I’ve been pounding through several books while building a couple of presentations the past few days…PPT usually puts me in a foul mood, so I’m going to declare a break and talk about something I talk a LOT about with my students and mentees, because it really doesn’t appear anywhere in the formal curriculum of anything I teach, or took, in school.
As I was reading Scott Belsky’s new book, Making Ideas Happen, last night, I fell upon page 84-85 and just had to chuckle, as I’ve been conversing with many a young career professional about the art of follow up (this section of his book is entited, “The Tao of the Follow-Up”). Ironically, an example was from an employee of one of my previous employers…and I have to say, this employee was spot on in Belsky’s book when he said the following:
“I’m starting to believe that life is just about following up.”
I get it. I also agree. In fact, so many people out there, bluntly, suck at follow up (sorry, there’s not really a better word for it). I’m not always the very best about it myself when I get really swamped. But, this person has a valid point, especially in our attention deficit, do-more-with-less multitasking stressed out society. You have to keep following up to get information and people to take action.
However, with that 2 sided story comes the dark side as well; to wit, the title of my blog entry. There truly is a fine line between being pleasantly persistent and being a stalker. However, you can temper it by being gracious about your follow up. I am certainly no Miss Manners of follow up, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way…the hard way:
1. Always THANK anyone you are following up with for their time…esp if you met with them face to face. As I’ve preached here before, time is the only thing finite on this earth – everything else with enough time and money can be potentially infinite. Time is precious.
2. Spare us all the War & Peace email – if you’re following up, one simple line on an email will do. No one has time to read a Tolstoy-esque diatribe.
3. Switch up modes of transport – if you emailed last time, pick up the phone this time. Or snail mail. Or fed ex. Or fax…just keep switching it up. If you just keep using only one method, you’re not showing any flexibility, and you might not even be reaching the person you intended to because maybe they don’t use the common mode that YOU do!
4. If you don’t know the other person you’re reaching out to – you might want to cautiously explain what you’d like to gain from them, without getting too obnoxious. Again, this part is art more than science. I don’t have a formula here, but it comes with practice, time, and a few blunders along the way. I got this certificate on follow up from the school of hard knocks. It’s like your networking or social capital is like a bank account – and you definitely do NOT want to overdraw with a brand new bank…or a brand new person in your life.
5. If you’re going to follow up and be long winded, you’d better have something interesting to say – seriously. Help them by following up with a book or an article you discussed when you were face to face. Give them something they didn’t expect to learn from you – it shows that you add value to their network…and you’re not just a one way street stalker.
Besides, no one in this world ever got anything really worth fighting for by laying back and waiting for it to happen, without a ton of hard work and…pleasant persistence. So, when in doubt? Follow up! Just be careful and smart about how you do it.