Isn’t It Time for a Progress Report?


Roy Lobenhofer


I don’t sit in on many meetings any more. Even when I did I don’t remember hearing the term “progress report” often. I suppose we used it when discussing some research projects AFS had paid to conduct. Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising if the phrase crept into a meeting at a plant discussing some major renovations, expansions, or modernizations.


Actually, my wife’s used the term “progress report” far more than me. As a teacher, she met with her students and their parents periodically to give progress reports. The students had goals to accomplish by the end of the school year. Parents and students needed to be on top of the progress being made towards meeting those goals.


Progress reports are valuable tools everyone should consider using more often. It’s common for everyone to get caught in the trap of doing what must be done each day and not noticing whether we’re making “progress” or not. The right material is ordered, the fires are put out, and the paper work is done, but are we getting closer to our goal?


Benefits for the Boss


As a manager the benefits of having your people tell you how their progressing should be obvious. If their analysis shows things aren’t going as fast as they think they should, perhaps you have helpful insights. Are they expecting to make progress faster than you think realistic? If they’re not getting closer to their goals, are their days getting cluttered with unimportant items or is what they’re doing the really important stuff? Is there something else that’s hindering their progress, and is that something you can do something about? 


Benefits for the Employee 


Preparing a progress report for the boss provides many different benefits for you, the employee, as well. Sitting down to write one forces you into actually evaluating the progress you’re making. Once again, everyone gets so tied up in doing what’s necessary today; you frequently don’t see your lack of progress on the important issues. If you are having difficulty making progress on the important, perhaps the boss can help.  Perhaps sitting down to look at the progress will allow you to recognize some of the choices being made are really hindering the progress.


With all that, if you as an employee have never written a progress report, the biggest benefit will be making sure the boss and you agree on what you should be worked on. It has always surprised me when, as a consultant, I talked to employees and then bosses about what the employee was supposed to be accomplishing. In more cases than should have ever been, there were far different perceptions of what the employee was supposed to be doing. 


Benefits for You


It’s a different story when you are your own boss. (Remember we are the bosses of our own life.) Progress reports are even more important but are so very much harder when dealing with your own life.


More important – what could be more important than getting where you want to get to in your life? The same thing happens when you are pursuing your goals as happens when pursuing the progress the person above you in the organization chart wants. You get so busy with the daily things you don’t have time to work on those things that draw you closer to what you really want.


Much Harder – People often say you can’t lie to yourself. They’re wrong! I’ve lied to myself on a regular basis all my life. “I’d done better in school, if the teachers weren’t so unfair!” “I’m doing fine at work, but the boss sure likes Joe more than me.” “I’d spend more time doing what’s important to me if I wasn’t spending so much time doing those meaningless things the boss wants.” All lies – the teachers were unfair, they wanted me to study (how dare they!). The boss liked Joe better because he accomplished what the boss wanted. As far as my spending so much time doing what the boss wants me to do, we won’t talk about the hours I spend watching whatever Chicago sports teams is in season. The point is when you make out your own progress report, you have to quit lying to yourself and take responsibility for your actions.


That makes preparing your own progress report tough, but the really tough part comes in deciding what you are progressing toward. With the work stuff the boss has already decided what you’re trying to do, but now it’s up to you. We’d all like to be rich, healthy, and successful, but until there’s a plan those are just dreams. I’ll tell you my plan of becoming rich by playing Power Ball when I notice it’s over $300,000,000 hasn’t been working very well. Getting on the scale every morning and deciding this is the day I’m going to start watching my diet only to forget as soon as I start eating breakfast hasn’t been a very effective plan. And success in what? Let’s face it; deciding what you want isn’t tough. Deciding what you want bad enough to really work on is tough!


Assuming you have a plan to achieve your goal, the progress report will allow you to see if your plan needs tweaking – or a major overhaul. I’ve often found my efforts on preparing a progress report end in my realization I don’t have a plan after all. That, in itself, is progress!!


As always, I’d welcome your comments.


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