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Is that assignment being actively worked or has it been totally forgotten?

When bosses are asked what bugs them most about delegating work to their direct reports, the answer often has something to do with them never really being sure about an assignment’s status. And they’ve learned, all too well, that regularly asking for updates causes their staff feel like they’re being micromanaged, which is NOT a good thing.

If only there was a solution to this all-too-common occurrence – and its many variations – you lament.

Changing Update Parameters

Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple solution to this ‘black hole’ of status reporting: Require, as part of the assignment, that you be provided with ‘Unsolicited Updates.’

If they’ve worked with you for any amount of time, it’s likely that your staff already knows the type of questions you ask given the circumstances. So, the idea is that if they come and give you the answers to those questions … BEFORE you even have to ask … everybody wins!

It’s a surprisingly easy thing to implement, as well. Simply make it a part of any assignment you give them or anything important they come to know about:

“I don’t care if it’s good news or bad news. What I want to know about is NEW news! And, yes, the absence of progress is new news, too.”

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Now it’s important – VERY important – for you NOT to shoot the messenger when the news is bad.

Let me repeat that: It’s VERY important for you NOT to shoot the messenger when the news is bad.

Why? Because you DON’T want them to conclude that it’s ‘safer’ to withhold information from you and hope you don’t find out about it. That’s the exact OPPOSITE of what you want!

So provide them with some specific language to use – and permission to use it – should they ever feel you are responding inappropriately to an update of theirs. Something like: “Do you mean to be shooting the messenger, right now?” has worked well for me. It’s just enough to make the point while giving me the the opportunity to reset my tone and tenor, accordingly.

Making It Easier to Comply

Additionally, you’ll want to publicly recognize and reinforce their giving – and you receiving – these Unsolicited Updates early and often:

“Thanks to Art, everyone, for bringing me the news about the system problem as quickly as he did. By doing so, we were able to vendor attention sooner, rather than later, and notify all the potentially affected parties BEFORE they even noticed that there was a problem. This really helped build our credibility, which is one of our central themes. So thank you, Art, for bringing me this news so quickly. Good job!”

With public praise like that, you can count on others wanting to provide you with their Unsolicited Updates – even if it’s just so they don’t feel so left out.

Some other ways to help you get Unsolicited Updates flowing, include:

  • Having regularly scheduled Open Forums, Roundtables, or Skip Level meetings to create opportunities for important issues to percolate up.
  • Encouraging employees elect spokespersons or come visit you in small groups. (Some folks have great information and ideas to share, but just don’t like to be the ones to do the talking.)
  • Implementing an Open Door policy. (Ironic how so many of Open Door-type meetings occur behind closed doors, isn’t it?!)
  • Modeling the way by showing how YOU share new information with staff and others (in meetings that both you and your staff attend).

Accountability and Consistency

Lastly, it’s important that your direct reports know that you’re serious about these Unsolicited Updates. So, in the even that they fail to comply, it’s important that you talk with them about it in no uncertain terms.

  1. Start with why it’s IMPORTANT FOR YOU. (Examples: So you don’t get caught unawares by your boss or other key stakeholders; so you can deal with issues on a more real-time basis; so you don’t miss opportunities to raise an issue with a relevant someone you see in the elevator or at a meeting on a completely different topic; so you can stem the tide before things get increasingly worse; etc.)
  2. Continue with why it’s HELPFUL FOR THEM. (Examples: Remind them of how lousy your decisions can be if you don’t have the relevant facts in hand; remind them how increasingly difficult and frustrating their work becomes when you make lousy decisions; etc.)
  3. Insure that they know that it’s a NON-OPTIONAL part of their job and something they WILL be held increasingly accountable for.
  4. Assist them becoming increasingly skilled at providing you, and others, with Unsolicited Updates.

You’ll be very glad you did.

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