The Lost Art of Follow-Through

By Vanessa Solesbee, CAPP

During the past few months, I’ve experienced instances where either professional or personal connections have committed to doing something but then never followed through. While these experiences have been disappointing—and in the case of the personal instance, a bit awkward to address—I think it’s what happened after the unmet commitment that I found more troubling than the dropped ball itself.

Instead of an apology or acknowledgement that someone fell short, I’ve gotten excuses ranging from lack of time to personal financial trouble. Some reasons seemed legitimate and others verged on “the dog ate my homework.” In not one instance did someone take responsibility for their role in the unmet commitment, and that’s when I realized that this experience isn’t really a rare one.

Early on in my career, a mentor impressed upon me that the art of follow-through was one of the most important lessons to learn in business. He said that even if you don’t have the answer the person asked for, the very acts of remembering their concern and taking time to reconnect with them let that person know they were/are a priority.

If you’re not actively practicing the art of follow-through, let me encourage you to start today:

  1. Be mindful of whether or not you commit to following up. Sometimes we just say, “great, I’ll let you know,” as a casual part of conversation and don’t realize we’re making a commitment to reconnect.
  2. If it’s going to take you longer than you think to find an answer, accomplish a task, etc., send a quick note to let the person know that you are still working on a solution.
  3. Keep a list—paper, online, post-it note, whatever works for you—of things you need to follow up on.
  4. If you forget, own up to it immediately and make it right.
  5. Be the “bad guy,” but do so judiciously and kindly. If someone fails to meet a commitment to you, don’t just let it slide or say “it’s no big deal.” While it may be an uncomfortable conversation, you’ll do the other person more of a disservice by letting their oversight slide.

Vanessa Solesbee, CAPP, is president of The Solesbee Group.

2 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Follow-Through

  1. Vanessa;
    I absolutely agree with your frustrations here so the one thing I try to do in addition to your suggestions is “set a date up front”… for when the the task, commitment, demand or requirement is expected. A date will help to create some discipline around when the “item” will be delivered. Whether it’s negotiated, demanded or expected, it can help to avoid some of the frustrations (but not always) that you talk about.

  2. Vanessa, I share your frustration! But what I’ve found is that many people simply are reluctant to say “NO.” It’s difficult to turn down a request, especially from a friend, family member, or colleague, but most of us in the business we’re in want to help, and too often, are inclined to say “Yes” when we should say no. It reminds me of that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when one looks at the other and says, “We can do that…how are we going to do that?” We often agree to do things without really thinking through the implications of what we have agreed to. Better to ask, when you make a request, “Are you sure you’re able to do this? Does your schedule permit you to do this on time?” Get confirmation, or don’t depend on the other person.

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