Capture Agreements in Writing
Good follow-up is grounded in a number of “best practices,” and one of those is the simple act of writing down and communicating what’s been agreed upon in verbal discussions. This solid practice provides clarity and accountability, while moving ideas forward and preventing important issues from blowing away in the wind. So when an agreement is made on the phone, in a hallway conversation, or at a business lunch, send the individual a quick email that documents the agreement. Good leaders use this disciplined approach to move ideas forward and get things done.
When I first got into management, I quickly learned about the power of documenting agreements. My boss assigned me a massive project, which truly challenged me and my abilities. Although I was a little nervous and intimidated by the project’s scope, I viewed it as a test — an opportunity to succeed. Taking the advice of a mentor I had at the time, I broke the project down into pieces and started creating action items for my direct reports. Importantly, however, every action item discussed in our team meetings came with a follow-up email from me that outlined what had been said, what was being asked and by when, how it aligned to the goals, and the expectations associated with that action item.
Through this approach to management, which was checked with the discipline of capturing all agreements in writing, the project came to life and took off. Before I knew it, our team was finished — five months ahead of our deadline.
When leaders fail to document either formal or informal verbal agreements, things just tend to get lost in the shuffle. What’s been said often gets forgotten or misunderstood, lending to mistakes or weaknesses in productivity, as well as general distrust of your direct reports or team members who will likely question the credibility of what you say and do. A lack of execution, the zero follow through also translates to poor accountability, overall lack of structure or alignment to goals, “dead in the water” ideas, and even missed opportunities.
How do you capture agreements more effectively? First, make an agreement with yourself to implement this best practice consistently. Then when you’re following-up on that verbal communication, send out an email, documenting:
- What the action item is.
- To whom is it assigned, being specific, e.g., Jennifer Smith as opposed to “someone on the team.”
- A time frame for completion.
- A request for confirmation of the email.
When you follow-up agreements in writing, it memorializes what you’ve said and provides clarity to both parties. Not simply a good practice, it’s essential for certain situations, such as when you’re giving an employee feedback or talking “deals” with a business partner outside the office setting. For accountability leaders, the consequences of not following-up in such a way can be downright embarrassing, both revealing and creating weakness. A disciplined, dedicated approach to this best practice, however, is a critical tool for ensuring respect, fostering relationships and powering productivity in your management.
What’s another great practice for ensuring follow through in your communication?