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What is a Direct Report? In-Depth Guide for Employers

6 min read

A direct report is an employee that works directly below another person in an organization, often referred to as a subordinate. Most managers have at least a few direct reports under their command, and this can often be a full-time job in itself. And this number is growing. In fact, a survey by Deloitte reported that U.S. managers now average 9.7 direct reports, and at large enterprises, this figure increases to 11.4.

Are managers taking on more than they can handle? Is this preventing optimum performance?

In today’s post, we will answer questions including “What is direct reporting?” and “How many direct reports is too many?”. We will look at the difference between direct and indirect reporting and share a few tips to help you effectively manage your direct reports so that your company performs at its best at every level.


Direct Report Meaning

So, what is a direct report? What does direct report mean in reality?

As we mentioned above, direct reports, commonly referred to as subordinates, are employees that work directly beneath superiors in a workplace. They take orders and receive assignments from someone above them in the hierarchical organizational structure of a business. Managers also monitor the overall performance of direct reports and provide regular feedback to help them develop. This helps organizations meet overall performance goals and objectives.

Direct reports are most commonly found in companies with larger, more traditional organizational structures. Reporting can work top-down. For example, a team leader might have a number of direct reportees, but then report to their department head or directors. You are less likely to find direct reporters in more agile organizations with flatter hierarchical structures.

Benefits of assigning direct reports include the creation of an established feedback system, improved communication, and the aligning of hierarchies within a business structure. Whether or not this structure is best for your business will depend on the size and structure of your organization (your organizational chart), as well as your overall performance objectives.

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What are Direct and Indirect Reports?

Before we go on, it’s important that you understand the difference between direct and indirect reporting. In other words, what are direct reports in management, and how do they differ from indirect reports?

Let’s break it down.

A direct report is an employee who formally reports to you. You are directly responsible for assigning them work, monitoring their performance, and providing them with regular feedback. Your organization formally recognizes your authority as their direct manager.

An indirect report, in contrast, reports to your own direct report. In other words, indirect reports are employees who work under you but report directly to your own direct report. You are charged with overseeing their performance and activities, but you are not formally responsible for managing them.

For example, if you are the CEO of an organization, you might have 20 direct reports (those directly under your command, such as department heads and directors) but thousands of indirect reports (all other employees within the organization who are managed by their own team leaders).

How Many Direct Reports Is Too Many?

Research conducted by Forbes into C-level roles over the past two decades has revealed that the average number of direct reports of a CEO has doubled, rising from about five in the mid-1980s to almost 10 in the mid-2000s. If this average continues to rise, then it will not be manageable. In fact, some might argue that traditional organizational structures are already centered around too many direct reports.

According to McKinsey, the organizations of the future will require more dynamic and flexible structures. With a traditional hierarchical organizational structure, power flows vertically, and employees are departmentalized. In other words, each employee has a clearly defined role and position, and there is a rigid chain of command. In contrast, agile organizations are built on a network of empowered teams that operate with high standards of alignment, accountability, expertise, transparency, and collaboration.

As a result of this changing dynamic, the ideal number of direct reports is now up for debate. Many HR professionals now argue that “less is more”. This is because, the more direct reports a manager has, the more time they need to spend monitoring, motivating, and mentoring them. And this takes up a lot of valuable time.

It’s obviously not a good idea to jump straight into a flatter hierarchical structure, but there are a number of things you can do to improve your direct reporting process. It’s all about defining the right best practices in order to get to know your direct reports so that you understand how to get the most from them, whilst reducing the time you spend micromanaging them.

How to Get to Know Your Direct Report

In order to be an effective direct reportee, you need to get to know your direct reports. This will help you understand how best to motivate and manage them so that they perform to the best of their abilities, with minimum supervision.

Let’s take a look at a few best practices to help you do this.

Clearly Outline Your Goals

Firstly, make sure you are clear about who your direct reports are, and what your role is. If you don’t already have one, use an organizational chart template to define a clear structure in your organization.

Once you’ve done that, make sure your direct report knows what your goals and priorities are, and what you expect from them. And find out what their goals for the future are too. That will help you understand each other. You should then establish short-term and long-term goals so that they have a clear path for development.

Arrange Regular one-on-ones

One of the best ways to get to know your direct report is to meet regularly with them. Arrange regular one-on-ones so that you can check in with them and see how they are doing. This will help you monitor how they are performing and determine if they are on track to meet their goals. It will also make you seem more approachable, which will help to improve your relationship.

Don’t just limit your check-ins to work either. Try to get to know your direct reports on a personal level too. Ask them about their interests and their plans for the future.

Earn Their Trust

Another benefit of meeting regularly is that it will help you build trust, and this is key to developing a healthy relationship with your direct reports. The more you get to know them, the more they will trust you. And this sense of trust will help them feel valued and validated.

Another great way to build trust is to encourage your direct reports to take ownership of their own work. This will help them feel that you believe in them and that you rely on them.

Maintain Consistent Communication

Finally, the most effective way to get to know your direct report is to maintain consistent communication. Don’t just limit communication to appraisals – encourage them to reach out any time they feel they need support or have questions or concerns. The more open and approachable they feel you are, the easier it will be for them to communicate with you, and the better you will get to know them.


How to Deal with Difficult Direct Reports

It’s also important to know how to manage difficult direct reports. By creating the best possible relationship with them, you will help to increase overall performance levels, without having to dedicate all your time to micromanaging them.

The best way to create a positive direct report relationship is by taking an interest in your direct reports. You also need to create development plans and offer learning opportunities to help your direct reports feel invested in their position.

Let’s finish by taking a look at these points in a bit more detail.

Provide Continuous Direct Report Feedback

Continuous feedback is the key to managing difficult direct reports. It will help them understand how they can improve and what you expect of them. You should also encourage your direct reports to conduct regular self-assessments so that they can communicate how they feel they are doing. Get them to share feedback on how they think you are doing too. This will help you determine where they are struggling and what you can do to help them improve. Constructive feedback is the key.

Create a Direct Report Development Plan

As a manager, it is your responsibility to create a development plan for your direct reports. By designing a clear roadmap, you will show potentially difficult direct reports that you care about their development, and want to help them improve.

Ask them what new skills they would like to develop and where they think they need to improve. This will help them feel that you are invested in their development; that you are open to offering them learning opportunities. Ultimately, it will help your direct report feel that you believe in them and that you want your direct reports to succeed. Not just for the good of the business, but because you care about their own goals and expectations, too.

Cat Symonds is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Originally from Wales, she studied Spanish and French at the University of Swansea before moving to Barcelona where she lived and worked for 12 years. She has since relocated back to Wales where she continues to build her business, working with clients in Spain and the UK.  Cat is the founder of The Content CAT: Content And Translation, providing content development and translation services to her clients. She specializes in corporate blogs, articles of interest, ghostwriting, and translation (SP/FR/CA into EN), collaborating with a range of companies from a variety of business sectors. She also offers services to a number of NGOs including Oxfam Intermón, UNICEF, and Corporate Excellence - Centre for Reputation Leadership.  For more information or to contact Cat visit her website ( or send her a message through LinkedIn.

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