Call it Silicon Valley’s answer to the diary. Asking employees to write a weekly update or “snippet” helps everyone stay on top of progress, upcoming priorities, and challenges. The management practice was pioneered by early Google developer Larry Schwimmer, who built an internal app that asked employees to summarize their workweek and future to-dos. Colleagues were then able to read each other's snippets in one centralized hub.
Given their purpose, completing a snippet or update is usually a Friday afternoon or Monday morning activity. While you can request that employees simply list any highlights and upcoming priorities, more direct prompts like “What challenges or roadblocks do you need help with?” help facilitate faster problem-solving. Snippets should also be brief so reading and writing them doesn’t feel like a chore.
“Updates should be short, snappy, and to the point,” said Magda Zurawska, HR Specialist at ResumeLab. “We’re looking solely for the skinny. Bullet points are fine, as are stream-of-thought sentences. I tend to think of snippets as the kind of notes you’d write on the back of a napkin.”
While companies can facilitate a rough version of snippets using Google Docs, people management tools like Lattice automate the process and even track how employees are performing as well as keep up with how they’ feel week-by-week. Read more about Lattice Updates here.
Reflecting on the past week helps employees and managers identify challenges before they snowball. While one-on-ones serve a similar purpose, weekly updates act as additional insurance and can influence those meetings’ agendas.
“For us, writing updates allows our team to notice any bottlenecks, potential blind spots, and other unintended consequences,” Zurawska said. She added that even the act of writing your challenges down gives you a head start in finding solutions. “Writing is thinking,” the saying goes — and there’s ample evidence that journaling can provide individuals with greater clarity, facilitate problem-solving, and improve overall mental health.
“Again, there’s a difference between mulling it over in your head versus jotting it all down. It can truly add up over time and make you notice any issues and how to address them all the faster,” she said.
The average office worker spends four hours per week preparing for “status update” meetings — two-thirds of which are deemed “unproductive” by their attendees. Team meetings shouldn’t just be a readout of weekly to-dos. When employees provide regular, written updates to their manager, it frees up valuable time on everyone’s calendar.
“No one likes tiresome meetings. One of the clear benefits of using snippets or updates is that we spend less time in them,” said Matt Bertram, CEO at EWR Digital. When teams do need to meet, reading peers’ weekly updates in advance can serve as a helpful primer. That means spending less time on the status quo and more time for impactful, strategic conversations about what’s next.
“Our discussions are shorter and more productive because we already know what our colleagues have been up to from reading their snippets,” Bertman said. “Keeping meetings shorter has also been a pretty powerful motivator for getting employees to actually update their snippets.”
Weekly updates help your company be more productive. But more importantly, it gives teams a moment to pause and reflect. Whether in our personal or professional lives, taking time to reflect has been shown to make us happier, less burnt out, and more mindful of the bigger picture. In one study, employees who took time to reflect performed 23% better than their peers.
When Ian Sells, CEO of RebateKey, implemented weekly updates at his company, he expected to see conventional outcomes like higher productivity and faster resolution times. But he also noticed something else: employees started thinking differently about work. Having time for reflection empowered them to zoom out and ask bigger questions about projects and processes.
“Because we have this opportunity for reflection, our team can stay focused on the ‘big fish’ that we need to tackle, without getting lost in the details,” Sells said. “This simple accountability system has our team working smarter, not harder, because we intentionally think about which tasks have the highest impact on the business and employee happiness.”
Leaders also encouraged employees to use their weekly updates as a place to reflect on their long-term career plans. “This technique helps employees to avoid a micro-focus on day-to-day work. It encourages them to take a broader view and see if they are achieving the goals they truly want for themselves,” said Edgar Arroyo, President and Head of HR at SJD Taxi. In addition to keeping development in focus, having these thoughts in writing equips managers to lead more effective development conversations.
For some, the opportunity to slow down and reflect is motivation enough to fill out their updates. But for most others, the exercise can seem like a formality if their manager or team never engages with the content. If you want employees to commit to writing weekly updates, managers and peers need to read and follow-up on the updates.
“Without the conversation aspect, snippets become just another item on the to-do list. While they might get updated, they aren’t interacted with,” said Nate Tsang, CEO at WallStreetZen. Asking employees to open up about challenges and then not acting on that information is worse than not asking at all. “You can’t ask people to mention their obstacles but then not give feedback or help,” Tsang said, adding that he either follows up on snippets directly or brings them up during weekly one-on-ones.
Making updates accessible to the whole company is a great way to promote transparency and follow-up. But because challenges are often personal, allow employees to share them with just their manager, too. If you use a people management platform like Lattice, managers and teams can easily distinguish between public and private updates.
“Ask and you shall receive” isn’t a leadership strategy. If you want employees to exhibit any behavior, lead by example. That means managers, directors, and even executives should be updating their snippets every week. Doing so also promotes transparency and breaks down the barriers between the C-suite and employees.
“Sure, you can mandate them — but that’s never really inspiring. Leading by example and doing so consistently is much more enticing,” Zurawska said. She stressed that executives shouldn’t view their participation as arbitrary or just for show. After all, updates’ productivity and problem-solving benefits apply to anyone at the company, including founders and CEOs.
“Ultimately, when you demonstrate how quick, easy, and helpful they are, colleagues will eventually follow suit,” she said. And once you show that updating your snippets is a habit associated with leadership, future first-time managers and others looking to grow their careers will be quick to pick it up.
Communication is a prerequisite for business success. When managers and their direct reports have the chance to regularly connect via one-on-ones and updates, it makes them both more effective.
Over 2,000 companies use Lattice’s weekly updates feature to keep their teams on the same page. Watch this video to learn how Turo, the world’s largest car-sharing marketplace, uses our software to help employees and managers stay focused and informed.