How to get people to follow-through every time, without pestering them
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
GTD Steps: Clarify, Organize and Engage
When you work for a large corporation your ability to get things done often depends on other people. Whether you're working on a project and need everyone to get their stuff done or just looking for a response to your email, you won't be successful if you can't get others to follow-through.
It would be nice if people dropped everything else to work on your request as soon as it arrived. But that's not reality. They have their own things to get done and workloads to manage. Even if they like you and want to help, your request is only one of a long list of things on their list. And unless their success is directly tied to your request, it's probably not going to be top on their list.
There are ways to cajole people into doing what you ask, but making requests in the wrong way can strain professional relationships that you need to strengthen, not weaken.
So how can you encourage someone to follow-through without burning bridges? Do you cross your fingers and hope they respond? Copy their boss to get their attention? Or just give up and do it yourself?
Help them to help you
For the most part, people want to do a good job. They want to be responsive and be team players. They want to meet your expectations. People's intentions are good, but those intentions often get derailed in the midst of a busy work environment.
The way you communicate a request makes a big difference in how people respond. Do it poorly and people will be annoyed and frustrated. They won't enjoy working with you and won't be responsive. But do it well, and people will look forward to working with you and go out of their way to exceed your expectations.
Follow these four steps when making a request and people will happily follow-through:
1. Clearly explain your request - Remember the 5 Why's.
Who - the person to whom you are making the request
What - clearly explain what you are asking them to do. The more clear and specific you are the easier you make it for them to meet your expectations.
Where - at work. This one's obvious but I included it so you wouldn't think I forgot it :0)
When - always provide a target due date. If you don't have one, pick one. If it's flexible, tell them so. Giving them a date to aim for helps them prioritize your request against everything else they have on their plate. If you don't give them a date, they don't know where in their schedule to put it so it's more likely to get set aside.
Why - provide some background about why you're making the request. Don't write a book but a sentence or two of explanation helps them understand why your request is important. It also shows that you respect them and don't just view them as an order taker. Finally, it gives them information that can help them better meet your needs.
Most people want to do a good job. They want to be a responsive team player. When you're clear about your expectations. Having a bar to aim for gives lets them know when they have been successful so they can feel good. And that good feeling reinforces the follow-through behavior.
2. Ask for a commitment - ask the person to commit to completing your request. This can be very informal by ending your request with a simple question: "Is this doable?". If they say yes they have subconsciously already committed to doing it. If they say no, you can ask them what would make it doable. More time? A modified request? It's much better to find out up front if they can't do it so you can look for other options.
3. Always follow-up - When you follow-up you show the other person the request is important to you. If the target date passes, follow-up the next business day. They'll realize the date was important and in the future will work to meet it. If you don't follow-up or wait several days after the due date, they won't feel a sense of urgency about your next request and be more likely to miss future dates.
A tickler can remind you to follow-up on the right day. The Get2Done List Manager comes with a built-in tickler tool or you can get the stand alone Get2Done Tickler Tool.
4. Say thank you - aside from being common courtesy, expressing sincere appreciation conveys respect and makes people feel good. They'll associate helping you with that good feeling and will follow-through again next time.
When you are clear about your expectations and get a commitment, you are setting the other person up for success. By following-up when they miss or expressing appreciation when they succeed you are reinforcing the behaviors you want to see.
If you follow these four steps consistently, people will know what to expect from you. They'll know you follow-up if they don't make the date (which they don't want) and they know you'll express appreciation if they do (which they do want). They will start following-through on your requests on their own.
No more pestering them to respond. No more strained relationships when you make requests. No more frustration on your part. You'll be able to count on people and every request you make will become an opportunity to strengthen a relationship.