Improve Your Follow Through: 5 Concrete Actions to Increase Your Effectiveness

Do you know how people and organizations intend to make changes, but never follow through? Do you ever do this? Would it be helpful to learn five concrete actions you can take that will increase your follow through?

Having a good intention accounts for changes in behavior only 20 to 30% of the time, according to psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, writing in the July 1999 issue of the American Psychologist. Past behavior patterns and the difficulties associated with change are much better predictors of actual modifications of behavior. Good intentions are often never acted upon. 

In today’s business environment, change is a constant challenge. If you are not able to change, you will not be able to successfully compete.

Consider these scientifically researched concrete actions you can take that will increase the probability that your good intentions will result in useful change:

(1) Set specific goals for yourself.

A goal like, "I intend to make more money this year," is not likely to result in effective change because it is not clear what you should do to make this happen. In contrast, "I intend to increase my customer contacts by 20% this year," is much more likely to result in a useful change. You have specified the goal you must meet to accomplish your objective.

 (2) Goals that you can accomplish quickly are easier to act upon than goals that are far off. 

If you see a benefit arising – today – from an action you take, it is much easier to motivate yourself than if you must wait months or years to reap a benefit. (If you reward yourself for increasing your customer contacts by 1.6% per month, you are more likely to stay on task than if you work for the entire year before assessing your efforts.) Taking the "long view" is difficult. It is more useful to specify a series of short-term benefits that accrue on the path to long-term results. If you are working toward a long-term objective, identify short-term benefits along the way.

 (3) Learn to recognize there is some value in the attempt, no matter what the outcome. 

It is easy to talk yourself out of starting when you set a high standard of success as a necessary outcome. What if you fail? Yet, if you try, and only achieve 90% of your goal (you have increased your customer contacts by 18% rather than the 20% you set), have you failed? A better option it to frame your goal as an opportunity to learn. You will learn something, even from your mistakes. (You have benefited from the increase in customer contacts, and have learned something from those efforts you made to increase contacts that were not successful.) If one of your goals is to learn something, whatever the outcome, you increase the value of making an attempt and you are more likely to take action to bring about positive change.

 (4) Prevention is a poor motivator. 

The intention to act to prevent some calamity does not elicit high levels of motivation. It is much more successful to "promote" something of value to you through your action than to "prevent" calamity. It is more difficult to be motivated by a goal to prevent losing market share than to increase customer satisfaction (which will have the side effect of preventing lost market share). Because we never notice things that don’t happen, it is difficult to recognize the value of the behavior that prevented it from happening.

(5) The MOST POWERFUL action of all is the formation of a simple plan to implement the change in a specified way and at the right time. 

The problems we encounter when we attempt to implement action for change are staggering. Sometimes we do not recognize an opportunity because it fails to capture our attention when we are distracted by another activity. Sometimes the opportunity is not obvious. Sometimes the opportunity presents itself only briefly.

When you think through a plan of action; begin to devise a way around the obstacles; and you anticipate both where and when to act; you dramatically increase the probability you will put your intention into effective action. 

WHO are the customer contacts you want to pursue? 
WHAT will you need to introduce them to your product? 
WHEN will you meet these contacts?
WHERE will you encounter your potential customers? 
HOW will you provide them with what they need from you?