project management, communication, relationship management, advice for new graduates

Follow Up and Follow Through

People want to work with those they know, like, and trust.

That’s true whether you’re self-employed or on a payroll. It’s critical when you’re interviewing and it stays relevant on the job. So how do you build rapport and credibility?

Follow up and follow through. If you don’t follow up, you’ll be forgotten. If you don’t follow through, you’ll be remembered poorly. To build your personal brand—to be known, liked, and trusted—consider these tips:

Communicate early and often.
This saying comes from project management. Those who must exert influence without authority understand the need for follow-up. But you don’t have to be a project manager to apply this advice.

Chances are, you have people you must influence to achieve your objectives. Whether you’re in the same organization or not, your priorities are not theirs. They have their own projects, goals, and metrics. They may answer to a different chain of command and be motivated by different factors. What you need may only take 15 minutes. But if it falls low on their to-do list, you may have to wait days or weeks. Communicating early shows respect for their schedule. Following up ensures that it gets done.

The same principle applies to change management. Times of change are often stressful and rife with tension. But they’re also opportunities to distinguish yourself as a leader. Communicate early and often to gain buy-in. As the saying goes, “what’s familiar becomes acceptable.” Think of a song you initially hated yet grew to like with repeated exposure. This is the same concept. Negotiation expert Herb Cohen goes so far as to say that with “sufficient time and repeated efforts… almost every ‘no’ can be transformed into a ‘maybe’ and eventually a ‘yes.’”

Finally, your colleagues are busy and forget what you tell them. They may even forget what they had agreed to do. Regular contact allows you to clarify their commitment and maintain the momentum. Now you may fear coming across as annoying. But if you do it tactfully, you’ll be seen instead as helpful and reliable.

Be impeccable with your word.
Follow through on every commitment formal or informal, large or small. If you say you’ll send an email, do it. If you say you’ll attend an event, be there. If you say you’ll complete a report by a certain time, it better be done. In this case, do sweat the small stuff. Write down notes to self; finish tasks as soon as possible; do what you must to keep your word. Your reputation is a sum of your daily interactions.

Be clear and direct. “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” Don’t say “maybe” because you’re afraid of confrontation. You’ve likely encountered this in your personal life. Think of a time someone responded “maybe” to your invitation. They hold out for something better, and if nothing materializes, they’ll settle for your offer. Don’t do that to people. Learn to say no, so that when you say yes, they will believe you. If you must give a tentative answer, let them know when you will confirm or decline—and follow through.

Be a person of your word, and you will stand out in our culture of flakes.

This is the final post in our series: Advice for New Graduates.