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Ask the Follow-Through Question: Who Will Do What, by When, and Reporting to Whom?

Ryan MacPherson

Organizations flounder when it comes to follow through. Ideas come in large supply. So does enthusiasm. But action? Implementation? Getting the job done? Mission unaccomplished remains the status quo, too often and for too long.

If this describes your small business, nonprofit organization, or church board, then it is time to ask the four-part Follow-Through Question:

"Who will do what, when, and reporting to whom?"

1. Who?

Organizations tend to begin with "What?" It turns out that "Who?" might be a more important question. Pie-in-the-sky dreams answer "What?" Where-the-rubber-meets-the-road depends on getting a firm response to "Who?"

Try this approach at your next committee meeting: "That's a nice idea, Bob. And Larry, I like the supplemental plan that you just added to Bob's idea. However, we're not going anywhere unless someone on this committee will either do the work or else make sure that someone not on this committee will do the work for us. Who among us will volunteer to see this task through to the end?" If people look down at their thumbs in mid-twiddle, and no one utters a response, then you know further discussion of "What?" will do nothing but waste time.

If someone actually volunteers, then great, move on to Parts 2 through 4. If no one volunteers, and no one is willing to be appointed to the task by the committee chairperson, then it is time to take inventory of "Who?" Who is on your team? What strengths do they have? What weaknesses? Ask these questions both individually concerning each team member and collectively concerning the team as a whole.

Next, how can the team capitalize on the members' strengths? How can one member's strength counter-balance for another member's weakness? If the team as a whole has a weakness, who can be recruited to join the team in order to fill the void created by that weakness?

This side of heaven, weaknesses will always remain. The key is to limit, even if not eliminate, those weaknesses that stand between the organization and its mission. No organization can accomplish every task. Each organization can do only a few things exceptionally well. The "Who?" question must be answered satisfactorily only with respect to the personal strengths required for the mission of the organization. Once "Who?" has a mission-focused answer, it is time to resume discussing "What?"

2. ...Will Do What?

Let's say your organization would like to increase traffic to its website. The answer to "What?" is an action plan aimed at accomplishing that goal. Perhaps a single task can answer "What?" Or, perhaps a series of steps must be taken one after another. In the case of boosting website traffic, the organization might get started as follows:

3. ...By When?

With specific and practical, not just wishful-thinking, answers to "Who?" and "What?" your organization has completed half of the follow-through process. Now comes "When?"

Whether you sit on a board that meets quarterly or a committee that meets monthly or a project team that meets weekly, unless everyone agrees to a firm answer for "When?" then all you are doing is sitting around, one meeting after another. Have you ever sat around in a meeting listening to the same report that was given last time, and the time before that, and ...? You know, like, "We're hoping to increase web traffic. We'd like to add social media buttons. I think Larry can help us on this." (Notice the "What?" language, devoid of "When?" language, barely helped along by a vague "Who?" clause concerning Larry's potential.)

"Well, we hope to boost website traffic soon." That's still not answering "When?" Instead, your organization needs a concrete deadline:

4. ...Reporting to Whom?

Now the team knows who is supposed to do what and by when. But what if the job takes longer than expected? Or what if the person to whom the task has been assigned forgets, dilly-dallies, or tries in earnest but hits an insurmountable obstacle?

The fourth and final part of the Follow-Through Question, "Reporting to Whom?," safeguards against these contingencies. In the preceding example, the website developer and social media coordinator should each report to the marketing director. A phone call, email, or text message, or a brief exchange in the hallway, is all it takes: "I'm halfway done with the project already, and I expect to complete it on time." Or, "We ran into some technical challenges on the website, so I may need a few extra days, but I'm scheduled to talk it through with IT this afternoon. I'll update you again at 3 p.m."

As needed, the supervising party also can initiate these progress reports: "How far along are you on this project now?" Or: "Is there anything you need from me in order to continue steady progress on this assignment?"

An Action-Oriented Agenda and Minutes

To run an efficient and effective organization, managers would be wise to structure meetings around the four-fold Follow-Through Question—"Who will do what, when, and reporting to whom?"

Applied to new proposals, the chairperson should guide the discussion toward a firm answer for each of the four parts of that question. The secretary should record that action plan in the minutes. At subsequent meetings, the chairperson should refer back to the minutes and request a progress report. If the project is complete, then the contributors should be thanked for their work. If the project is incomplete, then the reasons for delay should be identified and a revised answer to the four-fold Follow-Through Question should be entered into the minutes.

Of course, not every meeting has to be this formal. Especially for small and experienced teams, the "agenda" and the "minutes" might simply exist in everyone's mind, so long as the Follow-Through Question is still being asked and answered. If, however, your organization has stalled in the "wouldn't-it-be-nice-if" stage, then it is time to answer, in writing, "Who will do what, when, and reporting to whom?"


Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of Into Your Hands LLC and the author of several books, including Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Debating Evolution before Darwinism. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschooled children in Mankato, Minnesota, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College. He also serves as President of the Hausvater Project, which mentors Christian parents. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.

TAGS: Organizational Management


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