Most interventions end with an agreement to follow-up, that concluding action being an important part of a manager’s role. Follow-up actions need to be more than ad hoc additions to daily routines. Effective follow-up discussions not only demonstrate to employees that you mean what you say – that you actually do follow up – but also show your interest in employees’ progress. Here’s how to make the best use of this important, though often neglected, aspect of management practice…
1. Review previous discussions.
Having set aside a time for a follow-up meeting, make sure it happens. Begin the meeting by briefly recapping any previous discussions, including any actions you both agreed on at that time. Be specific: highlight only important aspects of those discussions. Again, focus only on identified problems, not the person.
2. Arrive at an assessment.
If progress since the initial meeting has been made, encourage the employee to talk about the achievements. Take time to outline to the employee your assessment of his or her contributions and accomplishments. Express your pleasure at obvious progress. If you are satisfied with the improvements, proceed to point 7.
If, however, the problem has not been solved to your satisfaction, refer to specific data to show that the employee still has work to do, and continue to explore the issue…
3. Explore possible solutions.
In the case of insufficient improvement, suggest as many as possible different options to overcome the problem; but avoid demanding specific actions. People will work harder to solve their problems when they themselves have a voice in the strategy to be adopted. So let the employee decide on a suitable plan of action. You, of course, will need to agree on, and be prepared to support or disagree with, the proposed solution.
4. Clarify the consequences of continued lack of improvement.
This is a very sensitive part of the discussion. You will want the employee to understand what will happen if the problem isn’t solved. You must not appear threatening or aggressive, nor will you want the employee to become defensive. Stress that you are on the employee’s side and that the purpose of the discussion is to solve the problem. But you may need to broach the subject of consequences. In doing so, be specific and keep discussion focused on the facts.
5. Agree on actions to be taken.
If the plan is going to work, it will need the employee’s commitment and your support. It must be seen as a cooperative effort, the end product being improvement in the staff member’s performance in the workplace. To gain that commitment, agree on the specific actions to be taken, preferably using the employee’s ideas and solutions. Support the plan that seems best.
6. Set a date for another follow-up meeting.
Agree to meet again at a later date to review progress. This requirement reinforces the fact that you’re serious about solving the problem.
7. Confirm your confidence in the employee.
End on a positive note by acknowledging your confidence in the staff member. People are far more responsive when they know that you want them to succeed. Your demonstration of confidence and encouragement will contribute to a workable and lasting solution.
8. Record outcomes.
Whatever the outcome of the follow-up meeting, record all information immediately afterwards. This action signifies completion of another important management task; it also ensures that you have a permanent record of any further follow-up action required and that you have detailed comments for reference at the next meeting if required.
9. Stay in touch.
Remain ‘visible’ by maintaining regular contact with all employees. In that way you will be there to ensure essential follow-up action is taken.
10. Be aware of the legal implications.
As a follow-up activity, the outcomes of a range of important organisational activities must be recorded. Confirm agreements in writing; record meeting resolutions in minutes; enter contractual details into a written document rather than rely on memory or handshakes. In any later dispute, it’s not what you know but what you can prove that counts. And if it comes to it, in any court proceedings, the side with the best and most complete evidence is usually the winner.