How to Make Sure Your Employees Complete Their Action Items
Do you ever leave a meeting on a high note, excited about the work ahead, only to completely forget about the tasks assigned? Do you ever feel like nothing comes of meetings, as most people move on to other assignments by the time they reach their desks?
You’re not alone.
Plenty of leaders across various organizations struggle to get their team members to take action based on the items discussed in a meeting. It’s almost as if the meeting is completely forgotten as soon as everyone leaves the room.
The best leaders use meetings to spur action and follow through to make sure work gets done. Practice these tactics to increase your efficiency post-meeting.
During the Meeting
The meeting process itself can determine whether your team members follow through once they return to their desks. Without a clear agenda and action items, however, employees are likely to focus on the seemingly more important tasks currently on their plates.
Jane Harper at The HR Digest shares some statistics on just how ineffective meetings can be:
Between 30 to 50 percent of meeting time is wasted on average.
31 hours every month (about four work days) is lost in non-productive meetings.
73 percent of attendees bring other work to meetings, and 39 percent say they have dozed off at some point.
If your team thinks meetings are a waste of time (to the point where they are sleeping and doing other work during your updates), then they’re definitely not going to prioritize whatever tasks you give them.
Clearly Set Out the Next Steps to Come From a Meeting
It’s important to make a clear list of the next steps and action items that are to be taken once the meeting is over, Jory MacKay at project management provider Planio writes. There is one caveat, though: The next step on your task list should not be another meeting.
Make sure your team has work they can do individually or in collaborative groups outside of the meeting environment. If your team feels like nothing came of the meeting and there is nothing to do as a consequence of it — why would they care about an upcoming meeting?
Avoid Assigning Work to Absent Attendees
As you start assigning tasks, avoid giving action items to people who aren’t at the meeting, Mamie Kanfer Stewart, productivity coach and founder of Meeteor, says. There are two key reasons for this:
The team members need to be fully informed as to the meeting outcomes.
You don’t have their commitment that they will complete the task.
It can be tempting to assign work to absent attendees when no one else volunteers, but you could just be putting off the problem until a later date if they are unable or unwilling to take on that task. If the work needs to be assigned for the project to move forward, task a person at the meeting to work with absent members to communicate what is needed.
Negotiate Workloads and Deadlines With Employees
Project managers should provide as much leeway as possible with deadlines and task assignments. The team at Infinity Technology Consultants encourages leaders to be open to negotiating with team members on deadlines and tasks during the assignment process, with the view that completion dates are met.
For example, one of your team members might not be able to get to a task by next week. In this case, it might be better to assign the task to someone who can start immediately to keep the momentum going or possibly extend the deadline.
These negotiations keep the project moving, while balancing workloads and helping teams improve their communication skills.
Find Recurring Tasks for Team Members to Take On
If possible, try to find opportunities to create ownership of recurring tasks. If the team provides monthly updates to senior management, for instance, find someone who can commit to that task.
Ownership allows people to specialize in their work and gives team members a clear idea of what their upcoming workload look likes when they leave the meeting, Anshuman Singh, founder of collaborative note-taking platform MeetNotes explains. They won’t feel overwhelmed by what they have to do or surprised by their assignments.
After the Meeting
If you assign your employees a list of action items and tasks, only to find nothing gets done, then you may need to improve your process. Make sure the work is clearly assigned, with deadlines and expectations for the format and content, and do regular progress checks.
Improve Your Follow-Up Emails
Most project managers send email recaps of meeting to help attendees (and absentees) remember what was discussed. You may need to change your email format to catch the attention of your colleagues.
Author Danny Rubin created an email template to be sent after a meeting or conference call. Along with a summary of what was discussed, he encourages leaders to include a list of the tasks assigned to each person — with their names highlighted.
Whoever is reading the email might skim over the information, but stop when they see their name. And having the tasks and deadlines circulated in writing is another way to make each team member accountable.
