The psychological effects of accountability in the workplace have been studied for years and research in Human Resource Management Review shows that proper accountability at work is a critical factor for successful organizations.
Similarly, the psychological effects of a simple to-do list on an individual are astounding. The Guardian, synthesizing years of research, reports that they make us more productive, make us more effective at task completion, and help us break down big projects into manageable chunks.
Combine the magic of a to-do list and the psychology of public accountability, and the status report is born. Status reports are a key way that employees define their work and set themselves up for success, as well as a key way managers communicate with employees. They complement the goals of people management by providing visibility and empowering workers — without requiring big structural changes to an organization.
In 2017, NPR reported that micromanagement was regularly the number one complaint people had about their bosses — and that it caused employees to quit, strangled creativity, and could even cause serious negative health effects on employees.
People management depends on managers knowing what reports are doing and how they're getting on with their work, but it's clear that micromanagement is not the solution.
Regular status updates offer managers a window of visibility into the work and hurdles of people underneath them without becoming overbearing. Employees can list out their work, progress, and goals in a clear way, giving managers a window into their work. But since a status update is an asynchronous record of tasks, employees can write their update and managers can check in without breathing down employee's necks and watching them work.
A critical skill of people management is understanding and assigning workload. It allows you to develop employees better, boost productivity, and retain high-performers. Productivity expert Julie Morgenstern tells the Harvard Business Review: “You are managing the energy and brainpower of an entire group. [It’s not something you can do] during the cracks of your workday in between your tasks. You must devote time to it.”
Status updates are a way to help you as a manager assign and monitor workloads. When you are setting aside time each week to look at an employee's tasks, customers, and projects, you can see if your distribution is effective — or if you've created an unsustainable scenario.
Little progress on tasks, vague updates with no clear goals, and disparate answers on project progress from teams are all red flags that you can spot in a status update. With regular updates, you have a proactive way of monitoring the workload of your direct reports without waiting for employees to become so overwhelmed they come to you in crisis.
In The Science of Trust, author John Gottman posits that one of the most important questions underpinning all of our relationships is “Are you there for me?” Employee-manager relationships are not exempt. If an employee does not trust a manager to have their back, they will feel less confident at work and struggle alone rather than ask for help.
Status reports are a golden opportunity to build trust by listening to what your employees are — and aren't — saying. When going through an update, ask:
Take the time to read each and every update and actively think about what your employees are saying in them — don't just skim them to make sure they're doing the work. Put yourself in your employees' shoes. If you know Jason hates customer calls and he has three scheduled, check in with a comment. If you see that Kira has had the same project proposal on her plate for two weeks, ask how it's going.
When employees see that you are paying attention and looking out for how their day-to-day is going, you are saying I am here for you and I have your back.
If you have spent any time building an effective people management system, you probably have regular 1:1 check-ins, project updates, and all-hands meetings. It would be easy to think you've got communication covered — but you probably don't.
Why? Because a difference in communication styles is the leading cause of miscommunication at work, according to Forbes analysis of The Economist and Lucidchart's “Communication Barriers in the Modern Workplace” study.
The good news is that “63% of respondents believe communication could be improved by using a wider range of tools.” Instead of relying on just face-to-face meetings, adding in a status update can be a good way for employees who feel more comfortable writing out their thoughts to communicate with managers regularly.
Adding in a lightweight and well-designed check-in tool can increase how regularly you are checking in and how well you are checking in. It doesn't replace face time, but adds another outlet for communication. And not just from employee to manager: including public updates can boost company transparency by giving check-ins from management that show progress on initiatives or company-wide changes.
When we dissected the state of the performance review, we found that a major perceived problem was the bias in reporting. Performance reviews that were solely write-ups from managers made the system likely to include more implicit biases.
With status updates, your people management can be more grounded in data, and less grounded in guesswork. For things like the performance review, it is easy to go back and corroborate work completion and task management when employees are self-reporting each week.
There are also numerical indicators that can help prove or disprove a manager's hunch. Rather than suspecting an employee is unhappy or burning out, a manager can use the “sentiment score” feature, where every team member rates their week from 1-5. If someone's average score plummeted in the last 6 months from a 4 to a 2, that's an empirical indication of a problem.
Although intuition can be helpful, people management is a skill, not a function of intuition. Managers that have historical data about their employees are better poised to help those employees and combat their own bias.
People management is about bringing out the best in people through supporting them and their development. While managers can have a hand in guiding employees to opportunities and resources, at the end of the day, encouraging employees to be intentional about their work is one of the best ways managers can help their staff.
An article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology reports that mindfulness practices in the workplace, like focusing on paying attention and being intentional, can improve burnout levels and team and employee performance.
By requiring regular status updates, managers are asking employees to think intentionally about their week ahead, what goals they have, and their progress. They focus on realizing tasks and setting themselves up for success, which helps employees remain present and connected with their work.
It's also a chance for managers to nudge reports when they need it. If someone doesn't have a clear goal for the week, or struggles to plan work, it's easy to comment in-app, or pull that person into a 1:1 conversation to help them be intentional.
Both public and private status updates can be an easy way to build praise into your organizational culture. Research published by Gallup in 2004 reveals that employees who are regularly recognized and praised for workplace contributions:
Not bad for an initiative that takes little time, energy, and resources to put into place. With public status updates, managers get regular chances to call out their teams for great work and update the company on their team's goals.
In private updates, something as simple as “Great work on your proposal this week” or “Nice plan for this design rollout” can turn a status update into an affirmation of work for an employee. You can comment on any part of the update easily in Lattice, keeping everything in the status update.
The option to give both public and private praise is essential, as knowing how your employees like to be praised is key to making them feel seen and appreciated. Utilizing a status update tool for both makes it easy for managers to tailor praise so employees are comfortable.
While a status update may only take an employee ten minutes to fill out each week, the difference it can make on their work life is profound. Managers who take the time to digest and respond to status updates are doing critical work for their teams, and employees benefit from better communication and more intentional work.