How to define actionable next steps for meetings

Xander Groesbeek

Tuesday 3 March 2020

The question we will review in this article is one of the most "downvoted" questions our meeting organizers run into (top 3). So not to worry, if you got more thumbs down than thumbs up for this question... You are not alone.

Next steps are clear

At its core, all meetings have one of the four following objectives: to inform, to decide, to approve or to evaluate. What makes this question tricky is that whatever the objective of your meeting: people will always want to have a sense of accomplishment walking out of one. Clear next steps are a big driver in achieving this feeling. So then how do you make sure the next steps of your meeting are aligned, clear and actionable?

  1. Reserve time to go through your next steps
  2. Make your next steps S.M.A.R.T.
  3. Distinguish who is responsible and/ or accountable for the action
  4. Create visibility of all agreed actions to intensify the sense of ownership

Let's look at these one at a time...

⏳ Reserve time

This one is super simple, but does get overlooked too often: make sure you reserve time during your meeting to jointly list and confirm the actions identified. Do not rely on individuals to note their own actions.

Practically this means that:

  1. At the start, you manage expectations by saying: "let's use the last five minutes to go through the actions we identified"
  2. At the end you say: "looking at the time, let us now take five minutes to go through all the actions we will be taking next".

If attendees object to being 'cut short', make that a new action for the objector: "John plans a follow-up to finalize discussion about topic X". Making it a playful way to loop back to aligning on the next steps needed.

🦉 Formulate them S.M.A.R.T.

'Next steps', or often also referred to as 'tasks' or 'actions' need to be S.M.A.R.T.

  • Specific: well defined and unambiguous
  • Measurable: aligned criteria to measure whether the task is done
  • Achievable: attainable and within the capacity of the owner of the task
  • Realistic: the task is in-line with what can be expected of the task's owner
  • Timely: includes a starting date and a target date aligned with stakeholders

A good way to measure these criteria is to ask yourself "if someone would take over the task owner's job position, would he or she immediately understand what needs to be done?"

🎭 Appoint a responsible and/ or accountable person

In today's corporate world people tend to mix up a task's owner and executioner, he who is accountable for the task to be done and he who is responsible for getting the task done. This person can be the same, but often it is not. Be explicit about asking this question, so that any follow-up can be directed at the right person.

👓 Create visibility

And finally, make sure that the next steps are visible for everyone to track. Often there is a dependency between what different people need to do going out of a meeting, and thus you will need to make sure people can align accordingly, without the need for yet another meeting.