Archive for February, 2010

The Three Elements of Action

Yawn Note: This article was originally published on the Security Catalyst Blog.

Your meeting was supposed to last just 45 minutes, but the first 35 have been devoted to the first agenda item. Most eyes have glazed over and you are the only one speaking. Just as tired as everyone else you say, “OK, so we all agree that we’re going to do that?” Hearing no objection, you move on to the next subject.

You are relieved to move on, but don’t be surprised when you have to rehash the same subject at the next meeting. Do not mistake movement for progress; your discussion was an utter failure because it lacked the fundamental element to any progress: An Action Item.

Every action item is comprised of three things:

  • A Person
  • A Deliverable
  • A Date

Absent one of these three things, a decision is not an action item. It is a wish. All would-be “action items,” “goals,” or “decisions” which fail to include one or more of these components were a waste of your breath and their time. Action items must be clear, measurable, and have accountability. Unless you want to rehash the same issue at the next meeting, never walk away without identifying a person, a deliverable and a date for each action item, regardless of the subject matter. Let’s analyze some would-be “action items” from actual meetings:

Assignment 1: “Development of a power point presentation to train staff.”

Person None.
Deliverable A powerpoint presentation. However, the subject matter of the presentation is not clear in this context.
Date None. This presentation will never be late, because it’s never due.
Outcome Inaction. This is a wish, not an action item.

Assignment 2: “Staff will take decisive action aimed within the next 30 days at having the new privacy policy ready to be trained upon.”

Person Nobody, or more specifically, everybody. Note the excessive use of passive voice. An action assigned to everybody is nobody’s responsibility.
Deliverable None. If you can tease a deliverable out of this, you deserve a raise. What exactly does “decisive action” and “ready to be trained upon” mean?
Date 30 Days. However, this date doesn’t mean much because there’s no deliverable or assignment.
Outcome Inaction. This is a wish, not an action item.

Assignment 3: “Jane Davis should work with the Communications Department to discuss the issue of posting the entire training program on the website for free downloading to all visitors.”

Person Jane Davis.
Deliverable Hold a discussion with the Communications Department. Although they probably intend for Jane to post the training program, her only assignment is to have a discussion. It might have been written better, “coordinate with the Communications department to post the training program in by the end of the month.”
Date None.
Outcome Inaction. This is a wish, not an action item.

Assignment 4: “Kevin Jones will identify key end-users, such as educational and other relevant organizations, and develop a database of end-users, by the end of January.”

Person Kevin Jones.
Deliverable Database of end-users. Of course, with this responsibility, Kevin must also have the authority and resources to execute the assignment.
Date January 31st.
Outcome Action. This is an action item.

The three components of action are a person, a deliverable, and a date. Here’s your assignment: Next time you lead a meeting, don’t rest until you identify the three elements of action for every assignment. It’s the single most effective thing you can do to shorten meetings and avoid rehashing the same issue again in the future.

So let’s evaluate my assignment:

Person You.
Deliverable Require a person, deliverable, and a date for every assignment you make.
Date Your next meeting.
Outcome Shorter, more effective meetings, happier employees, and real action. This is an action item.

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