A significant source of frustration for many employees is a supervisor who lacks responsiveness and doesn't follow up. This episode discusses why employee follow-up is essential and provides a strategy for those who want to change and improve.
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As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.
Where you can find Joe
Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success is a production of AEU LEAD, a division of The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. With 60 years of combined industry experience, our supervisor training program gives mid-level managers in the maritime industry the skills needed to influence employees, customers, and peers. This increases employee engagement, reduces turnover and rework, and ultimately results in higher profits for their companies.
One of the biggest complaints employees have about their supervisors is that they're not responsive to requests, questions, or suggestions. In today's episode, we're talking about the importance of follow-up communications. Stay with us.
Hello, and thank you for joining us. My name is Joe White, and I'm the host of Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success. The SOS Podcast Series is produced to create ongoing development opportunities for mid and frontline managers. With each episode, we take on topics of interest and share insights and perspectives for the benefit of our listeners. In today's SOS short episode, we're talking about follow-up. While this topic may not be at the top of anyone's priority list, it's a huge source of frustration for employees and often goes unnoticed as such by many supervisors. Hopefully, in response to our discussion today, you'll have a heightened sense of awareness to the topic and will find some ways to improve as a result of it.
It happens far more than we may realize. Employees point out items of importance, ask questions, or request information supervisors aren't always able to respond to in the moment. Time passes, priorities shift, and the discussion is quickly forgotten. This scenario was in full effect in a business meeting I recently attended. I was hired by a contractor to speak on the topic of leading Gen Z employees. While waiting to speak, the operations director for the contractor had the podium and was discussing changes in online reporting requirements with his project superintendents. Throughout his presentation, he was bombarded with firsthand accounts of issues users were having with the reporting system. The project superintendents asked numerous questions, offered many suggestions, and expressed great frustration for a reporting system they collectively found difficult to use. To make matters worse, it was clearly evident the conversation was a repeat of one previously held. The operations director apologized for not following up earlier and assured those in the meeting that he would do so just as soon as he returned to his office.
Failure to follow up on important matters directly impacts employee engagement. As mentioned earlier, it's a common source of frustration for employees as a barrier to workforce relations you don't need. In addition, being viewed as a nonresponsive supervisor hurts your credibility. It also reduces levels of respect workers have for you and ultimately impacts how much influence you have with them. It's important to your workers that you follow up with them in a timely manner. As such, it should be equally as important to you as well. So what are the steps involved, and how do you stay on top of items requiring your follow-up? Here are several recommendations:
1. Carry a notepad with you at all times.
The human mind can only handle but so much information at one time. In a typical workday, we get lots of information thrown at us and must continuously prioritize and process one item after one another. Do yourself a favor and have with you a means of capturing important information whenever or wherever it may surface.
2. Recognize items requiring follow-up.
Before you can excel at follow-up, you must first learn to recognize what requires it. If you don't have the information requested, answers to questions asked are the means to deal with suggestions in the moment. You have an item in need of follow-up. It's also worth noting the level of importance assigned to follow-up items is determined by the employee. While it may not appear to be an urgent matter to you, it could be extremely important to an employee.
3. Track open follow-up items until closed.
Chances are, most supervisors have some means of tracking action items assigned to them by their managers because of the implications involved. The same systems should be used to track items requiring follow-up with employees. If you don't have anything in place at this point, an Excel spreadsheet, phone app, or old-fashioned to-do list with pen and paper will work. Whatever system you like to use, review it often and close out items as quickly as possible.
4. Prepare a response.
Before following up with employees, develop a plan for doing so. It doesn't have to be formal or fancy, but you need to fully think through your response and prepare for any possible follow-up questions or comments. Where the information may not be well-received, you should also consider providing some context as to why one decision was reached as opposed to another. While employees may not always like a follow-up response, they will respect you for providing it, especially if it's supported with transparency and communication.
5. Follow up for closure.
The process of following up with employees is best handled in person through one-on-one conversation. Where this isn't possible, a discussion over the phone is a recommended alternative. Avoid using emails or text, group discussions, or vague responses that could be misinterpreted. Interact directly with employees when following up with them and be clear in your response. Also, encourage dialogue to verify understanding and determine if any additional follow-up is needed. If so, repeat the process until the loop is complete.
The list of tasks supervisors have responsibility for is enormous. Many of them hinge on the ability to effectively communicate with direct reports. Following up with employees when they've requested information, made suggestions, or asked questions you couldn't answer in the moment is a prime example well worth pointing out. The opportunity to improve your perceived level of responsiveness likely exists. The days ahead will determine whether you take advantage of it or not.
Thank you for joining us. I hope this information will help you grow and improve as a supervisor. We look forward to sharing additional podcasts with you in the months ahead and welcome any suggestions you might have for topics you would like to see us cover. We're always looking for guests and enjoy sharing insights and success stories from the field. If that's something, you would like to be a part of, just let us know. The SOS Podcast Series is brought to you by AEU Lead, a consultancy dedicated to the needs of mid and frontline managers. We value and appreciate any feedback and would encourage you to review and rate your experience with the show wherever you access your podcasts. For additional information about AEU Lead or to follow us on social media, please use the links in the show notes accompanying this episode. That's it for now. Stay safe, and thanks for listening.