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It Takes Action to Make Action

Do you ever have trouble getting people to complete the things they said they would in meetings? More often than not, someone will make a commitment to others during a meeting, even if it’s inadvertent or implied. When they don't realize, or forget, that they've made a commitment to something, it reflects poorly on them and frustrates others. To make matters worse, work is delayed because those same co­workers were depending upon that commitment to be complete.

Here are some tips to ensure follow-through on commitments made:

1. During the meeting, it’s important to clearly gather and document the action items.

  • Take notes of action items during the meeting. Some people do this on paper, but I like to do it within an open email so I can send it out immediately after the meeting. That way I won’t forget about it and everyone gets immediate feedback.
  • Put the action items list on the projector and add to it throughout the meeting. This ensures that as you're adding items, everyone is seeing the same list and corrections can be made on the fly.
  • Have another person gather action items throughout the meeting. This is helpful if you're in the thick of the discussion, you're in a formal presentation, or you find it challenging to multitask. There's nothing wrong with a little help.

2. At the end of the meeting, be sure to review the action items collected and assign them to the correct individual. Note that individuals, not groups, are assigned to each task. Accountability for individuals is far more clear and direct than it is for groups. This ensures that the right actions were captured and assigned to each person.

3. Send out the action items as soon as possible after the meeting is complete. As mentioned before, I take notes within an email draft during the meeting, so action items can be sent immediately after the meeting. Be sure to indicate "Action Items" clearly in the subject and within the body so people are aware that these are not just notes to be filed.

4. Be sure to follow-through and touch base with each person individually a day or two after the meeting (not just a mass email) on how they are progressing on their action items. This reinforces that someone is aware of the action item and accountability will be held for its completion. It’s also a great opportunity to remind them (if appropriate) how important their task is and how it will impact their colleague or customer positively by completing it on time.

Additional Tips:

  • Repeat step four as frequently as necessary to encourage and remind, but not annoy, the individuals. After all, our goal is to facilitate completion of tasks. Annoying co­workers will undermine trust and your ability to positively motivate them.
  • Don't be shy about reviewing previous action items at the start of the next meeting if you have repeating meetings. This keeps everyone on task.
  • Keep it positive! No one is inspired in a meaningful way by a thankless, grumpy, curmudgeon! Be the appreciative, encouraging leader who inspires confidence, sharing, and trust.

When everyone is aware of their tasks, clearly understands the expectations and impact on others, and is held accountable, tasks are far more likely to be completed.

It takes action to make action!