While working abroad, I developed a habit of ‘follow up.’ If I schedule a meeting with someone two weeks in advance, I first block the time on my calendar. Then, two days before the meeting, my calendar reminds me to confirm the appointment. In my many years of work experience, it seems like meetings rarely change or get canceled when I follow this process. Every time I meet someone, I make sure to schedule the next meeting, and then I confirm it a day or two before. As I mentioned earlier, I like to be proactive, and, more importantly, things won’t progress without proper follow-up.
Your AI-powered meeting assistant — Huddles
01-Is Communication an Extra Task?
I have a colleague I’ve been working with for several years who has a bad habit – he never follows up with communication. When a task is assigned to him, there’s often complete silence for a long time. After a few weeks, when I finally remember, I ask him about the task’s status, and he responds, ‘It’s done.’ He may think he deserves credit, but in my mind, he’s already lost two points. Firstly, because there’s been no feedback, I can’t let go of the responsibility; this means the task still falls on me, so I deduct one point. Secondly, he completes tasks without saying anything, leaving me to wonder about them, and I deduct another point. If I were to hear from another source that he had completed the task while I, his immediate supervisor, remained unaware, that’s another point lost for sure. Our performance scale goes up to five points, and one point puts you out of the game. Even if this colleague started at a perfect score, his disregard for communication would likely have him close to elimination.
Perhaps, this is also a matter of values. I believe this colleague sees ‘communication’ as an extra task that shouldn’t take up time meant for getting the job done. If someone says, ‘I’ve been so busy lately; I haven’t had time to communicate with my team,’ then they’re definitely someone who doesn’t prioritize communication. When I used to train entry-level salespeople, I would require them to provide daily phone reports to instill a communication habit. I’d also teach them how to report and solve problems together promptly. Eventually, I reduced it to weekly reports, but many employees still found it beneficial. I don’t think there are natural communication experts. To become a communication pro, one must first recognize that ‘communication’ is an integral part of the job and a crucial one at that. Once this awareness sets in, behavioral changes toward better communication can follow.
02-Good Assistants vs. Bad Assistants
I’d like to share how my former assistants used to handle things. When an assistant arranged for me to attend an event, especially larger ones, once the decisions were made, she’d schedule a 15-30 minute weekly conference call with all the people involved in the event. Typically, there were many dynamic aspects to manage in these arrangements, and I might have different ideas after hearing about the progress. It wasn’t until two days before the trip that everything was finalized, and she’d provide me with detailed plans, down to what I needed to do, where, and when. These details would appear in my schedule, giving me a chance to rehearse any activity. However, I’ve also had assistants who seemed to lose track of me, leaving no details arranged before the trip, and sometimes even mishandling the flight arrangements. I believe the difference lies in how these two assistants defined doing a good job.
For instance, if the boss is flying to Beijing the day after tomorrow, a reliable assistant defines this as ensuring the boss is smoothly sent to Beijing and back. She rehearses the whole process in her mind, thinking of every detail, even the ones the boss might not encounter. The meticulousness of such an assistant surpasses yours, and that’s when you can fully trust them. Otherwise, you spend the whole time worrying about what they might miss, and such an assistant becomes a burden rather than an asset.
However, don’t assume that unreliable assistants don’t want to do their job well; often, they are enthusiastic and dedicated employees who just tend to overlook details. I think one of the significant reasons for this is a deviation in defining ‘tasks.’ For example, if you ask them to book a flight, they’ll do it right away. After making the booking, they move on to other tasks, and as the boss, you are left unaware if the flight has been booked. A reliable assistant would define ‘booking a flight’ in two steps: first, clarifying the flight’s details like model, time, and seating requirements; second, after booking, providing all the confirmed information to the person involved, letting them know the task has been completed. There’s always a communication component to any task. I often say, inadequate communication may reduce your 8-point job to a 4-point one, but effective communication can turn a 7-point job into a 10-point one. So, a professional manager must prioritize communication. It can make you outstanding or put you out of the game, and you must take it very seriously.
03 – Taking Initiative in Mastering “Follow-Up”
But what if your boss is not good at communication and then blames you for not communicating enough?
If you’re the subordinate, you can use SMART to establish a communication mechanism. In SMART, S stands for Specific, M for Measurable, A for Achievable, R for Relevant, and T for Time. After your boss states their expectations, you can use SMART as a feedback tool. Why is there no ‘R’? Because your boss is the one asking you to do it, and your assumption is that your boss has already considered how this project is relevant to their direction.
“Boss, I heard your requirements, and I want to repeat them to ensure I understood correctly. Specifically, I heard you say… Is that correct?”
“To measure the success of this task, I think we should continue to use the KPI mechanism that you have been advocating. Can you check if my suggested KPI is feasible, or do you have other suggestions for KPIs?”
“No problem, this KPI is fine.”
“I’d like to share my assessment after understanding your requirements. I believe this task is absolutely feasible, but with the resources I currently have, I may need to slow down another project I’m working on. If that’s acceptable to you, we can start this project right away.”
“Let’s do this: don’t slow down the other project. I’ll allocate some additional resources for you so you can handle both.”
“Okay, boss, no problem. With extra resources, it will be easier to manage.”
“If these resources can be in place by next week, I estimate that we can complete this project within six months, which aligns with your initial request. Also, I’d like to provide you with a brief progress report every two weeks, just a quick message on WeChat, and if necessary, we can schedule meetings. My main goal is to ensure that you are aware of the project’s progress, and if there are any changes, I can inform you promptly. Does this work for you?”
The boss is satisfied because he knows he will receive a progress report every two weeks, which means the project has been fully delegated.
“Great, let’s proceed this way. I’ll be waiting for your updates.”
Communication should not stop from the beginning, and continuous communication is a crucial step in improving any relationship. Professional managers must cultivate “follow-up” as a workplace habit. A “wait-and-see” mentality will not lead to smooth career development in the workplace.