No, this won’t be a culinary tutorial in overcooking things. Instead it’s a post inspired by a quotation from Benjamin Franklin that I recently came across” Well done is better than well said.” Putting aside my abiding love of eloquence, I take his point. And it’s another one of those deceptively simple lessons that would serve administrators well.
In this case, I’ll adapt it to a particular set of circumstances and the issue of follow through. For several years I attended an annual meeting of leaders in my college. The afternoon included a brainstorming session to generate ideas about how to improve the college’s stature on campus, recruit majors, and other worthy endeavors. But nothing ever came of these sessions. Great ideas were generated but then vanished into the well-meaning ether of good intentions. By the second or third time I’d watched this happen, I’d become completely disenchanted, and as a consequence, disengaged. What good were any good plans we might identify if no one would ever try to implement them?
Clearly, this was a flawed process. But aside from its immediate flaws, it unwittingly fostered apathy and disgruntlement. So the long-term effects were probably more pernicious than the short-term ones.
So how could this process have been better? In other words, how do you facilitate follow through?
To begin with, write it down. Keep track of what gets said. Be sure that someone is the designated note-taker and record-keeper. In other words there need to be minutes of what transpired. Taking minutes seem too old-fashioned? Another possibility is to write the notes on big sheets of butcher paper or a blackboard and then take photos of them.
Once the group has finished brainstorming or generating ideas, look them back over and determine who is going to follow up on which idea. In my experience, everyone is at least pretty good at coming up with clever ideas. Where the rubber hits the road is in implementation. So get people to volunteer or assign them tasks. And circulate the minutes or photos of the work as soon as possible after the meeting. Keep everyone engaged in the task at hand.
But wait, you’re not quite done yet. You also need to set deadlines or some expectation of reporting back. How long does everyone have to follow through on their assigned idea/task? Will there be another meeting to discuss progress (if so, you’ve got everyone already assembled, set the date now while everyone’s in the room!). Will there be sub-groups that need to set their own timeline? Unless there’s some accountability you risk another encounter with the well-meaning ether of good intentions.
While some may grumble while you make these assignments and set these timetables, the payoff of promoting follow through and producing results will foster faith in your leadership and contribute to greater engagement in the long run.