Actions to take: Any time you assign work, instruct your employees to notify you when a task is finished. Make it clear that "finished by the deadline" includes sending you notification by the deadline. Spend time thinking about who needs to know about the completion of a task. Include that communication as part of the task as well.
A service that public libraries offer to their patrons is access to computers. Anyone with a library card can plop down and begin browsing the internet, working on a job application, playing video games, whatever. The service is high demand in most places. If there are 20 computers in a library, all 20 will be in use.
One time when I was managing a public library branch, we had scheduled maintenance on our public computers. IT came in, put them all out of service, and worked on them until lunch. When I came back from lunch, the computers were still marked out of service. Next day, same thing. On the morning of the third day, I called to complain to the IT manager that this maintenance was taking far too long. As it turns out, the updates had been finished that first morning. The IT technician just failed to tell our front desk staff to put the computers back in service. They had told their boss, but the IT manager had assumed we knew.
The moral of the story is fairly obvious (particularly given the title of the post), but I rarely see managers put anything into practice to ensure that work gets communicated. Here is the easiest way to do it: make notification part of the task.
In our post about assigning deadlines, we gave you a handy way to help your employee understand the priority level and amount of work expected for a task. In addition to these deadlines, give your employee clear instructions about how they need to communicate completion. Your HR department might have just sent out required quarterly training. Instead of saying, "Make sure to complete this by December 31st," say, "Send me an email by December 31st letting me know that you've finished your training."
You will save yourself a massive workload when you do it this way. Imagine that the first week of January rolls around and your boss asks, "Did all of your employees complete the required training?" Without the notification step, it is on you to find out. Maybe it only takes two minutes to ask, but if you have 10 employees, that's 20 minutes of pointless busywork. If you had your employees respond to your email instead, you can get your answer in 30 seconds by looking up the thread.
This is a single example. Bosses hand out assignments on a near-daily basis. When you put it on yourself to track all of your employees' task completion...well, you won't do it. It is simply too much work. In reality, the manager only ever learns after the fact when something is late. You avoid busywork, headache, and anxiety when you make notification part of the assignment.
You are often not the only person who needs to know when something is finished. When you are assigning notification, tell your employee who else needs to know when a task is complete. An average manager will slow down processes by interposing themselves in the chain of communication—employee tells me, I tell other people.
In fact, this was exactly the solution that the IT manager gave me in our anecdote above. "Sorry Ben. It won't happen again. In the future, I will personally let you know when my techs are done with their work." Waste of time. It is faster, better, and easier for everyone to assign this communication to the person who is already doing the task. The techs are already there. Just have them notify the front desk staff on their way out. (Note: this mindset usually comes from a manager who has low expectations for their team. The IT manager didn't trust his people to follow through on the notification step. When a boss is always apologizing for their team and taking on extra work themselves, it is a red flag for weak management.)
Average bosses don't have a clue what their employees are doing all day. They can't stay in the know about the status of various tasks and projects because the workload of it overwhelms them. Better bosses ascribe to the adage "work that is not communicated is not finished." They integrate that concept into their management by making notification part of the assignment.