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114 Key Principles for Success

Principle 4 - Follow up

One of the most important things successful people do is follow up.

In this day and age, people are very busy. Let's say your boss asks you to get a report from John. So you send John an email and forget about it. If you don't follow up, it's possible that John doesn't see the email. A few weeks later, your boss asks, "How's the task going?" Can you say "I sent it to John and he never got back to me?" You can, but it won't advance your career.

Let's assume John responded that he'd deliver the report to you next week. You tell your boss. What happens if John gets busy with other tasks, and forgets to do your report. You ask for the report on the due date and he tells you he had an emergency to work on. What do you tell your boss?

When you're assigned a task, it's your responsibility to manage your suppliers. I'm going to repeat that. It's your responsibility to manage your supplier by following up. Bosses want results, not excuses.

I have to deliver a very important PowerPoint deck each month. The report comes from six different suppliers, so it's my responsibility to manage them. Some things I do to get compliance are:
  • Send out reminder emails each day from five days before the due date
  • Move up the due date in case people are late
  • Use peer pressure to get compliance
  • Code late people yellow or red if they miss the deadline and green when they make it
  • Include supplier's boss in the email
  • Get a relationship with the suppliers so they like me and more likely to comply
  • Stress the importance of meeting the deadline and consequences for not meeting them
  • Get reasons for missing deadlines
  • Get public commitments from suppliers to the deadline on a call
  • Manage the supplier  of my suppliers
  • Find root causes for delay

This is just an example and your situation may be different. The point is that you must follow up. You also should base your follow-up on past issues and the importance of what you're doing.

Why don't people follow up?  There are many reasons people don't follow up but the main reasons are fear of appearing rude and causing further delays for micromanaging, laziness, being overworked and forgetting.

The first thing to realize is just because you ask someone via email, in person or phone to do something it doesn't mean it will get done. What if the person is on vacation or sick? I've gotten requests and sometimes in the heat of putting out a fire I forget about the request. If someone waits, then their results will be delayed.  

Waiting to follow up can cause issues as the longer time that passes the less likely someone will follow up.

The first thing to do is keep a list of who and when to follow up and check it daily. This is best incorporated into your to-do list.

On the opposite side is your own need to follow up requests. If someone sends you an email to do a task, tell them you got the email and when you'll be able to get to it, about how long it will take and what other priorities you're dealing with.

Using Microsoft Outlook is a good way to follow up as you can mark emails with the Follow-up indicator. You could also set an alarm to remind yourself to follow up.

One technique to get follow up is to copy boss's on emails. This can backfire as the person may get angry and go out of their way to not help you. Try not to address a request to multiple people, address it to one of them and cc the others. Also, never assign a task to multiple people or a group. One person must be responsible.

If you send an email to a group sometimes called a DG (Distribution Group) make sure to include at least one of the actual names in the cc list.

Another way to increase follow-up by others is to be thankful when people do help you. If you can give them a subtle or direct compliment or send them an award it helps.

"Wow, that was great service... I really appreciate your help"

and copy their boss.

Another way is to use Excel to track a list of tasks and when to follow up. It can also help to allocate time on your calendar for follow up. The best time in the US is first thing in the morning as you can still catch people in Europe and Asia.

I guarantee that if you make the two words follow up into a habit, and use a good system, you will be a star in your company.

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