The All-Purpose Power Of Follow-Up And Follow-Through In The Recipe For Success (originally published on Forbes.com)
This article was originally published on March 3, 2020 on Forbes.com - click here to access
American inventor Charles F. Kettering is often credited with saying, "It's the follow-through that makes the great difference between success and failure, because it's so easy to stop."
In the ocean of good advice about creativity, personal growth, professional development and leadership, what sometimes gets lost is the basic formula for a productive and effective professional and personal life. There is no magic secret or "17 steps to success" (I mean, there probably is, but not in this post). In my experience, the core ingredient for moving forward is simply this: follow up and follow through.
Merriam-Webster explains that "follow through" means to press on in an activity or process especially to a conclusion." The definition of "follow up," on the other hand, is "to pursue in an effort to take further action." There is a subtle but meaningful difference between the two. Follow-up is simply a step in the process of getting to the next stage. Follow-through is about creating closure. Both are critically important and powerful when executed well and consistently.
If you think of life as baking a cake, following up and following through aren't as exotic as cinnamon but rather as rudimentary as all-purpose flour. But don't be fooled. As basic as following up and following through may seem, the research shows that people seek closure in personal and professional relationships.
Psychologist Arie Kruglanski in his 1990s research talked about people's "need for closure," a kind of longing to put the puzzle pieces of life in a predictable and stable form. Kruglanski pointed out that this need for closure "has widely ramifying consequences," impacting our interactions with each other. Psychologist Leon Festinger's research back in the 1950s showed that people literally experience stress and discomfort ("cognitive dissonance") when their beliefs of what should happen do not match with the facts of what actually happens. In other words, cognitive discomfort can happen when we expect closure (including some form of follow-up and follow-through) and it doesn't happen. Leon Festinger's findings showed that people strive for "psychological consistency" to feel satisfied and well adjusted. These are two more well-known examples of research, which reveals that people don't like to be left hanging and don't like having their expectations shattered. Therefore, chances of creating better professional and personal relationships are dependent on creating psychological consistency for people.
So what does following through really look like? Here are three examples:
1. You promised to find the answer to a question raised in the meeting by, let's say, next Tuesday. Successful follow-up is making good on your promise before or, at the latest, on the promised day.
2. You are working on a complex project with many moving pieces. There is ambiguity as to who needs to do what and what happens next. Instead of awaiting instruction, or for someone else to take action, you proactively offer up what you think can contribute to the success of the project. Your innate desire for closure can work to your advantage here.
3. Someone did you a small, seemingly insignificant favor. They even said, "It's no big deal. Don't even mention it." But it was meaningful and important to you. In fact, the person actually helped you quite a bit, and he or she didn’t have to do it. Soon thereafter you follow up with a thoughtful, handwritten thank-you card. There is some simple courtesy weaved in here, but it's riding the wave of a powerful follow-up.
But who cares, right? What are the benefits of following through? Here are five ways where follow-up and follow-through can be powerful and transformative:
1. You get the satisfaction of knowing that you did your part in whatever exchange you may have had. You uphold your good reputation, which leads to deeper trusting relationships, which in turn can lead to better personal and professional success.
2. You gain more self-respect and increase your self-confidence. After all, professional consistency in the way you deal with your colleagues, friends and family, and even strangers, demonstrates your character.
3. You get more meaning out of life because you will inevitably get positive feedback on your unrelenting commitment to following through.
4. You get more business! Yes, if you are in business development, it's even more critically important to follow up and follow through. Your bottom line literally depends on it.
Now it's time to "bake that cake" with the all-purpose power of following up and following through.
Many people want coaching on the "big stuff" — executive presence, changing the perception of others, developing their career path, etc. These are all wonderful things to strive for. But here is something else to keep in mind while you are pursuing the proverbial cinnamon in your life's cake: Don't forget the flour! There are many things in life that are out of our control, but you have full control over your ability to follow through. You are the only one who can choose to be consistent and proactive, creating the sense of accomplishment and closure for yourself and those around you.
Whether you are a senior leader, just starting out in your career or an entrepreneur building your business and brand, my advice is to start with the simple magic of following up and following through for 30 days. My guess is you'll be floored by the results.