so how’s this going? How do we need to adjust? Is this still something we want to work on together?”

It comes down to making sure that there’s consistency.

JS: I love that. I think that regularly going into Asana and putting down all of those key action steps is really important. They can keep everyone involved accountable in a transparent way.

IO: Something that I want to bring up was what you mentioned about the whole human element versus the status updates in 1:1s. At the end of the day, we’re all just people doing our best working with other people here.

No matter what we’re doing, or where we’re at in life, we’re just people trying to get the most out of our days. I think it’s okay to lean more towards the human side of things and get to know your team even if it takes up most of the time in that 1:1.

Try to figure out, for example, what type of recognition they like. Everyone likes to feel recognized in a different way. At the end of the day, the more communication and the more open and honest channels you have, all of the other things kind of fall into place.

Hopefully, you’re in a team where if something happens to you, they have your back and you have their back. Making sure it always feels like a two-way street. You have to show vulnerability and show them that you’re there for them. That’s how you [become a role] model for that person who wants to be a manager.

In a way, [managing] is kind of like parenting. If you tell your kids what to do and you don’t do it yourself, it’s not going to work out. You have to believe it, and they’ll pick up on those things.

IO: It’s more important for [managers] to show that vulnerability, because oftentimes, younger folks that don’t have that much experience or those that have different backgrounds like POC, they usually grow up in environments that are always told to respect authority. Those that are going into the workforce don’t feel comfortable saying these things.

More and more though, there are changes that are happening, but it doesn’t have to come only from them. They shouldn’t have to be advocating for themselves, but we should be advocating for them too, we’re a team.

Sometimes saying, “Hey, I’m here for you anytime you want to talk” is sometimes not enough. You need to create recurring meetings, create venues that they’ll look forward to, and give them the space to hash things out. Everyone is different and not everyone will feel comfortable coming up to you.

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If you enjoyed this interview, share it with your friends, your managers, or your favorite individual contributors. Let me know which parts impacted you the most and your thoughts about managing and 1:1s in the comments below!

cheers —
(づ ◕‿◕ )づ

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