In my experience as a manager, delegation is the easy part. Follow-up is the hard part. This is particularly true when it comes to e-mail.
I’m afraid that in the race to get through the scores of messages that daily hit our inbox, we hit the proverbial ball over the net, but never really follow-up to see what happened when the ball arrives in the other person’s court.
Was it hit back? Was it tossed to someone else? Or, did it just hit the court and lay there with a hundred other balls. If it was the latter, then you really didn’t accomplish anything.
Delegation is a method for managers to get more work done. But if we don’t follow-up, we’ve only deceived ourselves, thinking that more work is getting done. The only way to really change this is to create an execution culture and be relentless in following-up.
One of the basic questions you have to ask as you go through your e-mail is whether or not this item requires an action. Sometimes, you will determine that you are the right person to take the next action. Often, you will determine that someone else is.
Let’s assume it’s the latter. You forward the e-mail to the appropriate person and ask them to follow-up. But here’s where the system breaks down. We all know that some people are better at follow-up than others. With a few people, I can check it off my list (and dump it from my mind) when I make the assignment. But for all others, I either have to write the assignment down somewhere and then review this list regularly or I have to just trust that they will follow-up and hope for the best. As someone once told me, “hope is not a strategy.”
I have to admit, I am not too good at writing down every assignment. More often than I would like to admit, I hope people will follow-through, but I don’t loop back around to ensure that they did. Shame on me. Customers, fellow-employees, vendors don’t like to hear, “Well, I passed the buck to Fred. You’ll have to check with him.” Instead, they are dying for someone to take full responsibility and follow through to the end. They want to hear your version of the Harry Truman quote, “The buck stops here.”
So how can we make it easier to follow-up on assignment that we delegate via e-mail? One option is to buy David Allen’s Getting Things Done Outlook Add-In. If you use Outlook, this is worth taking a look at. It places a follow-up button onto every e-mail message. It’s very cool. When I was a Windows user, I found it indispensable. But it also does a lot of things that may make it difficult to justify the $69.95 cost. And, of course, if you are a Mac user, you are completely out of luck.
I would like to outline a solution that is very simple—and, best of all, free. Here’s how it works:
- Create a free e-mail account at any one of the free services. I use Google’s GMail. But there are many others available, including Yahoo, Mail.com, and Excite.
- Set up an email address like “firstname.lastname@example.org,” where the “abc” portion is your initials or some other identifier. If you have read David Allen’s book, you know that he recommends “Waiting For” as a category of items you use to list the projects that are in someone else’s court. You are “waiting for” them to do something, before you can proceed.
- Set up your new account in your e-mail client. This will be different for each e-mail client, but most of these free e-mail services will walk you through the process.
- Now create a folder under your inbox called “Waiting For.” For example, here’s how my inbox folder structure currently looks:
- Now create a simple email rule that redirects all the e-mail coming from your “waitingfor” account to to the “Waiting For” folder. This process will be different, depending on the e-mail client you are using.
Okay, you’re ready to go. Now, whenever you want to track an assignment that you are delegating via e-mail, just enter your “waitingfor” e-mail address in the BCC field. (Since most e-mail software packages sport an auto-fill feature, you can generally do this with a few keystrokes.) Now, send your e-mail. If everything is set up correctly, your e-mail will go out from your main account and you will receive back an e-mail from your new “waitingfor” account. Your email rule will automatically file it in your “Waiting For” folder.
Now, during your weekly review (you are doing a “weekly review” aren’t you?), you simply go to the Waiting For folder and review the assignments you have made. When the item has been completed to your satisfaction, you can drag the message to your e-mail archive. That’s all there is to it. Simple, elegant, and free.