Why don't actions get done?

So you wrap up the meeting, and using Magic Minutes, the pdf record of the meeting gets distributed straight away and everyone who agreed to an action gets notified separately of their commitment. You’ve done your bit as the chairman right? By next meeting, all the actions will be complete and you can move on to the next set of challenges. That’s how it’s supposed to work isn’t it?

But we all know it doesn’t. Frequently we have to review actions that are several meetings old, and the most often status update is ‘Ongoing’. So why is that?

It’s down to the process of agreeing the action in the first place. Often, after a lengthy debate about something, the granting of an action to someone is seen as a form of closure on the discussion – a way of getting permission to move on. After all, if you’ve spent ages discussing something neither made a decision or agreed an action, what was the point?

And there is the problem. Too often, no one wants to challenge whether it was the right action, given to the right person, and there was sufficient resource to complete it. You just move on.

So you get to the next meeting, and it hasn’t been done. To avoid embarrassment, you agree it is ‘Ongoing’ rather than ‘Outstanding’ (i.e. not started), but you know the action owner has barely thought about it since the previous meeting.

This is where the chair really needs to double and triple check when an action is noted. “Are you sure this is the right thing to do?”, “Will this close this issue out?”, “Have you got the time to do this?”, “Do you need any help to do this?”, “Can you get it completed by next month?”. You don’t need to ask them all, but you get the idea.

It is then important to gently chase on the actions between meetings (which Magic Minutes does for you automatically), and to remind people one last time just before the next meeting.

If I get to the third meeting and an action still hasn’t been closed out, people know I get exasperated. “What is the point of agreeing actions if we are not going to do them?”, I am heard to say, or “Should we give this action to someone else?”.

One thing I try not to do is let the action get cancelled with the infamous ‘Closed’ status (i.e. not done). If you do that too often, then you are saying it’s okay to agree to anything in the meeting and then just ignore it later.

So next time you get given an action – look the chair in the eye and say “Yes, I will do it”.