As a leader, you'll have a good amount of employees reporting directly to you. Often referred to as direct reports, they are more than a category on the organizational chart. They can help you grow your business and build leadership skills.
But before we get into the best practices, let's review what a direct report is, how it differs from an indirect report, and how those roles can benefit your business.
What Is a Direct Report?
A direct report is an employee or contributor who works under a specific manager. They report directly to their manager when they have feedback, questions, coaching needs, or other issues.
Senior managers, supervisors, and executive roles work with direct reports. In many cases, managers are the direct reports of a senior manager, and so on.
So, Who Counts as a Direct Report?
Anyone who works directly under someone else can be considered a direct report.
- Entry-level human resources employees may be direct reports to an HR supervisor.
- This supervisor may be a direct report to an HR Manager.
- The HR Manager may be a direct report to the Vice President of HR.
What Are the Benefits of a Direct Report?
Direct reports have a ton of benefits for your business. Here are the top seven:
- Make getting work done a lot easier: As a leader, you need someone to delegate all that work to, or else you won’t be able to actually lead. Enter the direct report who can complete all the tasks you don’t have time for. This organizational hierarchy also makes decision making a lot easier. Team members can ask their manager for input on a task, job or issue, and that manager can help everyone make a decision that’s aligned with the company’s goals.
- Help with communication: With a direct report, you give directions to the same person (or set of people if you have multiple reports)—rather than constantly changing who you’re working with and when. You and your reports will get in the swing of working with one another, which should make things more efficient. Plus, they will always know where to go if they have questions (rather than wasting time asking different managers). What makes it even better? They’ll keep you updated, so you won’t have to spend a bunch of time worrying about whether the job is getting done or not.
- Keep employees happier: Team members will have fewer questions about who to report to, their responsibilities, and their goals. In short, they’ll know exactly what they need to do and what equals success. When employees feel like they have a clear path to achieving their objectives, they’re more engaged and happier all around.
- Promote teamwork: When roles and responsibilities are clearly laid out, it’s easier for your own direct reports to work together. For example, if one team member is in charge of ordering materials and the other has to distribute them to workers—these two reports will need to work together to get the job done and won’t be stepping on each other’s toes in the meantime. Even when you don’t assign teams for a specific project, employees with similar goals or problems may collaborate on their own.
- Help managers review performance accurately: Since you develop a one-on-one relationship with your direct reports, see them grow, and know what tasks they are accountable for, it’s easier to understand how they’re doing. This means that performance reviews can be more meaningful for both you and your direct report.
- Reduce inefficient spending and processes: Without direct reporting, several employees may feel responsible for the same task. This causes redundancies and inefficiencies to crop up. Direct reports help everyone figure out who’s doing what.
- Foster stronger relationships with employees: When a manager supervises the same person (or people) day in and day out, it’s easier for them to get to know an employee individually and professionally. These stronger bonds create trust, inspire loyalty, and boost employee engagement at work.
What’s the Difference Between a Direct and Indirect Report?
An indirect report is a team member who reports to your direct report. So, you—as the manager—are indirectly in charge of them. That’s because you’re technically supervising their boss. So, whatever instructions you give your direct report will most likely impact your indirect report as well.
Let’s say you assign your direct report the task of transporting equipment between your job sites. However, there’s a ton of equipment and one person can’t do it all on their own. Your direct report has two people who report to them. Those two people are your indirect reports—and can help your direct report complete the job.
How Do You Ask a Direct Report to Do Something?
There are several ways a team leader can communicate with your reports:
- Team meetings
- One-on-one meetings
- 15-minute regular check-ins
You may wonder how to better get important information from your employees. Clear, concise, and regular questions can ensure you always know what’s going on with your team:
- How would you like to use our one-on-one meetings?
- Do you have everything you need to accomplish your tasks?
- How do you prefer to receive feedback?
- What do you enjoy most about work?
- What would you like to change if you could?
- What challenges do you feel are under your control? And out of your control?
- What does success look like to you?
- Do you feel like you have the resources and support you want?
