Of all the management tools I recommend, one of the most effective is both very simple and very unlikely to be consistently employed—if it is used at all: the written progress report, completed on a consistent schedule.
The power of progress reports to promote results and reduce anxiety is demonstrated daily, on matters titanic and trivial. The U. S. Constitution requires that the President “from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union.” Public companies are required by law to present results to shareholders, at fixed intervals and in specific formats. Schools send regular reports to parents, our GPS tells where we are, and UPS sends a text when a package arrives.
Still, managers and employees resist implementing this simple process.
Who cares about why? Just grow up and start doing a progress report. Declare your goals. Confront your results. Adjust to living in reality. Enjoy the benefits of clarity while the less disciplined fail and fail in a fog of vague expectations and inchoate regrets.
Before I explain how to format and prepare a good progress report, let’s deal with some common excuses questions.
The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.
As I discussed in my popular article, Truth or Consequences: Beyond the Punishment Model, employers are too quick to act like cops with the result that employees respond like criminals. Here is more support for my advice, this time from a rigorous study of new restaurant software. Instead of using the software mainly to fire workers suspected of theft, all employees were made aware that the software was looking for misbehavior. The results were positive and–to those not familiar with my approach–surprising.
The same people who are stealing from you can be set up to succeed.
–Prof. Lamar Pierce
“The savings from the [monitoring software’s] theft alerts themselves were modest, $108 a week per restaurant. However, after installing the monitoring software, the revenue per restaurant increased by an average of $2,982 a week, or about 7 percent.
“The impact, the researchers say, came not from firing workers engaged in theft, but mostly from their changed behavior. Knowing they were being monitored, the servers not only pulled back on any unethical practices, but also channeled their efforts into, say, prompting customers to have that dessert or a second beer, raising revenue for the restaurant and tips for themselves.”
Executives often find themselves assigning blame. Many believe that ranking and sorting their colleagues is a key management skill–and I agree. A much rarer and more powerful skill is the ability to see our own contribution to the unwelcome behavior we see around us. Why is self-awareness more powerful than judging others? Because altering my own behavior is the best access I have to altering the future.
I know this. I teach this. I also forget to practice it.
In November of 2007, for example, I was in San Diego attending a weekend training for coaches. A breakout session was led by the author of one of the best-known books on coaching. It is a good book and I was very eager to attend. His ninety minute workshop was scheduled six times over two days–I was in a morning session on day two.
The author immediately struck me as irritated, aggressive, and arrogant. (Here I am, always ranking and sorting.) His opening seemed vague and rambling and his responses to questions were not pertinent. (Here I go, proceeding to collect evidence for my case.) People were shaking their heads and looking at each other. Coaches are a fairly supportive audience but in the first fifteen minutes five of the thirty people walked out, one while the author was responding (elliptically) to his question! (Perfect. I have other people agreeing with me, a seductive substitute for truth.) I decided to (more…)
My rejection letters from The New Yorker and Esquire are below. The Atlantic Monthly did not bother to respond.
Reading the story now, it seems much more righteous and judgmental than I admit to being today. I still love the rhythm of certain sentences, the cinematic clarity of the settings and some of the word play, for example, the double meaning of the title and the triple meaning of DRILLER. Comments are welcome, of course, but please remember that I am no longer the author. He has grown away.
He pressed his fingers to the throb in his temple. Not to ease the pain, but to focus on the rhythmic pressure and blot out his sister’s insistence. Her unpersuasive words sought to compensate with repetition and emotion what they lacked in evidence and reason.
“Please Randall, if ever family mattered it is really important now.” Yes, Rachel, he thought as she talked. I know family matters, that is exactly why I am sitting at your kitchen table on a weekday morning. Being part of this family is why his day had detonated from the usual historical exposition to this hysterical exposition. If he were not born a Fleischer, Randall would still be at his desk, working on his next book.
Randall had just finished his daily preparing-to-get-ready-to-start-to-write rituals and was about to fill the computer screen with historical in-sight when the telephone rang. The first surprise was that the caller was his literary agent. Franklin called for only two reasons, either to report that Randall’s latest book had been sold to a publisher or to report that the publisher was impatient to receive the final draft of Randall’s latest book. Since Errors of Democracy had been purchased only three months ago, he could not imagine a reason for this interruption.
“Rand, what is your father’s first name?”
“Otto. And my mother’s maiden name was Calabrisi.” Randall was playful. “Is this some kind of identity check, Franklin? Are you going to pass along a secret message to me?”
“I’m afraid its no secret, friend. Something terrible has happened. The news is filled with reports that your father was… Rand, do you know what your father did during the war?”
From a Buddhist perspective, the description of reality provided by quantum mechanics offers a degree of freedom to which most people are not accustomed, and that may at first seem strange and even a little frightening. As much as Westerners in particular value the capacity for freedom, the notion that the act of observation of an event can influence the outcome in random, unpredictable ways [i.e., Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle –Editor] can seem like too much responsibility.
It’s much easier to assume the role of the victim and assign the responsibility or blame for our experience to some person or power outside oneself. If we’re to take the discoveries of modern science seriously, however, we have to assume responsibility for (more…)