My Top Leadership Communication Secret: The Follow-Up
Mastering the follow-up might be the single-most impactful change to your leadership strategy.
In 2009, I got in way over my head in a new job. I’d been hired as project manager with the Digerati at Life.Church (then LifeChurch.tv). My job was to organize all the digital missions work at Life.Church, keep projects moving forward, and maintain open communication on the team.
After my first 6 months, I was in trouble. My boss was frustrated and the team was disorganized. We used software to keep tasks organized, but the team still had a hard time staying on the same page. And that was my fault.
My communication as a leader was lacking and the team was suffering. My boss recommended a book on leadership communication and, 250 pages later, I learned something I’d never considered before. The issue with my leadership was that I was missing an entire category of vital communication: the follow-up.
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One of the most underestimated skills in leadership communication is the follow-up. A follow-up happens when you loop back to a preview message with your audience. Sometimes a follow-up is a reminder of something you’ve stated previously. Other times a follow-up is an update on the progress of a project. Follow-ups can even be recaps of how something finished.
Follow-ups can happen with an individual or with a group of people. They provide clarity and keep people informed. They build confidence and help people do their job well and know how they might fit in the grand scheme.
We’re going to look at each type of follow-up and discuss their value, when each is appropriate, and how each works.
A follow-up reminder is an excellent way to help people remember something important. It could ba reminder about an upcoming event, information that they need to remember, or regular reminders about policies or rules.
The follow-up reminder communicates a few important things just in their very nature. When you follow-up to remind someone about something, the subject of the follow-up gains greater importance. Your recipient will see that it’s something important enough for you to mention twice. A reminder can also help to clarify expectations to everyone is on the same page.
If something is important, don’t leave it up to a single mention in a single piece of communication. Use the follow-up reminder tactic to keep it top of mind for your audience.
Follow-up Progress Updates
Many times you’re communicating a message that’s linked to a process or project. Even if it’s an event, usually there’s a time of planning that needs communication throughout the process. Follow-up progress updates are a great way to keep your audience in the loop on how things are going.
The great thing about this type of follow-up is that it can work both up and down in the leadership ladder. Progress updates provided for a team that you lead can help keep everyone moving in the same direction together. A progress update to your boss is a great way to help them provide input from a higher level point of view. It’s also helpful to let them know that you have things under control.
Finally, there’s the follow-up recap. Follow-up recaps are the unsung hero of communication. Giving a roundup of how a project was completed or the turnout of an event is helpful to everyone. Sometimes there are wins you need to celebrate, both with your team and with your boss. Sometimes there are lessons to learn. Again, that’s something your team and your boss need to know about.
Recapping a project or event doesn’t have to be an event unto itself. A quick word in your chat tool or an email to the team works. It’s a way of tying a ribbon on the whole experience so that everyone has a sense of closure and completeness.
I say that follow-ups are the secret weapon of killer communication because they are the least-used skill with the most return that you can do. A follow-up can make you look like you’re on the ball versus looking like you’re lost. Take the time to plan follow-ups as part of your communication strategy.