It Is The Key To Making Things Happen, But Most People Don’t Do It Well.
By Steve Schumacher
I worked with a guy a number of years ago that I called “the bulldog” because of his ability to consistently follow-up on commitments either one of us had made. He made it clear, over time, that if I agreed to do something by a certain date, he was going to follow-up consistently on that agreement. He did not do it in a heavy-handed way. He was very personable about it, but consistent.
The result of his continuous follow-up was that I worked just a bit harder to meet deadlines on his projects and even began letting him know in advance of my progress. In the long run, this made us both more productive.
Unfortunately, not many people are as good at follow-up as my friend. The majority of us make plans with others, delegate, give out assignments, and go on to the next fire. We expect that professionals will get their job done and live up to commitments and agreements.
Humans are not that way. Everyone is busy and we need reminders to keep us on track with things we have signed up for. It doesn’t mean we are bad or incompetent people, it means we are faced with tons of distractions that can keep us from completing things.
You can do a number of things to make your follow-up consistent, yet not annoying. These are things that, if you do them regularly, people will get the message and you’ll see the amount of follow-up necessary decreases.
Make It Clear That You Will Follow-Up
Whether you are a boss or a co-worker working on projects, make it clear that when assignments are agreed to, you will be following up.
If you are a new manager, or this is a new group of people you are working with, expect them to be a bit skeptical.
Why? It is not you, it is the fact that so few people actually follow-up. Set the expectation with everyone involved that there are three parts to every assignment – expectation setting, the task itself and follow-up.
Set A Follow-Up Schedule
Before you leave an expectations setting meeting, set a schedule for follow-up with others. Do not leave it general.
Instead of saying “in a couple weeks,” put a date on the follow-up. That way everyone knows what window of time they are working within.
Once you set the follow-up schedule, you have to do the follow-up on the designated day. If you do not, your credibility just took a hit.
Use A Red-Yellow-Green Light Method
Instead of going into great detail about every part of the assignment, when you follow-up, use a method that makes it easy for the person to let you know assignment status.
Green light means everything is going as planned. Yellow light means there are a few concerns.
Red light means the assignment is stopped. Give some praise for the green lights and ask if you can help get through the concerns or get the assignment back on track.
Try not to micromanage projects that are having issues. Expect that your people will be able to get through the obstacles.
Use Technology Reminders
There are a number of software packages available to give you reminders to follow-up on projects and assignments.
You are busy like everyone else and need a little nudge now and then to remind yourself to follow-up.
Outlook has some tools to assist you in that regard, if that is what your company uses. Even an old-fashioned tickler file can be a way to remind yourself.
Drop an email between due dates just to let people know that you have not forgotten and to see if you can be of assistance.
Do not overdue the emails though, people will feel like you are micromanaging.
The Personal Touch
In this electronic world of business, the personal touch is too often forgotten. Instead of sending a follow-up email, give the person a phone call or stop by in person to check on progress.
That gives you a chance to check on progress, and it also gives you the opportunity to keep that personal relationship with the person going strong.
Remember, follow-up is the lifeblood of any assignment. It is your job to do it consistently and in a manner that does not make people avoid you.
Good follow-up skills adds so much to your ability to get jobs done, help others, and improve your interpersonal skills.
Meeting Your Objectives
There are things you can do to keep meetings on track and have everyone leave the meeting feeling good.
Have a clear objective – Be crystal clear, prior to the meeting, as to what you want to accomplish in this meeting.
Set and communicate the agenda – Once the objective is in place, work backwards from it to determine the meeting agenda that will get the objective accomplished.
Don’t just “discuss” – Time-starved people and teams need more than directionless chatter. Make it clear in the meeting groundrules that the meeting is to be action and decision-oriented.
Police yourselves – Understand that when others start taking the meeting off-track, it costs the company money. Try to create a meeting culture where anyone feels free to be assertive with others with no retribution.
Set timeframes – When you create the agenda, put allotted times for each topic. Be realistic with the times, but also be open to adjust them if it becomes clear that a high priority topic needs more time.
Parking lot – When items come up that are not on the agenda, or if someone starts going far afield with a topic, create a parking lot for them. Write each item on a flipchart or whiteboard, and create action items for them before the meeting ends.
Notice your own behavior – Pay attention to how often you take the meeting off track. If you are the meeting leader, be particularly careful of this. Your credibility as a leader can be at stake if you do it often.