The Transformative Power of Follow-Up: Cultivating a Culture of Accountability

As a young manager, I found myself facing a challenging assignment that garnered attention from the CEO of the company. The executive leading the project, a seasoned and intentional leader, impressed me with his ability to drive a crisis initiative and stay on top of the work like no other leader I had seen. During my annual review with him, I asked about a crucial attribute of successful leadership. Without hesitation, he gave me two words that continue to shape my leadership style: follow-up.

Over the years, I have witnessed how follow-up, or the lack thereof, impacts a team’s ability to deliver results successfully. Organizations that embrace follow-up as part of their DNA execute with fewer obstacles compared to those that neglect it. Leaders who consistently follow up remain aligned with the work happening in the organization, while their followers better understand and execute on expectations. I have personally experienced this transformation as my leadership skills matured and my follow-up ability became ingrained. We were able to achieve tasks more effectively, and I also noticed a reduction in the number and severity of crises I had to handle. Being in sync with the team and promptly following up allowed me to provide support when needed.

Fostering a culture of follow-up is not a difficult task; it simply requires discipline. Here are seven tips to kickstart the process:

Be known as a follow-up fiend: When people know that you follow up on commitments, they are more likely to fulfill their own obligations. Consistently and promptly follow up every time. Inconsistent or absent follow-up from leaders can lead to followers shirking their responsibilities.

Establish a follow-up cadence: Establishing a deliberate frequency for follow-ups is essential when empowering someone to solve a problem. It ensures that as a leader, you stay informed of progress and are available to provide assistance if needed. Set clear expectations for each follow-up meeting and honor your commitment to follow up.

Assign singular points of follow-up ownership: Assigning follow-ups to “the team” without a clear owner often results in tasks being left undone. Ensure that each follow-up has a designated, singular owner who can be held accountable for its completion.

Request a summary of actions and deadlines: At the end of a meeting where follow-up actions are required, ask the responsible person to send you an email summarizing the action and its deadline. This practice ensures mutual understanding and agreement on the follow-up action and due date. Copy the email into your calendar on the follow-up due date to remind yourself to follow up, either in person or via email.

Acknowledge completed actions: Exceptional follow-up leaders recognize the importance of follow-up actions, and followers appreciate knowing that their work is valued. When someone follows up on an action you requested, take a moment to acknowledge their effort. Even a simple “Thank you for following up” response shows that their work was meaningful to you.

Be genuine: If a follow-up was executed well, express your appreciation. Similarly, if there were shortcomings, address them directly. Fostering a follow-up culture involves both encouraging positive behavior and correcting when necessary. Have the courage to provide candid feedback in both situations.

Lead by example: The best leaders who drive accountability through follow-up are those who do what they say they’ll do, when they say they’ll do it. This applies not only to their own leaders but also to their followers. When followers can rely on their leader to fulfill commitments, it sets an example for effective follow-up and demonstrates the leader’s integrity.

Establishing and nurturing a culture of follow-up is a worthwhile endeavor. Make it a priority, and emphasize its importance to your team.