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How Sears Killed Sears


A Horrific Case of the Missing Follow-up/Follow-through Process

Early in my career, I was responsible for a team of technical sales engineers. After a few weeks, I inherited an engineer who had worked for our company for about a year and had developed a reputation as lazy and ineffective. Yeah, I know: the proverbial Thanksgiving Special: the organization was playing “Pass the Turkey” with him.

Yet, as I got to know him, I found that he was bright, energetic and highly motivated…the complete opposite of his reputation.

I asked him what he’d been doing for the last year. His completely honest response: “Not much.” Why? “Well, frankly, no one has asked me to do much, and then they never check on me. So, I spend my time researching, reading and, generally, hanging out.”

Besides the obvious lack of direction or anything that resembled a critical goal, the Follow-up/Follow-through process was totally non-existent. While the sales engineer bore a lot of the responsibility for being missing in action, his previous leaders also clearly failed him.

The good news: after we established a few critical goals and started a regular Follow-up/Follow-through process, the sales engineer began to put all that reading and research to work. Within months, he had earned his new reputation as being smart as a whip and doing great things for our customers and our organization.

Follow-up/Follow-through: Generating Learning and Accountability for Results

In our last post, we talked about the 7th gear in the Strategy>Execution>Results Framework: Follow-up/Follow-through. It’s the gear that keeps the other gears aligned and translating effort to results. As the story above illustrates in stark terms, when Follow-up/Follow-through is missing or ineffective, the other gears wobble, grind and waste time and energy.

Effective Follow-up/Follow-through: Set the Rhythm

Performers and Leaders need to establish a consistent rhythm for following up and following through. They should create a consistent time frame for meeting, updating and assessing progress toward the project’s goal.

Once the rhythm has been established, the burden is on the performer to follow-up with the leader at the agreed upon time. This shifts the responsibility and accountability for performance to the performer and away from the leader. Instead of having to nag performers about scheduling their next status meeting, leaders can focus their attention on their own critical goals and priorities.

Follow-up/Follow-through Rhythm: Driven by the Performer’s Needs and the Goal

How frequently should they meet? The answer is generally driven by:

• the performer’s needs • the nature of the goal or task.

Let’s say you just hired a new team member who brings a ton of new capabilities, raw talent and enthusiasm to the organization. But, she has no experience with how things work within your organization and has not proven that she can apply her talent and enthusiasm to consistently achieve critical goals.

In this case, you would be wise to start with a fast follow up/follow-through cycle. This enables the leader to provide the guidance the new team member needs to be successful. It also allows the leader to celebrate quick wins and understand her quickly evolving development needs.

In the first few days on the job, the cycle might be daily or even every few hours. Or the new team member might be assigned to shadow or be shadowed by a mentor, in which case, the cycle might be nearly continuous.

As the new team member demonstrates that she can operate safely and effectively on her own, you can (must) gradually decrease the frequency of the follow-up/follow-through cycles.

On the other hand, your “pros in position” will feel smothered by an hourly or daily Follow-up/Follow-through rhythm on a goal or task they are expert in. Weekly, monthly or quarterly better fits their needs.

A Recipe for Disaster

Establishing a Follow-up/Follow-through rhythm that is less frequent than quarterly is a recipe for disaster. Waiting for the annual or six-month performance review creates too much potential for performers to drift out of day-to-day alignment with their critical goals. (Wait a minute…are you still doing annual performance reviews? We should talk.)

If you’re not already comfortable with follow up/follow through, I suggest that whatever interval you choose, make it regular, such as every week at the same day and time. But follow up/follow through can also occur at specific, but not necessarily regular, intervals if that’s what a project plan or task requires. For example, a foreman at a commercial windows and doors company might follow up with his manager within a day of completing an installation. Depending on the size of each job, their meetings could be days, weeks or months apart, but they still occur at specific times.

What do you think?
  • To what extent have you established a Follow-up/Follow-through cycle for each of your goals?

  • Is Follow-up/Follow-through driven by the Performers’ needs and the nature or the goal, or driven more by crisis?

  • To what extent does your Follow-up/Follow-through process push responsibility and ownership to Performers, rather than Leaders?

Next: The project’s role in setting the Follow-up/Follow-through rhythm.

Intrigued by what you’re reading? Download our white paper on converting strategy into execution and learn more about us by visiting our website. WhiteWater International Consulting, Inc. helps organizations understand the challenges they face and helps enterprises achieve and sustain outstanding performance through unleashing the passion and capabilities of its people. Because an organization is only as good at the people who power it.

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