I have found that many managers take a rather cavalier attitude towards follow through. They don’t understand how their credibility can be damaged if employees can’t rely on them to keep their commitments. If you make promises to an employee, especially during performance coaching sessions and then don’t follow through, your employee may never say anything to you directly about it but they will feel let down. Their trust in you will wane and the relationship will suffer. You may think because they come back to you that they forgot about the original commitment you made and that you are somehow safe. Not so. Employees remember every time you disappoint them, even if they seem to shrug it off, and over time it can accumulate and cause real problems for you.
I have seen numerous situations where managers had a performance conversation with an employee, pledged their support or warned them of escalating consequences, and then dropped the ball after the fact by failing to follow through. This is an instant credibility killer. You absolutely must follow through on everything you commit to during a performance discussion because the stakes are so high.
For instance, you state that profanity is not tolerated in your workplace. You warn the employee that the next time he uses foul language in the workplace you will place him on a final warning, which could lead to the termination of his employment. Then two weeks later, the employee uses profanity again in front of you and others in the department. This time though, you are in the middle of a deadline and you don’t feel like you have the time to deal with it, so you just verbally tell him to knock it off rather than following through with the final warning.
That shortsighted decision, made in a busy moment, makes it very difficult for your words to carry any weight going forward. How is your employee supposed to know you mean what you say? And if you make a habit of this practice—threatening dire consequences and then pulling back the next time the situation presents itself—your words will carry little meaning with the individual or the rest of your team. Your disciplinary warnings will be seen as exactly what they are, hollow threats.
When it comes to performance coaching and counseling here’s the golden rule:
Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.
Don’t promise to send employees to a class to increase their skills during their annual review and then later say you can’t afford the expense. Don’t say you will terminate their employment if they do a certain behavior again and then let them off the hook the next time. Don’t say they will see their salary increase in their next paycheck, then drag your feet and fail to submit the paperwork.
You need to be prepared to follow through with everything you commit to as a leader, but in the area of coaching and counseling, the consequences can be particularly devastating if you don’t. I’ve said a number of times that you should treat people fairly and with respect, and that includes following through on what you say you will do even if it means terminating your favorite employee’s employment because she can’t get to work on time. Any positive created by initiating a tough conversation and addressing an issue head on, can be totally undermined by a lack of follow through on the back end.
As a leader, what challenges do you encounter to following through on your commitments?