I ran into a friend a few days ago at the health club who wasn’t having a typically good day. He was frustrated with corporate life. In particular, the amount of follow up phone calls and emails reminding his colleagues about what deliverables were due him. He felt it was inefficient and unnecessary to spend so much time following up to get information or answers while doing project work. He stated if a coworker commits to a document or notes by an agreed upon date, the coworker should meet that agreement. While he vented, I listened and provided some empathy as this is something I could related to, also having to remind coworkers on the work due me.
That got me thinking. Years ago, I worked for a large corporation in Northbrook, IL. Working primarily on projects, there were many times I’d request certain information from a business colleague. Earlier in my career, I did not have a follow-up system as I entirely had complete faith (and ignorance too) colleagues would respond to my request in a thorough and timely manner. It took some time before I realized my priorities were not necessarily my coworkers’ priorities so I implemented a follow up system. For every email or voicemail sent or for every commitment for a deliverable to be provided by such a dates, I created a follow-up or deliverable list. Some items needed a daily or weekly reminder but other items had to be constantly reviewed based on the urgency and importance of the deliverable or project. It didn’t matter if my colleagues had an excellent reputation to meet the deliverable date, that request was added to the list.
Is this really necessary? If someone is responsible for completing a form or providing a deliverable to me within a certain time period, should I have to follow up and remind them? I get it, every so often I have no issue reminding someone to respond to my request, it happens to me from time to time but there were some requests that required a 40% follow up. When this occurred, I wondered if management spent any time trying to devise a better strategy to improve corporate communication.
I vaguely remember some of the earlier conversations I had with manager at the time and key takeaway — I was responsible to get to know my colleague’s communication style. Even though it was a collaborative environment or at least that was the goal, the onus was on me to informally developing a profile of each of my business colleagues. Said differently, does my associate need reminding via instant message? Are they lax with reviewing emails so a call might be effective? Maybe it was necessary to instantly message them to ask if it’s a good time to chat via telephone or a conference call? Should it be necessary to develop this communication profile? It goes without saying that during most of this follow-up time, your focus moves from the content at hand to the follow-up exercise to ensure you get the information needed.
One more thing about this communication situation. In retrospect, my past manager was doing one of two things. Either he really believed this approach was best or he had no other options. If indeed he had other alternatives, for whatever reason, I didn’t hear them. Too busy, his focus wasn’t on developing employees, his manager had other priorities in mind. The only other option I could see is his managerial plate was full and learning one’s communication style was the only thing that came to mind.
Perhaps I’m a nitpicker but if I’m responsible to provide information or a deliverable to a colleague, it’s my obligation to get it to them in the agreed upon time-frame. My focus is not how I received the request…did it come through voicemail, instant message, email, or something agreed upon in a meeting? I won’t engage in drama, so I won’t specify that I prefer via email and they’re using instant message. There’s the deadline date and it’s my obligation to meet that date. To that end, this request will also be adding to a follow-up list but a different one – one where I’ll oblige.
Of course, there are extenuating circumstances that could play a role in providing deliverables in a timely manner. And I think we all get that. However, this should be the exception and when it occurs, should be communicated to all necessary partners ASAP and if available, the changes and/or updated schedule should be provided once available.