Afters Ask the Right Questions to Deliver Results the First Time

How many times have you delivered a project, task or report only to have it sent back for a re-do?

After putting tons of time, research and effort into delivering on a project, I just hate seeing the ol’ “This is a good start…” response hit my inbox. We’ve all been there, and it is at times unavoidable. Today, we’re going to talk about a very simple, yet incredibly effective “productivity hack” that will help make sure we deliver the desired results the first time.

What we’re talking about here is what Andy Bounds, Crestcom faculty member and author of The Jelly Effect: How to Make Your Communication Stick, dubbed “afters”. “Afters” focuses on the future need or expectation that a person or audience has when they ask for something. For example, you don’t want a newspaper, you want the news you get from it. You don’t want toothpaste, you want clean teeth. And your boss doesn’t want a report, she wants the information that the report will provide her.


“Afters” focuses on the future need of a request.

What “afters” tell us, then, is that the key to delivering results the first time is to understand the purpose of what we’re being asked to do before we go out and attempt to do it. To do that you need to ask questions, but not just any questions. You need to ask future-based questions.

So, if your boss were to ask you to produce a report, you response, with a future-based question, would be something link, “Sure, of course I can. Just so I’m clear, what is it you’re looking to achieve with this report?” This question doesn’t ask what needs to go in the report, rather what should happen after the report. Another future-based question would be to ask, “What are your goals with this?”

Now, when you ask a question such as this, you’ll often find that the answer you receive does not fully resolve your need to understand the “afters” of their request. They’re likely to still be a little stuck on “I need a report” mode, so don’t stop at the first question but delve deeper. Think of when, who, what, where questions to help aide your understanding. Also work in “tell me more” or “go on”. The more questions you ask and the more information you can get, the better equipped you are to deliver on the “afters” of the request.

After you’ve asked your “second questions” and you’re comfortable that you fully understand the meaning and purpose of the deliverable that you are meant to achieve, you ask a final question: “Of everything you’ve shared with me now, what’s your number one priority?” And then ask about the second and third priority.

afters improves team productivity

“Afters” improves team productivity and employee engagement.

Taking the time to ask these questions and understand the “afters” of a request is going to greatly improve communication on your team. Not only will it improve communication, but it will also ensure that you are focusing your time, energy and motivation on delivering results that are specifically going to contribute to the needs and goals of the organization. And don’t just think of it in terms of reporting to your boss. Use “afters” in your project communications with clients, suppliers, vendors, and employees.

That’s right, this works both ways. It’s not just when you’re receiving requests from your boss, it’s also when you’re giving requests to your employees. Talking about the “afters” of a task, rather than simply delegating it, there is a great chance that you will make a big, big difference in getting rid of one of the most frustrating things in the workplace, which is where you needlessly have to do work twice (or more). And you’ll be taking a great step toward improving employee engagement, motivation, and productivity remarkably.