5 Ways to Improve Commitment and Follow-through


image“Only do what only you can do.” — Paul Sloane

How do you ensure commitment and follow-through for delegated tasks?

Nothing is worse than depending on people that are not dependable.

Well, some things are, but this article is about helping people follow through on their commitments.

While some people are not dependable, the reality is that there are a lot of behaviors that can contribute to, or undermine, being dependable.

You Can Help Somebody Become More Dependable (Even If They are Not)

There are specific things that you can do to help somebody become more dependable, even if they are not know for being highly dependable.

The key is to involve them more effectively.

In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner provide five ways for ensuring task completion.

Five Ways to Ensure Commitment and Follow-Through

There are several things you can do to involve people more effectively and help them be more dependable.

Brinkman and Kirschner outline five ways managing delegated tasks:

  1. Ask for their word of honor. The simplest of these is to ask your Yes person to back the commitment with his or her word of honor. You look them in the eye and say, “Now do I have your word that you’ll do that, no matter what?” When people give their word of honor, that’s a deeper level of commitment than a simple “Mmhm, or yes.”
  2. Ask them to summarize the commitment. Have the problem person summarize back to you what will be done, backtracking, and clarifying while letting them give you the details. You say something like, “I wan to make sure you and I both understand how this will be done. Could you describe to me what you will do and when?”
  3. Get them to write it down. To help Yes People to remember the commitment, get them to commit in writing, before walking away. Ask them to write down what they plan to do, post a note by the phone, or on the dashboard, give you a copy or put it on the front page of their daily calendar as an affirmation, “I will,” and then fill in the commitment they are making. Most
    organized people agree that there is something about the physical act of writing down a commitment that makes it easier to remember and more likely to be acted on.
  4. Weird deadlines. “So you will have it on my desk by 10:23 a.m. on Wednesday?” Most people round off time. Weird deadlines are unusual, because they stand out in the mind.
  5. Describe negative consequences. The fifth way is to point out the possible negative consequence of not keeping the commitment. Your description of these consequences will be most effective if you put them in terms of people and relationship. “Now let’s imagine it is Wednesday at 10:23 and this project you’ve agreed to do doesn’t get done. How is everyone going to feel around here who was depending on you?”

Key Take Aways

I agree with the points above, with some variations. I think managing delegated tasks is part art and part science, and it’s largely about understanding the behaviors on your team and in your situation. Here’s some techniques I use:

  • “Echo it back to me”. This is my technique for checking how well they’ve internalized the task and how well they understand the work to be done. I used to spend too much time recapping the task, thinking this would help make it stick. I found it’s far more effective and efficient to have them echo their understanding back to me, and correct as needed from there. I think this also puts them in the right mindset of owning the task, and making sure they understand it, clarify, push back as necessary or reset expectations.
  • Get input on the estimate. If the people that will do the work, don’t have a say, it’s a setup for failure. If there’s a constraint, ask the person that will do the work, if the work can be done in the time-frame. Find out what can be done in the time-frame or if you need to fix it. Even if you think you know how long it should take, you want buy-in from the person doing the work.
  • Whiteboard it. I ask some folks on the team to write down their tasks, if they have a habit of losing focus or if they have a poor task-management system. If there’s no whiteboard, then a piece of paper works fine. I prefer the whiteboard because it’s easy to see and update as needed. It also helps build momentum when they list things they got done on their whiteboard. Results are contagious.

If you learn how to delegate well, you avoid micro-managing, and instead you empower people.

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