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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
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Follow Through

Whether it be in management or in our personal lives, following through with decisions is extremely important. Let me explain what I mean using a business activity.

It does not matter what the business decision is about. The key issue is whether the manager and his or her staff carry out the decision – the follow through. For example, after a decision is made, we all then prioritize our activities – sometimes leaving out decisions, which we do not consider important.

As I reflected on this piece, I could not help but think back to my days involved in running the Asia-Pacific profit center for Avon Products. I will never forget my first trip to Japan in that capacity. The head of Avon in Japan was a very efficient and wonderful person. We met for several hours and made several decisions about business issues. As I reviewed each issue, I would always get “hi” as an answer, and always with a very friendly smile.

Then, as I returned to the United States, communications would always continue with Japan. In those days, there were no emails – only faxes and phone calls. One day I asked about the follow through on one of our issues? The answer was cordial but the Manager in Japan said nothing had been done. In a nice way, I reminded him of our discussion and his acknowledgment of the issue to be addressed. There was a nice response but nothing was said about the failure to complete work on our discussion issue.

A few weeks later I met with another Japanese friend and I told him the story to seek his advice. He asked me, “What was the manager’s response?”

I thought for a minute and remembered that the response was, “Hi”. He laughed and said the lack of follow through was simple. In Japanese, “hi” means that the persona responding has heard every word you have expressed. But, it does not mean that the persona will execute the decision.

From that point on, I would always ask everyone who worked with me to outline the action they would take with regard to every issue we addressed. Then, on my return to New York, I would fax a review of all issues and ask for a response acknowledging the action line for each issue.

As for families and our personal lives, follow through is just as important as action in the business world. That is one reason why I, to this day, still have, on my desk, a “To Do” list. Sometime there can be as many as 15 items on that list. As I complete each item, a line is drawn through the subject. I hope as a result, my personal follow throughs are much better.

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