Be Short With Your Boss!

Why do so many of your team members feel the need to tell you every single thing they’ve done — and even stuff they haven’t done?


When onboarding new employees, the best companies have very well thought-out protocols to ensure that new employees have a smooth transition into the company.

That’s all well and good, but the onboarding seems to end there. Even with an established status reporting system in place, ad hoc information is constantly flowing. Often, the best managers, with strong protocols in place, have a tough time controlling excessive information from being sent to them. And because of the open-ended nature of email (and other mediums), employees err on the side of “more”:

More updates, more emails, more information in each email, more spreadsheets, more Google docs, more meetings, and worst of all, more unannounced office drop-bys.


More is not better

Interview hundreds of executives and managers – as we have – and you will quickly see that virtually every single one would prefer to receive less unactionable information, fewer and shorter emails, attend fewer meetings, and absolutely host fewer unannounced drop-bys.

I have been on both sides of the equation. I’ve reported to a CEO and am currently a CEO myself. As I consider the best and most effective employees I’ve ever worked with, one common theme keeps coming up: efficiency. The best employees are efficient in their work, and they’re efficient in their communication.


A breath of fresh air

The best employees don’t tell me about every little thing they’ve done, what they’re currently doing, or what they will do. They understand and embrace the goals we’ve set together. They assemble a clear plan to meet those goals. I leave them alone… and then they execute… efficiently.

As they make progress — or as they hit walls or make mistakes — they keep me posted only on what’s important. They keep their emails to me to a bare minimum. They don’t IM (Instant Message) me unless their hair is on fire. And – the most bothersome interruption of all – they don’t drop by the office to just inform me about the small things they’ve done. They edit themselves. What a breath of fresh air.


Regain lost time and energy

When you have an employee that is good at what they do, but long-winded in how they update you on what they do, that’s a real productivity killer. Long-winded updates waste your time and waste your employees’ time. It often seems like the reason for the long-winded update is simply to prove to you that they’re actually doing stuff – that they’re actually working. They feel that if they don’t tell you about it, then perhaps you won’t know anything was done.

No good manager wants to know about every little thing you do. They assume you are doing the little things, so that you can take care of the big things, like hitting the goals that have been set. Learn to keep the updates short — then your boss will really be listening.


Scale the mountain and tell me once you’re there

When you have an employee who is not only great at getting things done, but also great at communicating the right amount of information to you at the right time, it is perfection in management. If there’s an inhibitor to their progress, I want to know about it so that I can help. But if there is no inhibitor to their progress, then just go ahead and get it done, and tell me about it later.

Tell me when you’ve completed something major. Tell me when you’ve gotten to the top of the mountain. Do not tell me about every single rock you stepped on to get up there. Be selective in what you tell me, and we’ll both be happier and more productive.


Like bowling, but with bumpers

Establishing boundaries and implementing tools for the way you want information to flow to you is important to create good behavior patterns. There are a few ways you can do this. Feel free to try some of these out based on your own management style. Remember, it takes time and commitment to establish a habit, so stick with it for a while and see if it helps.

Respond to emails that are overly lengthy with a request for a condensed version. I’m sure you’ve received the verbose, two-page status report from Thomas in Customer Support or Barbara in Marketing, and rolled your eyes as you recognized the length of the report. And you know that often a great majority of that two-page status report is just word filler, full of jargon and dressed-up reasons for what didn’t happen. A lot of time probably went into crafting the message, but little of it is important. Or worse, what’s important is buried deep inside.

Gain untold future hours – for you and your employee – by quickly and succinctly letting them know that you want to read their status report, but it is way too wordy. This way, they’ll receive acknowledgement that you’ve seen their finely crafted prose, but they’ll also know that you don’t have the time to read it. And they’ll edit future messages proactively.

Use a communication tool that imposes parameters and a more desirable format.

Oh, and pardon the shameless self-promotion for UpdateZen 🙂

But the truth is there’s a great variety of status reporting tools out there. Some are extremely complex; Others are very simple. Depending on your reporting system and management style, you can opt to use one of these and tell your direct reports to funnel their important information there. That way you avoid the hassle of digging through your inbox (or other mediums, like instant messages) to find what you need. Some of these tools require the information to be formatted in a specific manner, so choose what works best for you.

Don’t respond to interruptive (yes, we’re making up our own words now) communication mediums. Consider setting aside a specific period of time where you’ll be checking email. Turn off instant messaging, and put your text messages on silent. Focus on getting your work done. Tim Ferriss, Mr. Efficiency, advocates a tactic of setting up an auto-responder to let people know when you will respond to emails, with information on how to contact you if something is important. If something is truly important, they’ll get in touch with you. Odds are high that this won’t happen very often.

Shorter is better…

So do I want my employees to be “short” with me? You’re damn straight I do. Keep it brief.

Do you have rules in place to maintain effective communication with your team? Have you tried any of the tactics above? We’d love to hear about it.


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