It is a human need to know the end result of our efforts. We want to know how the decision was reached, what the decision was, and how what happened might affect our lives. We want to know so badly that we will often make up details or imagine outcomes just to satisfy our curiosity. This is particularly true for our employees. Providing another person with closure is helpful and courteous, but more importantly it engenders trust.
Several years ago we worked with a director who was responsible for 1800 employees. We met with many of the key employees months before in several leadership workshops we had facilitated. In each workshop, we asked them to tell us what concerns they had about the organization. Each session produced a long list. We summarized all of these lists which had several hundred items from the various off-site meetings and presented it to the director. The Director agreed to address each issue on the list.
About 3 months later we called the director to follow up on the list of concerns. The director responded, “Thanks for following up, but, I’m kind of embarrassed. I haven’t gotten back to my people on any of the issues on the list.”
Unsurprised, we said, “You know, that’s why we called. We had heard whispers that you hadn’t done anything. Your people are very upset and disturbed that the input sessions we held were just for show. They want to hear back from you. They want closure.”
He said, “Well, then I need some help.”
We pulled out the list of 200 plus items and he started to go through them. “I’ve divided the list into three sections,” he explained. “The first section involves relatively easy fixes—I’ve been able to resolve these items. The next section contains actions I’m still trying to address. I spend chunks of time wrestling with these problems. The last section covers issues that clearly cannot be resolved.”
We were pleasantly surprised but asked, what has stopped you from delivering that quick briefing? You could have done that weeks ago.” What he had said was a fair and honest explanation. In fact, that’s all his people expected.
He smiled and shyly replied, “But, I…wanted to be able to solve all of these.”
There is nothing wrong with sharing intermediate progress, even if it may be small. If you wait until everything on that list was addressed, it would be months or maybe even years before you ever got back to them. Share your 3 sections. You could share the things that you have done, explain why certain action items cannot be completed, and be frank about what you are still working on. Your people will be updated and know that you are genuinely trying to address their inputs. They will have closure and feel a sense of ownership or partnership with you in trying to improve the organization. They may even be able to help you accomplish some of the on-going items.
This is not a unique experience, and you probably have had something like this happen to you. Sometimes we think we must accomplish everything perfectly before giving updates and feedback. We may feel that others will view our partial efforts as unsatisfactory. Yet, letting your people know where you stand on issues they have presented to you can create a strong alliance between boss and direct report, peer to peer, and especially customer to customer. We must not forget to follow up and provide closure with those who have a vested interest in the decision making process.