The Art of the Reminder

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“You promised, remember?”

As a child, you said these words to elicit a certain response, often by jogging a memory or inducing guilt.

As an adult, you still remind people of their promises — in both personal and professional realms.

Types of Reminders: Regular vs. Artful

Examples of the regular reminder are a phone call confirming a dental appointment you made six months ago or an email indicating the time of a webinar you signed up for last week. These induce an action within a narrowly-defined timeframe.

The artful reminder, by contrast, is an agent of transformation (inspired by Seth Godin's definition of art). It counters inaction and resistance by encouraging the promise-giver to recall the vision she once embraced, values espoused, intentions desired, priorities established, and plans detailed. These kind of reminders put day-to-day actions into context, showing how a positive response today can accomplish a goal tomorrow.

When to Remind

Issue a reminder before it’s too late to reverse course without stifling self-correction. Ascertaining the ideal moment is important. Too early seems like micromanagement, the opposite of your intentions. Too late means that opportunities are not seized, further defeating hopes of change that the reminders should inspire.

The key to timing is keeping promises made, values held, and paths chosen top-of-mind. Inject reminders naturally in conversations. Try not to provoke panic and defensiveness but do encourage remembrance, reflection, acknowledgement, and action.

Examples of Artful Reminders

Example 1: Employees

Your employee wants greater responsibility in hopes of more fully expressing her talents and garnering support for her ideas as well as elevating her workplace clout and getting a higher salary.

Together, you create a professional development plan with specifics about training programs and special projects that give her the knowledge and skills needed to excel in a management role. You also discuss behaviors and attitudes that are essential to moving to the next level: initiative in gathering information from coworkers; conflict-resolution skills; discernment to understand when to escalate issues and when to make independent decisions.

Certainly, advising the employee of a registration deadline for a professional certification program will result in enrollment. A more difficult conversation involves convincing her that intense study on a nightly basis while working full-time during the day is essential to gaining requisite knowledge.

The artist’s rendition of the reminder, then, is conveying again and again that specific actions are necessary to earn greater responsibility, team support, workplace clout, and a bigger paycheck.

Example 2: Customers

A customer agrees to provide your company with certain information at the onset of an engagement plus deliver feedback at designated intervals for the purpose of ensuring on-time completion of a project. You outline requirements in a contract that specifies your commitment to a delivery date.

The customer remembers the project due date but forgets its obligations. Alerts at milestones may encourage feedback according to the timeline. Sometimes, though, vague information and superficial guidance received from customers indicate that prompts result in mindless (and useless) responses.

However, for the project to succeed, full customer engagement is needed. You want to show how intermediate steps, those for which you are sending alerts, actually influence outcomes. The artful reminder conveys that deadlines, though important, are superficial markers of much more critical project components; that is, thoughtful, well-considered reactions to how project results to date mesh with strategic direction.

Example 3: Suppliers

You place a purchase order with a supplier that agrees to a price, shipment date, and payment terms. These negotiations start with discussions of specifics but also involve defining how the customer-supplier relationship will work.

If an order is particularly important, then you may call to check on its status and remind the supplier about the purchase order and consequences for service failures (e.g., chargebacks). Your goal though is not to rush an order or extract dollars from your supplier but to build understanding of what is truly important.

What you really want is a trusting relationship with a supplier who regularly, without prodding, delivers orders on time. The right kind of reminder will focus on reinforcing the need for agreement about timing of sales forecasts, order lead times, component approval processes, allocation of production capacity, and alerts to problems that may delay production and shipment. Check for shared understanding of partnership so that reminders are simple but powerful communications.

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