Definition of Direct Report

Definition of Direct Report

What is a direct report?

A direct report is an employee who works directly under a manager or someone else above them in the organizational hierarchy. For example, they may report directly to a supervisor instead of a manager. Either way, the person they report to is responsible for assigning them tasks and monitoring their performance.

Direct reports are oftentimes called “subordinates.” They are expected to take orders from their immediate manager or supervisor so long as those orders are reasonable and legal. If they fail to carry out a valid and legal order after accepting it, then they are “insubordinate,” — which typically subjects the employee to disciplinary action.

Note: Leaders with direct reports are often direct reports themselves. For example:

  • The VP of Human Resources directly reports to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), who
  • Directly reports to the board of directors, who
  • Directly reports to the shareholders

Depending on the size of the company, it’s possible for a manager to report directly to the owner. For instance, a small retail store manager may directly report to the store owner.

Examples of positions that have direct reports:

  • Managers
  • Supervisors
  • Team leaders
  • Department heads
  • CEOs
  • Directors
  • Shareholders

Why direct reports are important

An organization needs structure in order to run smoothly. If there’s no direct-report system, then confusion and chaos will likely ensue — especially in organizations with many employees.

Having direct reports enables you to:

  • Create order within the company. For example, the hierarchy starts with the board of directors, followed by the CEO, departmental directors, managers, supervisors, team leaders, and rank-and-file employees.
  • Develop a feedback system. Direct reports have a specific person they can expect feedback from and provide feedback to.
  • Strengthen interpersonal communications. By reporting to 1 individual, direct reports can build a stronger relationship with that person.
  • Define roles and responsibilities, plus delegate tasks based on employee qualifications.

However, having direct reports is not enough. They must be managed appropriately, as well. To inspire productivity in your direct reports:

  • Show genuine interest in their well-being.
  • Get to know their career goals and aspirations.
  • Involve them in decision-making.
  • Delegate tasks appropriately.
  • Encourage their participation and feedback.

A case study on managing direct reports

The Harvard Business Review published 2 case studies on managing direct reports. One of the case studies focused on uniting employees around a common goal. Here’s the gist:

“Arvind Sarin, the co-founder and CEO of Copper Mobile, a mobile app development firm, manages over 100 employees split between the company’s headquarters in Dallas, Texas, and its office in Noida, India.”

Due to the difference in time zones, some employees felt they were working later into the night than others.

“To mitigate the building resentment and bring the team together, Arvind decided to be more open about the company’s overarching goals and financial targets. He took a new approach with a big project Copper Mobile was working on for an LA-based dating company. ‘In order to get everyone on the same page, I painted a picture of our strategy so that everyone — from developers in India to the leadership team here — would know what we’re doing,’ he says.”

The intent was to be transparent with everyone so they all felt connected by a common goal.

Other terms similar to direct reports that can assist you

  • Organizational hierarchy: Reflects various levels of authority within the organization, or its chain of command, starting with the highest-ranking officials and ending with the lowest-level employees.
  • Insubordination: Insubordination in the workplace is when an employee refuses to carry out their employer’s legal and reasonable order. “Employer” refers to anyone with the authority to give the order.
  • Business structure: A company’s legal structure, which determines how daily operations should be carried out. Common business structures include a Corporation, Limited Liability Company (LLC), General Partnership, and Sole Proprietorship.
  • Employee development: A process in which the employer and employee work together to improve the employee’s knowledge, abilities, and skills. The goal is to help the employee progress in their career.
  • Employee experience: An employee’s journey with the organization, including their experiences with their role, workspace, manager, and coworkers.
  • People operations: An organizational function that puts people first. The focus is on employee development, engagement, and retention.

Similar Glossary definitions you must know

Employee Experience: An employee’s journey with the organization, including their experiences with their:

  • Role
  • Workspace
  • Manager
  • Coworkers

Employee Relations: The management of activities surrounding employee relationships, including code of conduct and conflict resolution.

Talent Management: The process of attracting and selecting job candidates and retaining employees. This involves a myriad of HR processes, including:

  • Workforce planning
  • Recruitment
  • Learning and development
  • Employee engagement
  • Performance management
  • Succession planning

Workforce Planning: The process of analyzing the organization’s workforce, forecasting workforce supply and demand, and determining what must be done to meet future staffing needs.

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Summary of direct reports

A direct report is an employee who works directly under another person and is managed by that individual (e.g., a manager or supervisor). This individual/leader is responsible for assigning work to the direct report, monitoring their performance, and issuing orders. The direct report is expected to follow these directions as long as they are reasonable and legal. If they don’t, they could be guilty of insubordination, which warrants disciplinary action.

Direct reports are essential because they facilitate a structured reporting system within the organization. For example, a direct report/employee may work under a manager instead of a director. Likewise, a manager may report to a director instead of the CEO.

Direct reports must be skillfully managed in order to encourage them toward their best level of performance.

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