Effective communication at work is more important than ever amid all the workplace upheaval triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years. Distributed teams and hybrid and remote work arrangements are increasingly the norm, resulting in fewer opportunities for informal meetups between managers and their direct reports.
Meanwhile, as workers leave their jobs at historic rates, employees have made it clear that they want more from work than just a paycheck. To start, workers expect more autonomy and a better work-life balance.
And while corporate culture and policies can drive employee engagement through effective communication, managers play an outsized role in cultivating it: Managers are responsible for 70% of the variance in their team members’ engagement on the job, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2021 Report.
But communication doesn’t come naturally for everybody, and managers often rise through the ranks based on their technical acumen — not their leadership skills, said Courtney Berg, founder and owner of HR consulting firm CourtSide Consulting. “That communication piece is difficult for managers, especially for those who are promoted up through the ranks and suddenly find themselves in this position and really haven’t had any supporting training to get them there,” she noted.
That’s why, for many leaders, a communication framework that includes both written weekly updates and face-to-face contact with their direct reports is critical to ensure that information is shared in a timely manner and team members feel like part of an actual team. Written weekly reports are a powerful tool and jumping-off point for even more communication.
“Great leaders consistently communicate about what matters most for the organization,” said Jessica Eastman Stewart, a longtime nonprofit leader who now consults for and coaches other nonprofit leaders. “Weekly [reports] are a great way [for] a leader [to] ensure their team has the clarity they need to do their best work.”
Here’s how to craft informative, engaging, and useful weekly reports to bolster communication between you and your direct reports and help your team achieve its goals.
6 Tips for Writing Effective Weekly Updates
1. Keep it simple.
When it comes to weekly updates, think ‘short and sweet.’ If you write a novel each week, it’s unlikely your team will get through it, Stewart said. Include what matters most, she advised.
About 250 words or so may be all you need to include the most pertinent information, said Dannie Lynn Fountain, founder of HR consultancy Focused on People. Bullet points and subheads can help make reports easy to scan and digest. “People can read it really quickly and then archive it,” she said.
2. Include both updates and praise.
Weekly reports should cover the pertinent happenings of a workplace, like status updates on projects, information about the onboarding of new employees, and details about other OKRs. A sales organization might track deals to keep a pulse on quotas, Fountain said. A software startup may detail new bugs that have emerged.
Clarity is key — even when the path forward isn’t clear, said Stewart. If a big event may need to be postponed, for example, it’s important to spell out what is known and how the next steps will be determined.
But just as important as these nuts-and-bolts updates is praise, something employees crave. In fact, to bolster employee engagement, Gallup recommends recognizing employees for their good work every seven days. Managers should call out the big things, such as the completion of a year-long project, as well as the little things, like gratitude about a small act of kindness between team members.
“Weekly updates provide an opportunity for managers to celebrate and appreciate the contributions of members of the team,” Stewart said.
3. Connect to the “why.”
In the midst of a big project or the rollout of a new product, it’s easy for managers and team members to forget the “why” behind what they're doing. Weekly updates provide another opportunity to tie activities to an organization’s mission or team’s goals, according to a Twitter thread about weekly updates by senior engineering manager Mitra Raman. That months-long project, for example, may support the organization’s stated mission to make its customers more productive.
Stewart agreed. “Appreciation can’t just be, ‘Thank you for doing the budget.’ It has to be, ‘Here’s what specifically you did well and here’s why that matters,’” she said. “When you connect the ‘why that matters’ part, it helps everybody see their connection to what we’re collectively here to do.”
4. Ask questions.
Some managers may craft weekly updates as a one-way form of communication — simply an opportunity to update the team with no expectation of a response. But weekly reports also can prompt introspection and ideas from team members through open-ended questions. Direct reports might share their answers via email, during a standup, or in their own weekly reports.
“Don’t just say what’s the status,” said Berg. “Ask meaningful questions.”
For example, Berg said the following questions could help trigger useful feedback:
- What was your biggest challenge this week?
- What went more smoothly than expected?
- What’s a barrier to finishing a project?
- What is your next step on a project?
5. Be human.
For so long, workplaces have been focused on productivity and profits. More than two years into a global health crisis, though, that focus has shifted to recognize the fact that the workers responsible for that productivity are human.
In weekly updates, managers can quickly share their own human stories, such as a brief mention that their child’s soccer tournament or a trip to care for their ailing mother will take them out of the office for a couple days. These snapshots into a manager’s personal life signal to employees that it’s okay to be human, too, said Karen Liebenguth, an executive and leadership coach and founder of London-based Green Space Coaching.
“When senior leaders are willing to also include their [humanity], immediately the culture changes,” she said. “There’s more trust. There’s more connection. There’s more learning. Because people feel they belong and they are safe.”
Displaying more humanness and vulnerability is important not just for senior leadership, but for managers, too — and it’s something Liebenguth struggled with herself when she worked as a manager years ago. She was fearful about not knowing how to manage the team well and wasn’t sure how to have honest conversations or listen, she admitted.
But once managers begin sharing glimpses into their struggles with a big project, for instance, that authenticity can make all the difference, said Liebenguth. “When a manager can be vulnerable and show what’s going on under the surface, that’s powerful and that allows staff members to do the same [and] let down their guard, and [then] there is connection and communication,” she said.
6. Don’t stop there.
Of course, you need more than a weekly status report to effectively communicate with your team. Written weekly updates don’t replace team meetings, performance reviews, standups, and one-on-ones. Instead, they should inform all those meetings.
Weekly reports can provide a record of good work from the past year when preparing for performance reviews, Fountain said. Berg sees them as a “springboard” to one-on-ones. With a weekly update in hand, team members have the action items they need to brainstorm and launch more productive conversations when they connect face-to-face, whether in-person or virtually.
“It’s a tool to help make sure that people understand what’s happening, and [that] they’re updated on the status and know what the next steps are,” Berg said.
A Valuable Tool for Everyone
While a weekly update is a powerful tool for managers to check in with their direct reports, the practice can be valuable for all employees across an organization. As Mitra noted in her Twitter thread, managers can send their weekly updates to a variety of stakeholders, including their own supervisors.
Top-down weekly reports from an organization’s leaders to all employees can also be key, Fountain said. An HR leader’s report, for example, might cover the number of new roles that are opening or how the inflation rate might impact compensation conversations.
And a bottom-up approach, where employees share updates with their manager and team, can call out the need for upskilling to complete a project or uncover new ways to collaborate. Perhaps one team member needs feedback from an organization’s customers, and their coworker is organizing an event with those very people, Stewart said. Weekly updates shared among a team could highlight the need and the opportunity and bring the two together. “It can prevent teams from missing opportunities to make things better or collaborate better,” she said.
Most importantly, bottom-up weekly updates can give employees a voice, Fountain said. “As an individual contributor, you’re so used to being provided objectives and operating against those objectives that sometimes you forget that you have a voice, and your opinion is valid,” she said. “This is a venue for you to share that.”
Of course, for managers, especially those who struggle with communication, even jotting down a weekly update may feel like an unwelcome task at first. It’s a skill, and it takes practice, Liebenguth said.
But once you fine-tune that skill, these weekly status updates can not only make you a better manager for your team now, but they can also provide the roadmap to a better future. With it, you can identify the hurdles that blocked your success in previous projects, so you can anticipate roadblocks on the next.
“That historical preview helps you look forward,” Berg said. “[Weekly reports] are truly a very valuable tool.”
Ready to clear obstacles for your team and set them up for success? See how Lattice can help you automate weekly status updates with templates and workflows that will ensure effective communication across your team — and your entire organization.