Career Path

How to Effectively Monitor Your Direct Reports

Find the delicate balance of doing things your way, while understanding what motivates them.

There’s a saying in corporate America, well-known among recruiters, that people quit managers, not companies. That’s because for every great boss, there’s at least a handful of horrible bosses. Part of that, of course, is a lack of mentoring for how to be a good boss; in many cases, it’s trial by error. And just because you’re a superstar engineer doesn’t mean you’ll be a superstar manager of engineers.

That said, one of the most important skills for managers who want to stay in a leadership role is learning how to effectively direct their direct reports. To some, it’s seen as bugging, but experts say successful managers are the ones who can maximize their employees’ work, teach them skills to improve their market value, and create a workplace that’s, well, fun—at least most of the time.

One of the most important skills for managers who want loftier roles is learning how to effectively direct their direct reports.   

Of course, this is a tall order, particularly when you’re managing your own expectations from your boss. But career pros say if you have an employee who isn’t jumping right in, there are ways to find out what motivates them. “People gravitate towards what is easy, what they’re excited about, and what they can’t wait to work on,” says Christian Moritz, founder of Klaxos, a job-search digital optimization firm. Below, some ideas on how to get the results you want, balancing both your bosses and your employees’ happiness.

Hold the frustration.

One of the hardest lessons to learn as a manger is that when you delegate tasks, they won’t be done exactly the way you might do them. It’s quite natural, then, to get frustrated when the result isn’t what you envisioned. Career pros say instead of thinking (or saying) that you could’ve done the work better yourself, you need to play the long game and realize you’re molding your reports. “A major part of being a manager is developing others behind you, and you do this through managing their work product,” writes Kristi Hedges, founder of the Hedges Company in Arlington, Virginia. Having trouble figuring out how to do this? One simple technique: Begin with praise, but add your criticism in the middle, and end on a high note.

Learn what makes them tick.

The reason emotional intelligence, or the ability to understand other people’s feelings and successfully express your own, has become so important in companies these days is because it can actually make a big difference in worker satisfaction and motivation. If an employee is afraid to tell her manager that she’s stuck, or doesn’t know how to move forward on a project, knowing this can help you proactively reach out and find out what’s going on, Moritz says. Does the employee thrive when she needs to send daily end-of-day reports? Or is she more productive when left alone, and only has a weekly check-in? Knowing these variations, and meshing it with your own style of managing, can help foster a productive environment. One tried and true method if the direct report is with a contractor is to not process an invoice until the work is complete.

Ask if they’re in the right role.

If you’ve stayed patient and figured out what motivates your direct reports, and you still aren’t seeing changes, then chances are they’re probably not in the right role. “I’ve had people who thought they were writers but turned out to be salespeople,” Moritz says. “They never even thought about it until I mentioned it to them.” While being nimble enough to shift around roles is difficult for larger operations, if it’s possible to do, you may end up with a better team. After all, most people don’t remember that Michael Jordan started out as a point guard before finding his sweet spot as a shooting guard. 

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