During my management career, I watched numerous ideas, initiatives, and grand visions birthed, launched with great enthusiasm, often gobble up precious resources, and then simply fade into oblivion. Similarly, I observed the proverbial shelf as it gradually filled up with strategic plans unexecuted, successful pilot efforts never deployed more broadly, and important issues studied and discussed to death — even detailed in flashy documents and Power Point slides — yet never acted upon.
So what you might say, happens everywhere, right? Well, yes and no! It happens far less in the most successful organizations and among the very best managers — and this is what my various blogs are all about — it doesn’t happen very much at all. And it doesn’t happen very much because the best managers understand why a frequent failure to follow through on important initiatives and announced intentions gradually undermines their credibility and diminishes the seriousness with which their pronouncements and authority will be taken, until they eventually become almost a joke.
As I have stated elsewhere, a manager underestimates the intelligence and insight of his or her subordinates at great personal peril. Subordinates pay far more attention to actions than to words. Follow through is how a manager demonstrates that he or she means what they say. A frequent failure to follow through is an open invitation for subordinates to regularly adopt a “wait and see” attitude, or worse, to simply ignore what you say.
So as simple as the importance of follow through is to comprehend, why does it so often not occur. In part, it is the nature of a manager’s job. Managers are always too busy, their time fragmented into numerous, often unrelated tasks, projects, responsibilities, meetings, deadlines, and deliverables. Following through on important matters started but not completed, invariably takes TIME and carving out that time from the hectic pace of the daily grind demands discipline, determination, delegation, persistence, and the willingness to occasionally say no to some things. Some managers are simply not up to these requirements
The best managers, however — knowing how important to their reputation and authority their follow through is — help themselves carve out the time by limiting the number of big initiatives they pursue at any given time. (I advise no more than “two at a time”; keep the others in the “after this, then” category.) Moreover, their persistent attention to their objectives helps sharpen their subordinate’s focus, demonstrates their determination to succeed, and helps align their subordinate’s energy, commitment, and time allocations to their goals.
It is part of human nature that we all seek some degree of consistency, dependability, and predictability in our personal and work lives; we often do not function well absent them. The best managers understand that the reliability of their follow through on their announced intentions provides a degree of all three for their subordinates. Consequently they are seen as credible and are taken seriously by others whether their initiatives are entirely popular or not.
Because a manager’s credibility is so critical to his or her success, I have always counseled following a simple rule: view your commitments as a contract with your subordinates. If you make them, honor them by following through or don’t make them at all.