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Boring? Seems so because most of us do not take time to follow up on significant action items. Why? We are too busy. We would rather work on exciting new things instead. And we rationalize that it will take care of itself.

So, your doctor has diagnosed you with a serious physical disease. You have been asked to do a follow-up visit for a deeper look at the problem to find a solution. It could be life threatening. You don’t follow-up. Good luck.

Details count big. Remember the adage, “For want of a nail, the war was lost.”

Leaders and managers do it

Chaos theory describes the “butterfly effect” in how one flap of a butterfly’s wings alters the space around it – and might set off a chain reaction of events that disrupt a greater space. Like an entire organization or business.

When a list of important actions have been determined, good leaders and managers must insist that those actions be completed. And those responsible for the implementations should be accountable for doing so. How?

Follow-up. The respective leaders and managers continuously track progress and results. Daily, weekly, monthly – depending upon the impact of the actions.

Hello program and project management

Some organizations hire one or more people only to focus on making certain that critical actions are organized, prioritized, and managed successfully to completion. These employees often carry a title of Program Manager.

Program Managers reach across all parts of an organization to achieve their mission. And, large programs are broken down typically into a network of interrelated projects with respective Project Managers.

Programs and projects teams hold frequent intra- and inter-operational meetings to track actions, remove obstacles, uncover opportunities, highlight risks, and report progress. They are incented to drive results. And they love doing it.

Results, results, results

Strong follow-up, whether done by leaders and managers themselves, or by formalized program and project managers, triggers significant benefits: important things don’t “fall through the cracks”; positive results occur sooner; priorities get proofed; next steps are always in view; budgets are better managed; the scope of activities is kept in bounds (scope-creep is stopped); bad programs and projects are stopped sooner.

Teams in name become teams in reality; motivation is lifted; roles and responsibilities are clarified; inter- and intra- department communications become more fluid. Overall, big follow-up costs less than big mistakes.

And (drumroll) revenue and profits are enhanced.

Mission impossible

Follow-up was hypercritical in one of our greatest accomplishments – the United States first voyage to the moon. Program and project managers were at the core of that incredible feat. Remember their indelible voices on July 20, 1969? Breathtaking!

Some best follow-up practices:

  • Best employees will follow-up on their own actions; no need to push them.
  • Follow-up practices question, “what, when, who, and where?”
  • Some use the Agile Method as an effective program/project management tool.
  • There are many software tools than can help – “Google it.”
  • Good follow-up can be taught and incented.

Remember this: “Fortune follows follow-up.”

The bottom line

Don’t forget. Follow-up. Collect lists of all important action items. Organize by priorities. Include who is responsible and accountable, when are items due, where will the work take place. Leaders and managers can track everything. Better yet, get good program and project managers to do it. Get results.

Tom Zender is a Phoenix-based professional CEO mentor. He held leadership roles at General Electric, Honeywell, and small-midsize companies. Zender has served on NASDAQ and TSE listed corporate boards. He is the author of four books about business leadership. Tom mentors faculty and students at Arizona State University’s SkySong new business incubator. Contact him at 949-910-5075, [email protected], or www.tomzender.com