Master The Art of Follow-Through
I remember back when I was an HR executive, I sat across a table from an employee who had strong technical skills. She had a strong desire to succeed and she seemed to understand the process of completing projects. It was the third time I was sitting across the table from this same young woman.
The Underlying Problem
Each conversation was geared to help her understand why she was putting forth effort but still not succeeding. She told me that she understands the projects. She stated that she delegates when necessary. She starts every project with a plan and she gives it her all. But, in front of me I had documentation of each project that she started. Each one had at least one area that was incomplete. She had either delegated a section to someone else and didn’t see it through, or she started it herself and didn’t complete it. How it happened was less relevant than the fact that she couldn’t seem to grasp follow-through and as we sat there that morning, I had no choice but to terminate her.
It Cost Her The Job
Ignoring this simple concept cost this woman her job. I’m sure she is not alone. Follow-through is often listed as an item on an employee review form. It is often discussed during performance discussions. Follow-through is a topic that managers discuss amongst themselves when sharing opinions regarding an employee. In fact, the term follow-through probably comes up in every evaluation, interview, and project discussion of your career. But, what does it mean, how is it measured, and how can it be improved?
At its most basic level, as described by Dictionary.com, follow through is the act of continuing a plan, project, scheme, or the like to its completion. It is easily measured by results. A person with consistent follow-through skills will complete projects on time, on budget, and with satisfied clients. Improving follow-through can be the key to that promotion.
Make Follow-Through a Priority
Follow-through needs to be at the forefront of your work. When you take on a project you need to understand the entire scope of the project and all of the details necessary to see it through. In our busy world we often multi-task; we have become accustomed to balancing multiple work projects, home projects, and our own well-being. So, if we are so accustomed to juggling all of these things, how do we miss the details? How do things fall through the cracks?
Interestingly enough, the problem with follow-through is in the beginning of the project, not the end. The biggest culprit is our lack of planning. We start out our projects with excitement and we forge ahead without thinking it all through. Then, after we get into the project we don’t take a moment to see if we are still on task, to see if we are still moving in the right direction, we just continue to plow ahead. This habit allows us to inadvertently miss important steps.
A Useful Tool
I use project guides when working with clients to teach them follow-through. A project guide is a simple tool that forces some very basic habits. Habits like writing out the full scope of the project. A project guide is an overview of the project and who the project is being completed for. It covers what the timeline should be and how to measure success.
After they write out the basics I have them break it down into pieces. How much of the project needs to be done by what date? Who else needs to be involved in the project? How capable are the individuals that have been assigned pieces of the project? Will they need constant supervision or will they be able to work independently? And if they are working independently, what is the plan for pulling their final product back into the main project? Delegate and forget is not the answer.
Follow-through is learned. It requires practice and it requires attention. It requires slowing down and understanding the whole, as well as the sum of all the parts. In the end, the employee that masters the art of follow-through will be the employee who rises in the corporate ranks. And, the employee who never masters it, will always be wondering why they are stuck in their current rut. Follow-through is a simple concept that yields huge results.