What are direct reports? Tips to effectively manage them

Delegation is the organizing principle of a business; its role in business performance cannot be understated. Leaders succeed or fail through the efficacy of how they lead and delegate.

Effective delegation depends on the organizational structure of the business. For instance, managing direct reports requires leadership skills, mentoring, and decision-making skills to be effective.

Direct reports are often used to offset the standard obstacles of operating a business. Leaders delegate specific roles to their own direct reports to both transmit or receive information and accomplish tasks.

Let’s take a closer look at what direct reports are and how companies can manage them effectively in a time of hybrid, remote, and in-person working opportunities to create clear lines of communication.

What is a direct report and who do they report to?

Direct reports are individuals who report to leadership positions in upper management—managers or even CEOs may utilize them to delegate tasks and amplify their communication throughout a company.

Managers depend on their direct reports to ensure lines of communication remain open and unobstructed throughout a company. They relay necessary information, either through team meetings or one-on-one meetings, therefore promoting improved business operations through more efficient communication.

This is especially important in a time of remote and hybrid work, as directions are often given through a blend of written and verbal instruction with less in-person or hands-on oversight.

Who needs a direct report?

The number of direct reports an organization needs varies based on the organization’s size, scope, culture, and needs. Generally speaking, the larger the organization, the more direct reports they’ll need.

Leadership roles that may benefit from direct reports include:

  • Supervisor
  • Manager
  • Director
  • Executive
  • Team leader

Each role can feature direct reports to maintain open communication with more junior individuals on their team. In turn, these leaders become direct reports themselves as they pass the information to their managers.

Benefits of having a direct report

Here are a few specific ways direct reports strengthen functionality between elements in the corporate hierarchical structure.

Improves processes and overall efficiency

The more leadership knows about business functions, the better equipped they are to improve them. Within hybrid and remote work, this becomes even more important, as these functions are largely performed outside of the office and require additional oversight for quality control.

With the high-resolution details provided by direct reports, leadership is empowered to optimize overall efficiency from the top down.

Enhances communication across the organization

Direct reports enhance the lines of communication between separate levels of an organization. Instead of having dozens of people trying to relay the same information, it’s simplified and delegated to a few individuals.

Increases accuracy in performance reviews

Performance reviews are crucial to a leadership role. However, the further removed leadership is from their reports, the less exacting their assessments will be. Direct reports compile all the data leadership needs to make an accurate review, ensuring that assessments have the actionable content to boost performance.

Promotes teamwork and employee engagement

Communication is the binding force within and between teams. Direct reports foster open communication in a work environment that builds stronger bonds and engages employees more intimately, leading to improved employee retention and organizational culture, even in remote workforces.

Managing direct reports: 3 effective tips

Leadership skills such as mentorship, relationship building, and empowerment are vital to managing direct reports.

In the modern age of working remotely, effective leadership has become more challenging. However, using the right tools and technology can help to manage a modern workforce and maintain the essential flow of important information.

In the age of remote and hybrid work, regular check-ins and scheduled debriefings have become more essential than ever to keep information flowing.

1. Build strong relationships with your direct reports

Direct reports are an extension of their manager. As a representative, strong relationships between a direct report and their manager ensure that they best represent the aims of leadership.

In remote and hybrid working environments, many direct reports only or primarily communicate with their manager. The existence of this relationship then becomes important for building a strong company culture and passing on your organization’s values, as those 1:1 conversations are the fundamental building blocks of relationships between team members.

2. Involve your direct reports in the decision-making process

Because direct reports are delegators-by-proxy, they are the ones reporting the decisions made by their manager. With that in mind, it benefits the manager and direct report alike for them to be involved in the decision-making process.

Remember that the flow of information goes both ways, as direct reports deliver leadership commands to their own subordinates. A fleshed-out understanding of the decision and how the manager arrived at it provides them the context to better implement that decision across the company.

3. Seek their feedback

The close relationship between them means direct reports possess a rich perspective of their manager’s decision-making processes. Fewer people are better equipped to provide feedback on leadership’s delegation ability than those implementing them first-hand, meaning they’re invaluable assets for actionable feedback.

How to delegate tasks to direct reports

For leaders, direct reports are their manager’s first connection to other reportees throughout a company. That’s why an optimal delegation of direct reports sets a standard by which those direct reports delegate their tasks to their own reportees in turn.

Miscommunication or a lack of communication invites trouble, which can be especially tricky in remote work, where miscommunication issues such as a lack of face-to-face interaction, technological malfunctions, and scheduling issues can run rampant if left unchecked.

Direct reports may inaccurately implement their delegated tasks; delegations made by direct reports to their own reportees on behalf of management may become confusing as they are transmitted from one employee to another.

Good choices, good communication, and the empowerment of your people are the factors that define good delegation. To ensure optimal leadership delegation, managers should follow this basic formula when putting their direct reports to work, whether in a remote, hybrid, or in-person role:

  • Choose the right direct report for the task
  • Clear communication on the specifics of their role
  • Empower them to carry out the tasks with the confidence and authority of their position

Steps to evaluate the performance of direct reports

Performance evaluations of direct reports are necessary because so many tasks hinge on their role. Conducting an effective evaluation of direct reports directs how their role evolves in the future.

Here are a few key steps to consider when reviewing a direct report’s performance.

1. Be honest and specific

If you identify concerning issues in a direct report’s performance, let them be known. Withholding information doesn’t do anyone any favors, especially the direct report.

When addressing these issues, be as specific as possible. Trim away extraneous details that have no impact on a direct report’s performance; that way, they have the actionable information to make improvements in the exact areas where necessary.

2. Be positive but critical

Positive feedback and critical feedback are not mutually exclusive. Remaining positive is important to retain an encouraging tone that promotes follow-through. However, a positive tone shouldn’t come at the cost of constructive, critical feedback.

Think about it from the direct report’s point of view; if you were in their shoes, you’d want to get a complete overview of where to improve. In remote work, where direct feedback can be rare, this is even more important.

Give the direct report the full picture, motivating them both on where they excel and where they need work.

3. Reflect on past performance

Performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. When assessing a direct report’s performance, do so by contextualizing their past performance. Considering past performance highlights a direct report’s progress or lack thereof.

Marked improvement in performance shows a direct report fits into their role; a decline in performance indicates that a direct report may need renewed direction in their role.

4. Constructively coach for future performance

Direct reports assist leaders in carrying out their vision for the organization’s future. Molding capable direct reports can be the first step to bringing about leadership’s vision for the organization.

Providing direct reports with constructive feedback to build new skills for future performance equips them with the skill set to better implement those future goals.

5. Understand and set goals together

Direct reports need clarity to carry out their delegated tasks. To that end, leadership roles should include direct reports in goal-setting. Integrations with direct reports like these provide a full view of the tasks at hand and a better understanding of effective management style.

Why leaders mentor direct reports beyond managing them

In many ways, direct reports directly represent a manager’s leadership. Building better direct reports with constructive feedback is crucial to a leader’s position. The better equipped a direct report is to employ management’s delegations, the better connected leaders are to the overall corporate structure.

In effect, mentoring direct reports to be better leaders themselves strengthens individual employee efficiency and overall team performance.