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Strengthening Your Action-orientation Ability

Making good business decisions is important, but making sure that those decisions are implemented is also essential to success. If you are highly action-oriented, you're the type of person who gets thing done, whether on your own or through other people. You make good on your own commitments, and you make sure that other people do as well. Whatever you need to do for a project, you follow through on it.

For instance, if you're leading a project at work, you need to coordinate numerous people and tasks to ensure that the effort is completed on time. You hold a meeting for the project team to address a few problems that have cropped up. During the meeting, the team decides to make a few changes, such as hiring a different vendor to handle certain parts of the project and using a new process for carrying out another aspect of the project.

You close the meeting by getting the group to clarify who's responsible for implementing which changes, as well as when the changes should be made. In the coming weeks, you check with the various team members to ensure that the changes they were responsible for are proceeding as planned.

An action orientation is important in any position, but it's especially critical if you're managing people who are not highly self-motivated. Of course, you can be certain of your own follow-through. But making sure that the people who report to you are doing so, and in the right ways, is more difficult.

How to become more action-oriented? Try these recommendations:

  • Read a book on the subject. Potential useful titles include Make Success Measurable! A Mindbook/Workbook for Setting Goals and Taking Action by Douglas K. Smith and Business Plans to Game Plans: A Practical System for Turning Strategies into Action by Jan B. King and James Walsh.

  • Take an online learning course on the subject. Examples include the "Implementing Strategy," "Project Management," and "Leading a Team" modules offered in Harvard ManageMentor program developed by Harvard Business School Publishing. Your company may have purchased a site license for such e-learning programs. Or, you may be able to buy a CD containing modules of interest as well as participate in them online or download them from the developer. Some developers charge a fee for participation in the courses they offer; others offer modules for free.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone who you view as particularly action-oriented. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this ability.

  • Attend a workshop or course on aspects of this subject, such as translating goals into action steps. Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.

  • Manage for action. Sometimes new managers are uncomfortable checking to see what progress people on their teams are making. They're concerned that they may be seen as "micromanaging" the people who report to them. Fair enough, but remember: If you're a manager, it is the essence of your job to see to it that things are accomplished, and in a timely fashion. Micromanaging means more that you are trying to make everyone do things exactly the way you would. Managing for action is really just managing, and is entirely appropriate.

  • Clarify accountability. At the end of a project meeting, make certain that each person (including you) is clear on exactly what action steps he or she is responsible for, and by when. Ambiguity is the enemy of executing against a plan.

  • Follow up. Plan follow-up meetings and progress reports so you're not surprised by someone's lack of progress.

  • Address problems promptly. Make sure people understand the importance of a project and know that they should contact you immediately if they run into trouble.

  • Break complex assignments into their component parts. Then figure out which part needs to be done first, so that other parts can then be completed. Work out a sequence of priorities that will enable you to smoothly execute the project from start to finish. Many software vendors sell Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and GANTT project-management tools, both of which can help you establish these priorities and schedules. You can also use Planning/Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), a project-management approach that enables you to see how all the components of a project relate to one another. PERT lets you keep track of the project's entire picture at a high-level, conceptual level. You can obtain PERT software from a number of vendors.

  • Practice. The results are well worth the effort.