Whether you’re learning to swing a golf club, baseball bat or tennis racquet, coaches always emphasize the importance of follow-through. It’s not just hitting the ball that matters, it’s how you continue your swing once contact is made.
The same principle applies in job interviews, networking, sales and almost any work situation: without purposeful follow-through on your actions and interactions with others, you won’t really be able to reach your professional potential.
“Failure to meet deadlines, honor commitments, monitor staff, return calls and keep track of long-term projects is the most underrated cause of chaos and failure in business life,” writes Stephanie Winston in Organized for Success.
So often we feel we’ve completed a task because the action of it is “done,” but we underemphasize how powerful it is to continue developing, tracking and monitoring operations and relationships even after they’ve been set in place. As Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan note in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, “Follow-through is the cornerstone of execution, and every leader who’s good at executing follows through religiously. Following through ensures that people are doing the things they committed to do, according to the agreed timetable.”
It’s Not Just What, But How
When we think of follow-through, we tend to think of taking action. But a large part of follow-through is about first figuring out how things will be done. Once you define your goals, set aside some time to decide just how you will reach them. What steps will be needed to accomplish them? Who will do which steps and when? What is the desired timeline? If a strategy does not address the hows, it is almost certainly doomed to failure.
Take meetings, for instance. A plan for follow-through should be detailed at the end of every meeting. “Never finish a meeting without clarifying what the follow through will be, who will do it, what resources they will use, and how and when the next review will take place and with whom,” Bossidy and Charan suggest.
Organizing and Delegating
A good organizational system will support follow-through more than almost anything. If you are among the organizationally challenged, do one of two things:
- Make a vow, buy an organization book or two, reserve a weekend or a week, and just do it. Get organized once and for all. You’re not likely to follow through well, if at all, when the disorganization gremlin has hold of you. Getting organized is one of the biggest keys to success; not doing so is an extremely common and most unfortunate form of self-sabotage.
- Hire someone to organize you and keep you that way. The investment will pay for itself when you begin following through more consistently.
Delegating should also be part of an organizational system. “Getting things done through others is a fundamental leadership skill,” according to Bossidy and Charan. “Indeed, if you can’t do it, you’re not leading.” Delegating is an efficient way to ensure that the greatest number of tasks, including follow-up tasks, get done in the shortest amount of time. In other words, if you want to be successful, don’t be afraid to dole out the workload to others. The key is to always think in terms of the big picture instead of focusing only on whatever task is in front of you at the moment.
Proactivity and Integrity
Following through means taking action and keeping your word. Below are some additional considerations regarding follow-through.
- When you say you’ll do something, be scrupulous in meeting your commitment, whether to a client, supervisor, customer or direct-report. If you can’t deliver it, don’t promise it.
- In job interviews and networking, rapid follow-up can mean the difference between landing the job and/or client. Hiring decisions are often made very quickly after interviews. And getting in contact with people soon after meeting them means they will remember you, increasing the likelihood they will eventually buy from you.
- Be sure to send a thank you note after you close a sale or receive any courtesy. This will make you stand out from the others, inviting an ongoing relationship to develop, or continue to develop. Also, a short thank-you note gives you a great excuse to add anything you forgot to say in a meeting or interview, or to highlight details you only glossed over.
- All top sales people are masters at follow-through. Lack of follow-through is the primary element missing when sales are not keeping pace with leads generated. You may have hundreds of leads with a great deal of potential. But unless you follow through and actively market/sell to these leads, they will not turn into sales.
- Following through after sales have been made also makes good financial sense. Getting business from new customers costs significantly more than securing additional business from existing customers.
When it comes to follow-through, something is better than nothing. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. The best is to follow-up as frequently and as well as you can, a practice that can even affect productivity positively.
“On a day-to-day basis, consistent, automatic follow-through can deflect a lot of the firefighting that can push your day off course,” Winston writes.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications