Follow-up Is the Secret to Effective Delegation

A key leadership skill is walking that fine line between checking back and micromanaging.
Follow-up Is the Secret to Effective Delegation
Image credit: Tom Merton | Getty Images

This morning, my daughter was upset. She had a package that should have been mailed five days ago. She brought it to the office and emphasized how urgent it was, and she was assured it would go out immediately. This morning, five days later, she discovered it still had not been mailed. She was angry. I told her she had every right to be, but at the same time, there was a good lesson here. You can't take things for granted. You have to follow through to make sure things get done.

Strong leadership isn't just about delegating tasks; it is also about following up on those tasks and making sure they are done to your standards. People on my team sometimes feel like I ride them until things get done. However, I've learned the hard way that if you don't, things all too often get pushed aside. You have to keep reminding, checking and rechecking until you know things have been done the way you want. This is not obsessive-compulsive. It's called experienced.

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At the same time, it's important to understand where your team members are in the learning process of your business. You can't automatically assume they know everything you might expect them to know. It takes time for people to understand the big picture and the context they are working in. They need to learn not only the operations of the business, but also how you operate as a team leader. From your side, you have to try to put yourself in their shoes so you can more effectively create a bridge between you, the business and the other team members.

People are people. Things slip through the cracks. Do everything you can to set up a system where that does not happen, but also follow through. I often tell people to cc or bcc me when they send out an email as per my request. Even as easy as that may seem, it doesn't always happen.

The simple advice is to see the job, do the job. Put out fires. Don't let things smolder. I remember once there was a sign that fell down outside the office. Two of my employees were there, and I asked them to pick it up and fix it. Days passed by. After reminding them repeatedly, the sign was finally taken care of. It would have been easier for me to take care of it myself. However, I thought it was better to use it to learn to put out fires, rather than letting them sit and smolder.  

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Needless to say, there can be a perfectly good reason why someone didn't follow your instructions. It's good to listen. It's a way to understand where the problem lies so you can work together to fix it. Also, the team member needs to be asked what the problem is. If you don't listen, they often feel disrespected, which accomplishes nothing. To my experience, everybody wants to do a good job. I found that even if they make excuses, they do learn from their errors and try to improve.

The subtle art of doing this is to follow through in a manner that does not damage interpersonal relationships. Employers quite naturally have authority issues projected onto them. It is extremely important to do the necessary follow up, but also point out any errors in a constructive manner. As a leader, your feedback to employees can be a growth opportunity more than a criticism. If handled well, employees and associates can be inspired to improve their follow through and respond to the feedback when they make a mistake.

In the case of the sign, the learning lesson was on me. When I asked why the team members didn't put up the sign earlier, I learned they had a problem with where the sign was located. They just couldn't bring themselves to put it back where it was. So, I agreed to relocate the sign, and they promptly moved it. Clearly, follow up includes not only making sure things are done the way you asked, but understanding why they weren't done or what the problem might be. Follow-up is a two-way street between the leader and the team.

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I have been a consultant for many businesses, some of which had cash flows of well over 100 million dollars a year. I've seen this follow-through problem on all levels of business. I was working with a vice-president of a huge corporation. He told me how the company CEO was pushing a sales approach down everyone's throat. The CEO was frustrated because things weren't happening as fast as he wanted. The vice-president, who was even thinking about quitting, complained to me that everyone was starting to resent the CEO. The solution was so obvious, that it even felt silly to have to say it. I told the VP to sit down with the CEO and explain to him why people were having a problem with what was being forced upon them. After doing so, the CEO adjusted his approach, and the project finally began to operate smoothly. Taking it upon yourself to do the follow-up, and do it wisely, will save you a lot of headaches and radically improve the efficiency of your business.

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