The Art of Following Up

The terms “following up” and “circling back” are thrown around an office 100 times a day (seriously, you have probably read or sent an email in the last five minutes with one of those phrases in it). Theoretically, this should be a good thing – “following up” means you are on top of things, that you are keeping up with your deadlines, and your team is completing everything you promised. Right?

Wrong. In reality, ‘following up’ is much less glamorous, and frequently met with disdain; it turns out not everyone loves to be repeatedly reminded they are late on a deadline or are getting one more thing added to their plate.

In this context, being the person in charge of following up can be scary and intimidating, but it does not have to be. There is an art to effective follow-up, and when done right it can be both efficient and incredibly empowering. Whether you are a first time Project Manager or have been following up with people for years, here are some tricks and tips to maximize your success.

 

8 TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE FOLLOW-UP

1. Set expectations. Helping a multi-person team create a single deliverable requires everyone have an understanding of both their responsibilities and deadlines; how can you expect something to happen if no one knows about it? By creating a timeline, sending out meeting notes, and clarifying all project details, you will equip your team with all the information they need to prepare and to plan.

2. Adapt your communication style. Chances are your team will be filled with a variety of personalities and work styles, so do not be surprised if the same method of follow-up does not work for everyone. Spend time learning about what works best for each person on your team and adapt your approach accordingly. Also, do not be afraid to get creative! It does not matter if you leave a post-it note, send an email, or assign a task on Basecamp as long as the task gets accomplished. 

3. Do not cry wolf. Yes, everything must have a deadline, and, yes, chances are it will not be that far away. That still does not mean everything needs to be done by tomorrow. Reserve your urgent requests for the true emergencies, and your team will thank you.

4. Be consistent. Make a habit of following up with people on a regular basis, and they will come to expect it. If you need to, set some time aside every day to lay out your to-do list and make your rounds. This will not only help you find your rhythm, but will give your team peace of mind knowing you are on top of things.

5. Look at the big picture. The most effective follow-up is served with a healthy side of problem solving; you need to get to the bottom of why things are not getting done before you can figure out how to move forward. If you ask your team what else they are working on and help them prioritize tasks based on size or deadline, you will actually see their stress disappear with your own two eyes.

6. Take ownership. The follow-up necessary to complete a deliverable is just as critical as the deliverable itself; it is as specific a task as doing keyword research or creating ad copy. If you commit to your deadline and take your role in the process seriously, your team will flourish.

7. Do not be shy. Following up is part of your role on the team, and deep down everyone understands this even if they push back a bit. Listen to your team and accept their feedback, but do not let any negativity slow you down. Stay firm on the things you know are important and keep on keepin’ on.

8. Say thank you. Everyone likes to be appreciated for their hard work, and your team is no exception. Yes, what you are asking of them is part of their job, but you will be shocked how much more enjoyable things become (and quicker they get done!) when you acknowledge their contributions.

 

When it is all said and done, here is the truth: the person who keeps the conversation going and tirelessly pushes deliverables through to completion is the lynchpin of the team. They ensure nothing gets dropped, that the team follows through on every project, and that the client receives the highest-quality work. “Following up” is the thing we love to hate, but it is a necessary evil that is here to stay.

Now, go forth and follow up!

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