How Many Direct Reports are Too Many?
Seven direct reports is the average across startups, public companies, and not-for-profits.
However, this is a balancing act. If you are beginning to map your hierarchical structure, it’s often better to start small. Keep the number of direct reports to 3-4 for a new manager and 4-10 for a senior manager or department head. Team members in charge of employees for the first time can also be considered “team leads” until they're ready for that official manager title.
Keep in mind there are a ton of variables that can impact how many team members someone should manage. Company size? Skill level? Experience? Management style? All of these details matter.
For example, some managers enjoy coaching and taking their employees to the next level. Therefore, they may not be able to handle a large team since they’ll be so focused on their reports.
Others can be focused on rapid growth and don’t expect to train employees in many new skills. These managers can probably handle more team members.
6 Tips to Effectively Manage Your Reports
Managing direct reports can be challenging, and there are a few pitfalls.
For example, checking in too often or demanding too much documentation can be seen as micro-micromanaging. And this can actually negatively impact performance and communication. In one study, 68% of employees said that micro-managing damaged their productivity and morale.
The fact is that handling direct reports is linked to people skills. These tips will help you leverage your soft skills and better manage employees.
1. Offer Regular Positive Affirmations
Do you know what employees want more than training, increased pay, inspiration, or a promotion? Recognition. When asked what would be a better motivator, 37% of employees wanted to receive positive feedback. Only 7% said that more money would do the trick.
There’s always something to improve, but employees definitely benefit from positive reinforcement. Knowing that they are doing something right is a strong motivator to continue problem-solving.
2. Outline Goals and Responsibilities
When direct reports completely understand what they need to do and when—it makes it a lot easier for them to get this work done on time. And as a manager, you will be better able to track their progress.
So how can you make that happen? It can be helpful to brainstorm goals and tasks in a one-on-one meeting where the employee can give input. For example, some responsibilities may not take up as much time as you thought. Or your employee might have some other ideas for your department (and want more time to do those things).
Another possibility? They might realize that certain objectives are too far-fetched based on current operations and you’ll need to think of a new approach together.
Either way, you’re both aligning on what exactly can get done—which eliminates uncertainty and stress for everyone.
3. Take an Interest in Your Direct Reports
One of the best ways to retain your employees and reduce friction is to take an interest in their lives and work. Try to touch base with your reports a few times a week just to chat. These don't have to be codified in regular meetings. This will not only boost communication and build trust, but it may also provide insight into what your employees need to succeed.
4. Solve Performance Issues Together
As a manager, you don't want to give constructive feedback too often. That can become overwhelming. But what do you do when you need to address a mistake?
Meet with your direct report in person or on Zoom ASAP. You don’t want to let too much time lapse since tensions can build and the issue will go longer without being resolved. And that could impact a whole slew of projects.
But what, exactly, do you say in this meeting? Ask your report how they’d solve the issue. This allows them to build the skills they need to tackle problems in the future. What’s more, they can often think of great solutions since they’re close to the work.
Even better? It sends the message that you trust them, which can strengthen your relationship.
5. Develop a Career Roadmap
Active and dedicated employees want to grow professionally. And offering them a chance to do that is a great way to keep direct reports accountable and productive. Once every six months or a year, have a special one-on-one session to review your employee’s long-term career goals and how the company can support them.
6. Make Things Easy
One of the best ways to support your direct reports is to ensure that repetitive tasks are easy. This can be done by using software that automates certain parts of HR—like workers’ comp and payroll. You can do that with Hourly, which allows you to track time, pay your team and manage your workers’ comp all in the same place. The point is that the entire employee experience should be seamless, so your employees can focus on meeting expectations and growing their careers.
Direct Reporting in a Nutshell
As a good manager and boss, you know that handling multiple direct reports is more about people skills than increased supervision. When reportees understand the organizational structure and stay accountable, you’ve got a sound system for direct reporting.
The best way to accomplish this? Build trust by baking emotion and connection into your conversations. Focusing on everyday interactions, such as positive feedback, can improve performance and take the company to the next level.