5-15 Format – How To Keep Your Pulse On The Business (and People) Without Micromanaging

5-15 Format: How to gain insight into your employees.

As a CEO, it’s tough to keep a firm pulse on the business – and more importantly, the people within the business. Who’s struggling? Who accomplished a lot this week? Who do you need to help out? The most common tactic when a CEO starts to feel this way is to create more meetings or more 1-on-1s. This is counter-productive as the CEOs most valuable asset is time.

However, there is a simple, efficient tactic that will allow any manager in the business (not just the CEO) to have a better pulse on the people, help your people and help the business. What if there was an easy way to get the same information in five minutes?

The solution is a simple format is called the “5-15,” created by the founder of the clothing company Patagonia. It’s called the 5-15 because it should take no more than 5 minutes to read and no more 15 minutes to create. It’s a simple form for every direct report to send to their manager.

THE 5-15 FORMAT

The format for a 5-15 is three questions:

  1. Gut check
    • How’s it going?
      • 10 = Couldn’t be better. 1 = I’m going to quit. Why?
  2. Issues/Problems/Open Items
  3. Notables (free-form with context)

Some businesses ask more than three questions, but we’ve found these three prompts, answered well, to be just the right amount of information. They cover a lot.

The best way to have employees complete this is through a running Google Doc. Anthony Bucci, co-founder and former CEO of RevZilla explains how his employees would use the 5-15 format, “Employees would always have the 5-15 Google Doc tab open in their browser. They put their thoughts down over the course of the week. At the end of the week, they really only did some spell checking and hit send. We did it with a Google Doc, so there was a digest – a record – so they didn’t go into thin air.”

The 5-15 format allows issues and opportunities to surface much quicker than they would in a typical status meeting or having to wait for a 1-on-1 cycle to hit a particular employee.

WHAT DO THE 5-15’S SURFACE?

Anthony said he would get a wide range of important feedback, “It was a safe place for a manager to say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling right now with X…I want to put this on your radar…We need to resolve this issue I’m having with someone in marketing… I’m having an issue with analytics, do you know someone that can help?… My team killed it this week… I’m not sure how to approach this manager, maybe you can help facilitate a conversation?…’ It’s kind of a short circuit for you to get texture as the leader.”

The 5-15 format was so successful, eventually, everyone except the co-founders were doing a 5-15 ever Friday. People that didn’t fit the culture were the ones that had the most allergic reaction to the 5-15, Anthony said. “The people that were not the best culture fit, the people that optimized too often in the fear and ego space were ones that didn’t want to do it. They would think it was a progress report. The people (that did fit the culture) said, ‘the 5-15 format is another way for me to get better and be more successful. I’ve now been given another tool that I can get more help with from my manager.’”

Who Should Do a 5-15?

Don’t focus on simply having your direct reports complete a 5-15, think about the visibility you can gain into the entire organization. Once RevZilla had everyone utilizing the 5-15 format, Anthony said, “I was able to have a mechanism where I could read a skip level 5-15 without feeling I was compromising a manager that didn’t report to me. Sometimes I would gently tap in and get the extra texture on what was going on in another department. By the end of Revilla, I was always reading my direct reports 5-15s and then there was a fluctuating mix of secondary 5-15s I would read. I spent an hour on the weekend reading 5-15s and I had a really good idea of what was going on in the business. As long as I believe people were being credible and truthful, I had a pretty good gauge of what was happening within the business even further away from me.”

Many CEOs use the 5-15 format to stay in the loop. There’s even 5-15 software dedicated to facilitating the 5-15 format. However, we recommend starting with a simple Google Doc.

5-15s work best when combined with regular 1-on-1s meetings. The latest 5-15 report can be used to create the agenda for the next 1-on-1s.

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