Early on in my career, I had too many meetings where followup items just didn’t get done. It wasn’t because the people were incompetent or didn’t care… normally, it was because they were swamped with stuff and the action item fell off their radar.
Being attuned to and empathizing with people’s busy schedule is one of the easiest ways to disarm a potentially awkward conversation (nobody likes feeling like they have done a bad job). Whenever I talk with someone about missing an action item, one of the key things I try to keep in mind is, “The person has not done anything wrong, the action item has just not been accomplished yet.”
Here are five email templates that you can use to follow up on action items (hopefully, without seeming like a jerk):
The Target Date Update
Use this format if the end date is not critical or blocking anything.
Just wanted to check in on the action items that you took on last week during the Project X status update. In the meeting you had targeted trying to complete it by yesterday. Do you have a new time-frame you want to target for completion?
If you suspect that someone has over-committed, this approach gives them a chance to get the action item off their plate. Try to send this before the action item is due if you suspect that person is swamped.
Based on all the changes I am hearing with Project Z, I am assuming you are swamped trying to get the team re-aligned and focused on that effort. Let me know if you want me to assign someone else to take over your action item for updating the TPS reports (we are trying to get it completed by end of week for the finance team).
I can go ahead and re-assign it to Tina since she has bandwidth to get it knocked out by Thursday afternoon. Can you let me know by this afternoon if you want to keep the action item.? Give me a call at my desk if you’d like to chat about it (404.555.0149).
The Priority Ask
If something is a high priority to you, but you suspect that the person with the action item is not clear on the overall priority.
I wanted to touch base with you regarding your action item from last Wednesday’s sprint planning meeting about the Fiscal Strategy App requirements.
The Road-Block Clearer
Most large organizations have excessive bureaucracy that can slow down people from getting anything accomplished. Use this approach if you suspect that the action item assignee is mired down due to other people around them.
Can you give me a heads up and let me know if you need me to tackle any roadblocks that could be preventing you from completing the MDM action item you own from last month’s deployment meetings? I know that the QA services team can be slow to get moving, if you need me to talk with their director about their priorities, let me know.
Call me on my cell (404-555-1234) this afternoon between 2-4 to touch base on what you need to knock this task out.
The End Around
Send this email to the Project Manager or Team Lead (of the assignee) if you are concerned that their manager does not understand the priority of the action item. Good managers should have a sense of the priority of action items assigned to their team members.
Can you confirm how much is on Rick’s plate right now? He had an action item from the production meeting last week to get the new layouts completed by today. I am assuming that he his heads down right now, so I didn’t want to pester him for a status update.
Do you have a sense of whether he will be getting it knocked out today?
Do you have any specific templates you use to keep people on top of their action items?
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