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Foolproof Follow-Through

A Systematic Approach To Getting Your Committees To Do Their Duty

So, youíre working on the agenda for an upcoming committee meeting. As you read through the minutes of the last one, youíre reminded of a series of assignments that were supposed to be completed by now. Going down the list, youíre relieved to discover that all of yours seem to be done. But come to think of it, you donít recall that your committee members ever carried out theirs.

To get committee members to follow through next time, use an action chart. Itís a detailed compilation of all actions generated from the meeting, along with the expected completion/next report date, the person responsible, the status, and the date completed, each listed in columns. As background, the chart should also catalog the name of the committee, where and when the committee met, and who served as chair and staff liaison.

Well and good, you say. But anybody can make a list; that doesnít necessarily keep things on track. True. So how do you get from good intentions to job well done?

Make it official. Be certain to fill out the action chart as soon as the minutes are approved and file it with the official minutes. Also send a copy with the minutes to each member of the committee.

Make it easy. Include on the form a column for the name of the person responsible. On the copy going to the individual responsible for an action (or several actions), highlight the name to make it stand out. If you have a members-only section on your Web site for committee activity, post the chart there as well and encourage committee members to check it regularly.

Make it systematic. Put a copy in your tickler file and check it methodically. Keep the formís status field up to date. I tend to do this in pencil once a month, making a final printout for the files after all actions are complete. Checking status at regular intervals keeps me from being surprised by forgotten deadlines.

Make it specific. The committee should determine an expected completion/next report date for each action, which the staff liaison will list on the chart. A nebulous wish list is likely to remain just that; a straight-forward due date give committee members a defined target and staff a follow-up calendar. Ideally, no one will misunderstand who is responsible for what and when it is due. When everyone is clear on expectations, staff are more confident about follow-up and committee members are much more likely to produce. They are also far less likely to resent reminders.

Make it a priority. Itís the committee chairís job to make it clear to members that an assignment is a commitment. Set aside time at the beginning of each meeting to briefly review the actions and outcomes from the previous meeting. On those actions not yet finished, the person responsible should be prepared to report on the status and the expected completion date. Obviously the goal of this exercise is not to embarrass anyone, and clearly some assignments will require longer timetables. But youíre far more likely to generate a successful outcome if your committee spells out its expectations actively and systematically.

Make it official. This takes you full circle. Once all the actions on the chart have a completed date, put the final copy in with the official minutes. Two years from now you will congratulate yourself on the ease with which you can thumb through committee actions to find details, dates, and the person responsible. Youíll look brilliant to your colleagues in your associationís leadership thanks to your command of corporate history. But more than that, youíll save yourself a lot of time and energy Ė something most of us have in short supply.

Dawn M. Edgerton is associate executive director, American Society of Nuclear Cardiology, Bethesda, Marlyand. This article is intended for the private use of Members and is reprinted with the permission of Dawn Edgerton.

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