Status Reports

How much over-the-shoulder oversight should you do? How closely do you need to keep track of what your employees are doing?

Good questions. There might not be any definitive answers, but at least they are good questions.

As a leader you are responsible for getting projects finished and products completed. You have deadlines, whether client-driven or self-imposed, and you need to make sure your employees work toward meeting those deadlines. But how closely do you want to monitor their work?

It can be tough to keep your employees on a timeline. Creativity and innovation cannot be scheduled. You cannot know exactly when an idea will come to you. And of course, good employees (the kind you hope you have) take a lot of pride in their work, and want it to be done just right, so if you let them take forever, they just might.

So some oversight is necessary. But how much is too much? At what point do you inhibit their creativity, or waste more time with status updates than you gain by trying to keep them on a schedule? The last thing you want to do is have your employees more focused on deadlines than on quality.

How can you keep track of them without imposing too much on them? You could do the normal things, like have regular meetings, or have them submit regular status reports. But maybe you can adjust these ideas a bit. Perhaps, rather than having them come to you in a group and sit through everyone else’s updates, you could instead go to them individually and see how things are going. You could do this on a regular schedule but the schedule would be for YOU to keep, not them. They might not even realize you are coming to them on the same day every week, but YOU will know, and you can use this consistency to gauge their progress. And status reports? Well, rather than having them send you a regular report in a standardized format, consider having them update on Twitter when they make progress or need help, using accounts that are specifically for work and are closed off to outside eyes. Or you might set up an in-house social network for updates, which could be particularly useful if your employees are geographically dispersed but need to collaborate.

That last point is key: how much do your employees depend upon each other? A collection of solo practitioners requires more one-on-one management, while collaborative work demands a different style of guidance, and perhaps greater oversight of the group to keep all the parts working together.

You might try to avoid the whole reporting issue by creating a culture in which meeting deadlines is seen as an essential part of the process. Making your employees individually responsible for their work and giving them the authority to essentially oversee themselves can encourage them to meet their deadlines rather than risk losing their autonomy (or their jobs!). During recruiting you would need to explain to your potential employees that they would be responsible for themselves, and they need to be up to the challenge. They might start off with more oversight but gain more independence as they do well. If you had an agreement about your oversight on paper with you and your employee’s signatures, almost like a contract with them, that would reinforce the importance of getting work done on time while emphasizing that they have the authority to work without excessive oversight, and without spending time in meetings or doing weekly updates for you.

How much oversight you need to exercise depends in large part on the quality of the employees you hire. If you are hiring the right people, you really should not have to spend much time at all checking up on them.

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