In your meeting recap, your subject line must be clear and detailed. Scott Herring at CaptureNotes says project managers often use vague subjects like “meeting follow-up” which can get lost in a mess of emails within a few hours. Instead, include what the meeting was about and the team name. This will also make it easier for people to search for the email to reread it at a later date.
Make Sure Your Team Has the Materials They Need
Managers and leaders also have another essential task following a meeting: Make sure everyone has access to the tools and documents they need to get their work done.
Amber Tiffany at GoToMeeting emphasizes the importance of sharing documents with meeting participants after a meeting. If you drag your feet on this, others on your team can’t do their work — and will likely devalue the tasks because you’re not prioritizing them either.
Set Check-Ins and Benchmarks Between Meetings
It’s important to set follow-up check-ins between meetings to make sure the work is getting done, Yousuf Rafi at task management software company TaskQue writes. Even if this is only one email at the halfway point, or a reminder a week before the next meeting, it’s another chance to touch base on the tasks assigned and remind people about what needs to be done.
There’s an additional benefit to setting these benchmarks: You, as a project manager, won’t waste time following up with employees. Without structure, PMs tend to waste time checking in and requesting updates instead of setting specific instances for follow-up reports.
“After work is delegated, significant time is lost to all the follow-up effort required to sustain momentum and keep work moving forward,” Kevin Hakman, CEO of TeamworkIQ, writes. “Collectively, each seemingly little task management activity adds up to a sizable time-sink.”
Plus, when your employees know that you will check in at certain times, they will be sure to have an update for you and at least part of the project completed by deadline.
Before the Next Meeting
As the next meeting approaches, your team should be finishing their action items and preparing to review them or take on more work. As a project manager, you need to prepare for the upcoming meeting to make sure it is effective in moving your team closer to their goals.
Inc. columnist and author Kevin Daum shares a few ways managers can prepare for meetings to make sure strong action items come from them. A few of these steps include:
Determine the objectives that should come from the meeting.
Consider the obstacles that might arise from these objectives.
Remove any roadblocks ahead of time so you can focus on the issues.
Decide on desirable outcomes that you want to work toward.
Daum offers one more piece of advice: Have follow-up activities already in mind. Know what your next steps will be to keep your team on track with what you assign them. Having these steps as part of the plan gives you the opportunity to communicate with your team so they know you will be checking in on them.
Track Your Success Rate
Before your next meeting, review which action items were completed and those that weren’t.
Consultant Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter, encourages leaders to keep a running tally of which items get done throughout a project. You can either send this information out within a week of your meeting, or review the results at the next meeting. This tactic is ideal for showing exactly how work falls behind because people don’t do what they agreed to.
Most companies average a 60 percent completion rate, Axtell says, and should try to aim instead for 85 percent. He also says the overall pattern is more important than weekly or monthly numbers.
Build the Meeting Agenda Around Action Items
Finally, as you build your agenda for the next meeting, keep your workflow and project needs in mind.
The team at AlignMeeting encourage leaders to focus on the flow of work and the big picture of what you need to accomplish. Meetings often get bogged down by minor discussions or information sharing. Instead, come to the meeting with a list of tasks you need to get done and questions you need answered.
Improve Your Overall Follow Through
While the meeting structure and planning process can affect your team’s chances of success, it really depends of company leaders and project managers to set the stage for getting action items done after a meeting. If there’s a lack of follow through, employees will respond in kind.
“Day-to-day failure to follow through is costing managers long-term credibility with their employees,” executive mentor and member of Forbes Coaches Council, Stacey Hanke writes. “While managers may feel as though they can be counted on to support employees on significant issues, they discount how those little breaks in trust can add up.”
Something simple like saying you want to set up a one-on-one and then not doing it sends a big message. Your team won’t value the project because you aren’t valuing their time and making it a priority across the board.
When you complete your action items and provide the support your employees need, they will step up to complete their work and come to meetings prepared.