Be Short With Your Boss

Why is it that every employee’s instinct is 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 that executives or HR personnel follow 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

This is interesting when you consider that virtually every single manager would much 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 the goals we’ve set together. They assemble a clear plan to meet those goals. And then they execute… efficiently.
As they make progress — or as they 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 me unless their hair is on fire. And — the most bothersome interruption of all — they don’t drop by the office to just shoot the breeze and tell 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 me on what they do, that’s a real productivity killer. Long-winded updates waste my time, and waste my employees’ time. It often seems like the reason for the long-winded update is simply to prove to me that they’re actually doing stuff -that they’re actually working. They feel that if they don’t tell me about it, then perhaps I 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 the goals that have been set. Learn to keep the updates short — then I’ll 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 me 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 e-mails that are overly lengthy with a request for a condensed version. You’ve probably received the 2 page long status report before. 90% of it is 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 it is buried deep inside. Cut down the time wasted crafting the message by quickly — and succinctly — letting them know that you want to read it, 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 don’t have the time to read it.

Use a communication tool that imposes parameters and a more desirable format. There is a 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 the best for you.

Don’t respond to interruptive communication mediums. Set 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 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? I’d love to hear about it.

Request: If you enjoyed this post, please “Recommend” it below so others can more easily discover it. Also, you might like my other posts.

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