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Success Checks: How to Follow-up with Employees so They Don’t Drop the Ball

 March 7, 2019   By Rick Piraino

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Success Checks: How to Follow-up with Employees so They Don’t Drop the Ball

I remember when a young Brett Favre ran downfield throwing blocks after handing the ball off to his running back.

The sports commentators were blown away! Quarterbacks don’t throw blocks!

Quarterbacks think their job is over once the running back has the ball. They hand the ball off and then watch the play unfold.

This is often the mindset of leaders after delivering a goal or expectation. I know it was for me as a young leader. I handed the ball off to my employee and was done, expecting a touchdown.

I had no idea I was supposed to do something after delivering the goal.

Success Checks Versus Following Up After Failure

I was coaching one leader recently who shared the common story of an employee making a change around a behavioral issue. He did well for about three months and then started to revert to the old behavior.

I asked the leader, “So you talked to him and he improved. When was the next time you talked with him?” Of course, after he fell back.

This feedback was stimulated by failure. A failure check is following up after the window of opportunity to succeed has closed. Three months of the desired behavior change and silence from the leader. Understandable the employee might revert – the employee assumes it must not be important anymore.

In the Harvard Business Review article, “Your Coaching Is Only as Good as Your Follow-Up Skills,” it states:

“No matter how successful a coaching session feels while it’s underway, if it doesn’t lead to change after it’s over, it hasn’t been effective.”

Often, employee agreements to achieve goals or make change represent goodwill but not good strategy.

  • What will they do to accomplish the agreed-upon goal?
  • Do they have the resources, time, and abilities needed to do so?
  • Is this change dependent upon internal suppliers doing something differently and can that be ensured?

A goal without a plan is a wish.

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The answers to the types of questions listed above need to be developed into an action plan. The action plan creates a change strategy that helps the employee bridge from the current state to the desired outcome.

The action plan spells out a sequence of steps that will help the employee succeed.

The action plan is supported by follow-up meetings throughout its implementation. The purpose of follow-up meetings is to evaluate the quality of the employee’s implementation and the effectiveness of the action plan. I call these Success Checks - checking in before they have a chance to fail.  Success Checks provide a chance to manage action plans with positive recognition and eliminate surprises.

The Two-Bite Rule

I was sharing this model with a client who owned a restaurant and he said, Rick, that’s the two-bite rule. The restaurant business is tough, and he can’t afford unsatisfied customers. We all know that if a customer has a great experience, they tell one person. If they have a poor experience, they tell 10.

My client asks his staff to check in after the customer has taken two bites. I told him that I thought it might be a bit soon, so he asked me if I was ever in a situation where I had a plate of food delivered and the server walked away without giving me silverware. Because that actually has happened, I agreed, checking in after two bites is just right. This is a great Success Check opportunity.

Success Check dates are scheduled one at a time, adapting to employee performance and any challenges with the action plan. They are scheduled according to the timing of the next critical step or to ensure employee accountability.

A failure check sets a goal, provides no action plan, waits a longer period of time, and only gives the employee feedback when a performance failure occurs. This is not a great way to build either quality relationships or quality work.

A Success Check results in three potential outcomes:
  1. Positive recognition if they are following the action plan and it is proving to be successful;
  2. Positive Recognition plus tweaking the action plan if they are following it and the desired goal is not yet being achieved;
  3. Accountability if the employee is not implementing the action plan.

When we set an expectation or establish a new goal, our job isn’t over. It’s just begun. Let’s do our part after the hand-off, running downfield and throwing blocks so we can all celebrate in the end zone.

At Living As A Leader, we offer a Leadership Development Series designed to produce leaders that can positively shape the cultural environment, reduce turnover and achieve crucial business initiatives. We do this by providing training, coaching and consulting with a focus on pragmatic communication tools for leaders at all levels of your organization.

For more information, contact Steph Collins at scollins@livingasaleader.com

About the Author


Rick Piraino

Facilitator and Coach, Living As A Leader®

For forty years Rick has served as an educator, coach, counselor, trainer/facilitator and organizational consultant.

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