Direct Reports

What Are Direct Reports?

Direct reports are employees who, as the term implies, report directly to someone above them in the organizational hierarchy, often a manager, supervisor, or team leader. Another term for direct reports is “subordinates.” The person in charge of direct reports is responsible for assigning them work and monitoring performance.

Direct reports may themselves have direct reports. For example, a sales manager may report directly to a sales supervisor and also be in charge of a team of sales representatives.

Direct Report vs. Indirect Report

A direct report is an employee for whom a manager is directly responsible. This means the manager monitors the employee, conducts performance reviews, and determines the work they’re assigned and the role they’ll play in projects and initiatives.

An indirect report is an employee who answers to a direct report. While a manager might still monitor the performance of indirect reports, the person these employees report to is responsible for leading them on a day-to-day basis.

For example, a C-suite senior manager may have 10 direct reports whom they delegate assignments to and meet with for performance coaching. However, that same senior manager may have 100 indirect reports who are managed by the direct reports.

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How Many Direct Reports Should a Manager Have?

The more direct reports, the more employees a manager or supervisor has to monitor, motivate, and mentor. The span of control, or number of direct reports someone has, will depend on several factors, including:

In a recent survey, 35% of managers indicated that the number of their direct reports has increased in recent years. Today, the average manager has around 6.4 direct reports.

How to Effectively Manage Direct Reports (10 Tips)

Managing direct reports effectively is essential to organizational health, and it’s crucial for managers to develop their skills in this arena. Whether you’re new to management or simply looking for fresh ideas, here are 10 suggestions to help you empower employees who directly report to you and inspire them to reach their highest potential.

Consider Your Leadership Style

While it’s true that you may have authority over your direct reports, that doesn’t mean you must have an authoritarian leadership style. Instead, try to take a more democratic and collaborative approach to your leadership.

This doesn’t mean you have to give up all of your decision-making power. However, it does mean that you can share that power with those on your team. A collaborative process allows input from everyone on the team. In turn, your direct reports will feel that their voice and contributions matter, and this can boost morale and engagement.

Delegate Well

It’s important that you don’t load your own plate with more tasks than you can handle. At the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm your direct reports by placing too much responsibility on their shoulders. The answer to this dilemma is proper delegation skills.

To delegate well, you should first make sure you’re handing down the task to a capable employee who can get the job done. You can also consider using delegated tasks as a learning and development opportunity for your direct reports.

Make sure you establish your expectations for communication at the very beginning of the project or task. Additionally, ensure the employee has all the tools they need to complete the task you delegate. Not doing so can lead to frustration on both ends.

Share Helpful Feedback

It’s no secret that all employees need feedback. Part of empowering your direct reports is ensuring they get recognition when they do a great job and helping them identify opportunities for improvement.

When sharing feedback, provide specific examples of situations they can learn from. All communication should be constructive, as your goal is always to help the employee improve their performance and reach the next level.

Keep an Open-Door Policy

Communication and feedback among your direct reports should never be a one-way street. It’s also important for your team to know that you can receive feedback from them.

Keeping an open-door policy helps your team feel more comfortable sharing both their concerns and their positive comments with you. This practice builds a culture of transparency and trust. Ultimately, it can help put employees at ease and strengthen relationships among everyone on the team.

Establish Clear Performance Management Protocols

If you have done your job well, your direct reports likely already understand the importance of maintaining a high level of performance. However, it isn’t enough for them to know that good performance is essential. They also need to know how to reach the bar you have set for them.

This is where performance management can be helpful. Ensure your direct reports are crystal clear on their goals, including specific performance metrics you intend to evaluate and targets you expect them to hit. You should also develop a formal evaluation process that includes frequent check-ins and open-ended questions to help you get to the root of performance issues.

Become a Coach

While many managers rely on the traditional once-per-year performance review to help their direct reports increase performance, this isn’t always an effective method of achieving that goal. Some of the best managers have instead pivoted to a coaching model for performance management.

As a performance coach, you can meet with your direct reports much more often (ideally once per month or more). These meetings focus on two-way conversation instead of managers just delivering a barrage of information to the person sitting in front of them.

This approach can boost morale by helping employees recognize what’s going well. It also gives you a chance to support their improvement by identifying their roadblocks and helping them come up with solutions. This makes performance management much less intimidating and more constructive for all parties.

Invest in Team Building

As a manager, you want your team to be able to collaborate effectively. However, that doesn’t happen by chance. It’s much more likely that your team will learn to work well together when you make a deliberate investment in team building.

Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be complex. You can have your team play games or complete puzzles together before a meeting.

How about hosting a lunch and learn, where members of your team can share their expertise with their colleagues? Even a small investment in team-building can go a long way toward getting everyone on the same page and working toward a common goal.

Consider Employee Well-Being

Your direct reports need to know you care about them beyond what they can do for you or for the organization. If they don’t feel this way, it can lead to serious issues with burnout. This can have a negative impact on productivity. Ultimately, it can even cost the organization up to 20% of total payroll in turnover costs.

Encourage your direct reports to take breaks. When possible, offer wellness opportunities like a meditation room. Check in with your reports often and keep the lines of communication open so they’re able to be honest when struggling with burnout. This way, you can help them get back on track instead of waiting until it’s too late.

Play to Their Strengths

Getting to know your direct reports helps you build strong relationships with them. However, it also helps you effectively manage your team by figuring out each person’s strengths and weaknesses.

When it’s time to delegate tasks, you’ll be a master at doing it effectively because you’ll have a handle on which employees are the best at each type of task. This can not only help you improve team performance but also make employees feel good about being a go-to source for information and expertise in a particular area.

Prioritize Employee Development

The vast majority of young employees value role-specific training and mentorship; 63% of Gen Z undergrads who are moving into the workforce say that developing advanced skills in their field is essential to their definition of workplace success.

What’s a direct report’s future? They are tomorrow’s supervisors and managers. Take advantage of any opportunity you have to develop your team’s professional and leadership skills. In the end, this can help the organization build its talent pipeline and promote from within.

Good Management Benefits the Entire Organization

Quality management matters to the entire organization. Research shows that 70% of a team’s engagement and performance is determined by a manager.

Recent reports from HR leaders show that only 41% of employees are currently performing optimally. It’s clear that today’s managers need effective strategies to help their direct/indirect reports consistently hit targets.

Developing effective management practices is about much more than just any one team. When managers take the time to hone their skills and help their direct reports reach the next level, it can have positive ripple effects throughout the entire organization. When all managers can get their teams on the same page with performance and productivity, it helps the organization achieve its goals.

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