Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 3;   January 21, 2015: The Limits of Status Reports: I

The Limits of Status Reports: I

by

Some people erroneously believe that they can request status reports as often as they like, and including any level of detail they deem necessary. Not so.
The REI parking garage in Denver, Colorado

The REI parking garage in Denver, Colorado. REI is a strong performer in employee engagement, and getting stronger. The company makes and sells outdoor recreational equipment, and naturally, many of its employees have an interest in environmental issues. This building, the former city trolley system power plant, is itself "reused." Outstanding among its numerous environment-friendly features is the one-acre intensive greenroof above the parking garage. Companies that make investments in alignment with employee values greatly enhance employee engagement. But REI does much more. It operates a "company campfire" — essentially a collection of blogs by executives and managers, which are open to comment by employees, about half of whom have participated. Intentional efforts to enhance employee engagement pay multiple rewards, including elevating the value of status reports. Photo courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

People who work in project-oriented organizations are familiar with a fact of life called "status report." Report recipients are usually higher in organizational rank than report authors. Often, recipients actually have supervisory authority over the authors. Status reports are usually documents that contain enough information for report recipients to do their jobs.

The difference in organizational authority between authors and recipients leads some recipients to believe that they can request status reports in any form and format, with content of whatever nature they want. Some of these requests are unrealistic.

Unrealistic report requests have consequences. Reports become superficial. They arrive late. They're outdated. Some are even fictitious, in whole or in part. Some report requestors attribute low report quality to substandard performance by report authors, but unrealistic demands for report content, format, and frequency are often the root cause.

There are constraints on what we can reasonably expect of status report authors. Here's Part I of a set of requirements that enable status report authors to produce useful reports.

Belief in the value of the report
When status report authors believe that their reports are valuable to the report requestors, and that the reports are useful for performing legitimate management functions, report authors are more likely to produce valuable reports.
Said differently, when report authors believe that their reports aren't read, or that they're used only to find fault or to question the performance of the authors or the teams doing the work, those report authors are less likely to produce reports worth reading.
Psychological safety
Psychological safety is an attribute of a group. It is the degree to which group members, as a whole, believe that personal risk-taking will not lead to harsh judgment of the risk-taker by the group. In psychologically safe groups, members feel empowered to introduce new ideas, or question accepted ideas, or report what they know.
Low levels of psychological safety inhibit members from reporting conditions, events, or prospects that conflict with the group's established views, or which conflict with the group leader's preferences. Low levels of personal engagement
tend to limit the care, energy,
and passion of authors of
status reports
In psychologically unsafe environments, as compared to safe environments, status reports are more likely to represent the wishes of the supervisor than they are to represent truth.
Personal engagement
Personal engagement of employees is a measure of the degree to which they regard themselves as involved with and committed to the goals and objectives of their roles in the workplace, and consequently, the goals and objectives of the larger organization.
Low levels of personal engagement tend to limit the care, energy, and passion of authors of status reports. They might produce the reports, but they will do so late, or superficially, or disingenuously, or with language that obviates actually gathering valid information.

We'll continue next time with several more constraints limiting what we can ask for in status reports. Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Limits of Status Reports: II  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenUmiSWwBLDdaFTpyNner@ChacCPEkWUHcxESsUjueoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

A shouting matchCan You Hear Me Now?
Not feeling heard can feel like an attack, even when there was no attack, and then conversation can quickly turn to war. Here are some tips for hearing your conversation partner and for conveying the message that you actually did hear.
A German Shepherd in a calmer momentWhen Fear Takes Hold
Leading an organization through a rough patch, we sometimes devise solutions that are elegant, but counterintuitive or difficult to explain. Even when they would almost certainly work, a simpler fix might be more effective.
US President John Kennedy set a goal of a trip to the moonAchieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action
Achieving your goals requires both passion and action. Knowing when to emphasize passion and when to emphasize action are the keys to managing yourself, or others, toward achievement.
Doodles by T.D. Lee, created while working with C.N. YangDismissive Gestures: III
Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
An Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) with head flattened in a threat postureReframing Hurtful Dismissiveness
Targets of dismissive remarks often feel that their concerns are being judged as unimportant, which can be painful when their concerns are real. But there is an alternative to pain. It requires a little skill and discipline, but it can work.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningAnd on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenkhxNBggtEqmLVyjener@ChacaMaLhxnlLLWICCMjoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.