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

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 They're outdated.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

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