Catching the 5:15 A simple reporting system can help you keep tabs on your business.
By Pat Croce

(FORTUNE Small Business) – In every one of my businesses, I have instituted a key communication tool called the Five-Fifteen. Each Friday, all employees and managers write a progress report that lands on their supervisor's desk (or e-mail inbox). Eventually all the information trickles up to me in a sort of corporate Cliffs Notes. The idea is that the report takes five minutes for me to read and 15 minutes for them to write. Hence "Five-Fifteen."

Five-Fifteens serve two purposes: They keep information flowing, and they get the accolades going. Not only do employees write about their goals, but they also take the opportunity to brag about feats great and small. They think of the Five-Fifteens not as a chore but rather as a chance to be heard--and hopefully to steal the spotlight.

In these times of extensive travel, an expanding and fluid workforce, and harried schedules, the Five-Fifteen system provides me with the perfect way to keep my finger on the pulse of the business. It acts as a sounding board where I can respond with questions and suggestions. It operates as a fail-safe reminder if I neglect to respond to an employee's specific to-do-list item. It provides me with a record of employee performance when the annual evaluation sneaks up. And most important, it lets me compliment the little progresses made on a weekly basis, resulting in more employee momentum each following week.

Like many entrepreneurs, I travel frequently across this great country. And with my main home and office in the suburbs of Philadelphia and my newest business interest in Key West, Fla.--not to mention all my other ventures and adventures far and wide--I find it hard to maintain constant communication. Yes, I am a BlackBerry e-mail junkie (a "crackberry"), and I still use the phone, fax, and FedEx to keep my businesses humming. But caught in the whirlwind of the week, I may miss the little details that make the big difference. For example, I am now developing the ultimate pirate museum on beautiful Key West. This tourist destination (and entrepreneurial business) will be called Pirate Soul. We are aggressively planning to open in time for the city's Pirates in Paradise Festival in November, after finally (in January) closing on the desired building and receiving the necessary city permits and classifications. I say "we" because, of course, I am not developing this project alone. I have made it my daughter Kelly's responsibility to coordinate the creative geniuses of our museum designer, Patrick Gallagher, our architect, Mike Ingram, and our team of exhibit designers--not to mention treasure hunters, antique arms specialists, and museum archaeologists--to ensure that my lifelong dream becomes a reality.

And although Kelly and I communicate every day, it always seems that a stray thought, large or small, falls through the cracks and rebounds to my consciousness while reading her Five-Fifteens. Will the computerized ticketing system monitor referral sources? Did we receive the final bill from the curator on Captain Kidd's journal? Where did Patrick get the idea for the Port Royal facade? What is the availability of advertising on the Old Town Trolley Tour?

Sometimes the Five-Fifteens open up opportunities. In one, my general manager, Jerry Chamer, tipped me off that the restaurant next door to my new theme destination--which I thought would make a great pirate museum shop and tavern--had just come on the market. The next day I had a bid in for the property, and I was able to preempt other buyers.

My staff can usually expect on Monday mornings either a Five-Fifteen e-mail response or a hard copy of their Five-Fifteen returned with notations scribbled in the margins. Concurrently, my managers will acknowledge their staffers' thoughts via an e-mail or a handwritten letter of appreciation. In addition to maintaining the flow of business, the Five-Fifteen follow-up is a great way to assure staff members that I know about, care about, and appreciate their work. And it never hurts to extend a call of congratulations on a week well done.