By Lonnie Pacelli
As a young manager I was on a particularly difficult assignment that had attention all the way up to the CEO of the company. The executive leading the project was a very seasoned and intentional leader who executed as well as anyone I’ve ever seen drive a crisis initiative. His ability to stay on top of the work was like nothing like I’d ever seen from other leaders in the organization. During my annual review with him, I asked what he saw as a crucial attribute of a successful leader. Without missing a beat, he gave me two words which continue to shape me as a leader: follow up.
Through the years I’ve seen how follow-up (or lack thereof) contributed to a team’s ability to successfully deliver results. Organizations that have follow-up in their DNA simply execute more friction-free than those who don’t. The leader stays better aligned with the work happening in the organization, and the followers better understand and execute to the leader’s expectations. I’ve seen it in my own experience as a leader. As my leadership skills matured and my follow-up ability became more autonomic, I saw first-hand how we were able to get things done more effectively. I also saw another benefit–my timely follow-up behavior reduced the number and magnitude of crises I had to deal with. I was more on top of what was happening, was better in sync with the team, and more engaged when the team needed my help to get something done.
Fostering a follow-up culture isn’t difficult to do, it just takes discipline. Get the ball rolling by instituting these seven follow-up tips:
- Be known as a follow-up fiend – Simply put, when people know you follow up on commitments, they’re more likely to do what they agreed to. Be consistent and timely with follow-ups and do it every time. Followers know those leaders who follow up and those who don’t and are more likely to shirk responsibility if their leader’s follow-up is inconsistent or absent.
- Establish a follow-up cadence – In my article Intentional Empowerment I talk about the importance of a follow-up cadence when empowering someone to own solving a problem. A deliberate follow-up frequency is crucial to ensuring that you as the leader stay abreast of progress, as well as being available if your help is needed. Make sure you set an appropriate frequency, establish clear expectations on what will be done in each follow-up meeting, and that you live up to the follow-up commitment.
- Establish singular points of follow-up ownership – Follow-ups assigned to “the team” mean no one owns it and it’s less likely to get done. Ensure any follow-ups you give have a clear, singular owner who can be held accountable for delivery.
- Get them to summarize the what and when – At the end of a meeting if there are follow-up actions required, ask the accountable person to send you an email describing the follow-up action and when it will be done by. Asking them to do it better ensures an understanding and agreement as to the follow-up action and due date. After you get the email, copy it into your calendar on the follow-up due date for you to do then follow-up either in-person or by email.
- Acknowledge actions – Great follow-up leaders treat follow-up actions as important and followers want to feel their work wasn’t done in vain. When someone follows up on an action you requested, don’t just be silent. Even a quick “Thank you for following up” response tells your followers that their work was important enough for you to take the time to act upon it.
- Be real – If a follow-up was well-done, say so. If it wasn’t, say so. Creating a follow-up culture means you encourage good behavior and correct bad behavior. Be courageous and direct with both encouraging and correcting.
- Walk the talk – The best leaders who drive accountability through follow-up do what they say they’ll do when they say they’ll do it. They do it not only for their leaders but also for their followers. When followers can rely on their leader to live up to a commitment, it not only sets the example of follow-up, but also speaks volumes as to the leader’s integrity.
There’s simply no reason not to establish and foster a follow-up culture. Just take the time to make it top-of-mind and instill the importance of it to your team.
Lonnie Pacelli is an accomplished author and autism advocate with over 30 years experience in leadership and project management at Accenture, Microsoft, and Consetta Group. See books, articles, keynotes, and self-study seminars at http://www.lonniepacelli.com