How To Review Subordinates' Work

Two women speaking at table
Ezra Bailey/Getty Images

When you assign work to subordinates you monitor many aspects of their progress, but you are mainly concerned about whether the work gets done right and is done on time.

Get Work Done on Time

Getting their work done on time is the easier of the two to monitor. That's because time is easier to measure than quality. You do need to set clear requirements, including milestones and deadlines, but you also need to allow some flexibility.

Plan their schedules, or have them plan their schedules, to include some slack time. There always will be some unforeseen events so it is prudent to build at least a little slack into a schedule. The amount of slack that you allow in their schedule will vary from individual to individual with the more senior and talented individuals needing less slack.

Using a Progress Report to Track Schedule

The most common method of tracking whether work is done on time is the periodic report, usually done on a weekly basis for small projects and on a monthly basis for larger projects. When you have to your subordinates submit written progress reports, one of the items on which they will report is their adherence to the schedule. One common method used to quickly indicate status is stoplight colors. If the project is on schedule, they would show a green symbol. If the project is late they would show that as a red symbol.

Sometimes yellow is also used to indicate when there is a small problem that is not severe enough to warrant the red color.

You also want them to report anything that is blocking their progress. This section should include what they have tried to clear the blocker and the results of those efforts. If they are requesting assistance from you, or from someone outside their sphere, that should be clearly indicated.

Don't forget to have them also include their accomplishments. If they have done something that has cleared a blocker, prevented the problem, or in some other way helped keep the schedule intact that should be noted in their progress report.

Finally, the progress report should show the percent complete, plan versus actual. Most projects make very little progress at the beginning, then they ramp up steeply, and at the end of the project again make slow progress. The project schedule that you and your employee have developed should account for this. Whether or not you have factored this into the schedule you need to evaluate the progress reported by the employee. The percent planned complete should reflect, in general, how much of the time allotted to the project has passed. In a project with a three-month schedule, the employee should report the planned complete percentage of approximately 1/3 at the end of the first month. If they reported number much smaller or much larger it would be prudent for you to look a little deeper. Also, you need to make a judgment about the accuracy of what they report for an actual percent complete. Based on your knowledge of the project and its overall status you should be able to judge, approximately, whether the percent complete reported by the employee is accurate or not.

For instance, if they report a planned complete figure of 60% and an actual complete percentage of 65%, but you know the project has been plagued with difficulties you should investigate the report in more detail.

Get Work Done Right

It's more difficult to measure and monitor whether or not your employee is getting the work done right. That's because it's harder to define and quantify what "done right" means. Here again, as with schedules, you need to set clear and specific expectations and objectives. And while with schedules you allow some flexibility and slack you need to be less flexible with regard to quality. Good is good.

Don't lose sight of your target. When we talk about "done right", remember you're going for "excellent" not "perfect". And don’t forget to focus on results rather than the process.

Tracking Progress At Getting It Done Right

The best way to track your employees’ progress with respect to getting the work done right is frequent meetings and making liberal use of "show and tell". When an employee reports having made appreciable progress, have them show you what they've done. At the beginning of the project, the work may be a little rough and only partially complete. This is to be expected. However, as time passes, the employee’s demonstrations should show progress with the work becoming smoother and more complete.

The key during these quality reviews is to make sure the employee’s estimate of the quality of the work done so far matches your own. For example, if you review the project that is about half -done, and the employee indicates the quality of the work is at that level you need to make sure you agree. If it appears to you that the quality of the work done to this point is still rough and preliminary, you need to discuss the difference with the employee and reset their expectations. If you don't, when they think they've achieved finished quality, you're likely to assess the work is only moderately finished.

Bottom Line

When reviewing work that you have delegated to subordinates, remember that you are still responsible for their work. So make sure the work is done on time and done right as discussed above. At the first sign of difficulty, you need to step in and adjust the employee’s standards to conform to your own.