We’ve all had to answer to a manager or supervisor at some point in our career and can contest that some do the job better than others. If you’ve been tasked with managing direct reports yourself, your aim should be to get the most out of them while hopefully not being a tyrant.
In this article, we explain exactly what direct report means and then take a look at the ideal number of direct reports a manager should have. We then lay out some of the best practices to follow when you are tasked with managing and motivating other people, especially in the virtual workplace.
Here at NoHQ, we believe in continued learning for all levels of employees so whether you’re new to remote working or have been managing remote workers for years, check out our articles page where you’ll find many insightful resources.
What is a Direct Report?
The term direct report, put simply, refers to your subordinates or, as the name suggests, people who report directly to you. But things get a little more complicated when that person has one or more direct reports themselves. Those employees would be indirect reports to you. That said, even though they don’t report to you directly, your management skills will still have an effect on them.
So, if you are a business manager, one of your direct reports may be a sales manager who in turn has the whole sales team reporting to him. The better you are at teaching and motivating your sales manager, the better he will learn to do the same with his team.
The Ideal Number of Direct Reports
The ideal number of direct reports an individual manager should have varies and depends on several factors, which include:
- The complexity of the work – If the work being undertaken is low skill, it will be easier to manage so a larger number of direct reports can be used.
- Skill level of the employees – The more experienced the workers are, the less supervision they need so a larger group is possible. For newer employees, fewer direct reports are advisable as they will tend to need more help and supervision.
- The manager’s experience level – Newer managers would be well served to start with one or just a few people working under them whereas more experienced leaders can have dozens.
While there’s no definitive answer to the question ‘how many direct reports should a manager have?’ a 2016 report by Deloitte stated that medium size companies in the USA had on average 9.7 direct reports while larger companies had an average of 11.4.
As long as you can give enough time and effort to each of your subordinates and still meet all of their needs and the needs of the project then the numbers can be high. However, if workloads and/or inexperience hampers this, then stick to fewer direct reports.
How to Manage Direct Reports
As well as making sure you have the ideal number of direct reports, adapting your management style to the needs of your subordinates is important. You have to be able to lead, motivate and guide them so with that in mind, here are some of the main factors to consider when dealing with your direct reports.
Have Regular Meetings
Regular meetings with direct reports are a vital part of any project. This will ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to achieving your goals and reaching your targets though care must be taken to make them concise, without being overly formal. It’s also a good idea to encourage input from your team as they will often come up with ideas that you yourself have missed.
As to how many direct reports a manager should have in a given meeting, this depends on what the required outcome is. The technology exists so remote meetings can be as large or small as the manager wants them to be though it would be wise to limit attendees to those that really need to be there so as to cut down on wasted time.
Informal meetings are also useful to get insight into the concerns of your staff or to hear any new ideas they may have. In the traditional workplace, this would be done at lunch or on a break.
With remote work, you can employ virtual water cooler moments that foster a stress-free interaction. These can provide an informal space to bounce ideas off each other and help your team bond.
Use Appropriate Software and Tools
Using appropriate communication tools is vital to keep everyone up to date and well informed, and to keep productivity to a maximum. One such tool is the Stack Method, which can dramatically reduce the time spent by you and your team on emailing.
The average office worker spends up to 500 hours a year on emails according to the Stack Method website and it's likely that this number is even higher for remote workers. This is a major distraction but the time wasted on email can be reduced by up to 50% by spending a little time learning a few techniques. It works with any email platform, requires no software and is free to use so is worth integrating into the daily routine of your team members.
Using product management software such as Asana is also well advised to help you effectively manage your staff. By providing a report of everyone’s work in one place, every individual and team will know what they need to do to complete a project. Asana’s Work Graph gives information on tasks, such as those that haven’t been started yet, those that are in progress and tasks that have been completed.
All the information is displayed in a way that allows you to edit it, move it around and add items as required meaning you and your direct reports can keep up to date on the progress of a project at a glance. This way, everyone can be sure what’s required of them at any given time.
Evaluate Your Direct Reports
Using the right key performance indicators (KPIs) when evaluating your direct reports will increase employee performance over time exponentially. It will allow you to identify their strengths which can be built on and their weaknesses, which once identified can be improved.
It should be remembered that the KPIs you use are specific to your business and depend on the particular goals you wish to achieve. Some examples include:
- Employee Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- Percentage of “A Players” - Total
- Percentage of “A Players” - Managers
- Customer Retention
- Total Number of Customer Interactions
- Customer Service Quality
- Customer Satisfaction
A more comprehensive list of useful KPIs has been provided free of charge by Rhythm Systems, who’s KPIs dashboard software is designed to help managers easily identify which team members are meeting their KPIs, and which ones need extra help.
Practice Inclusive Leadership
Lastly but probably most importantly when it comes to motivating your team, you need to practice inclusive leadership. As a manager or supervisor, you should be aware of your own biases but be prepared to pursue new ideas and perspectives from your direct reports.
By involving them in the decision-making process, you will help them feel heard and accepted rather than just being another cog in the wheel. It will also help raise confidence and make your employees feel like they truly belong to the team which in turn will garner loyalty and more engaged workers.
One of the most important questions to ask both new direct reports, and more experienced ones alike is, ‘how can I help?’ They may need more resources or extra time to complete their tasks which should be provided when possible.
You should take an interest in their progress but be careful not to micromanage them too much as this can be discouraging. Showing trust in your team when it comes to meeting deadlines and providing quality work, especially when they have a proven track record in doing so, is an easy way to motivate your team.
Regardless of how many direct reports you have as a manager or supervisor, getting to know your staff can have huge benefits. Giving people a sense of belonging can only motivate them to work harder, both for you and the company.
According to Forbes, finding ways to connect with your workers every day is vital as it will help with general motivation, task priority and distribution. It will also help build relationships between managers and their direct reports, which will not only increase productivity but will also make for a happier workplace.
Correct management of direct reports is a vital part of any workplace, whether in-office or remote. Getting it right can make all the difference, allowing you to have an effective, productive workforce which helps you grow as a company, while keeping your subordinates happy and motivated.
Whether you have just one direct report or dozens, holding regular meetings with them so everybody knows their role will keep everybody on-brand and united. Staff should be evaluated regularly to build on their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses and inclusive leadership is an absolute must when it comes to managing your direct reports.