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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Action Item

What Is an Action Item?

Simply put, an action item is a specific task that’s intentionally crafted to be accomplished in a timely manner. An action item:

  • Is a clear, specific duty

  • Begins with a defining verb (e.g., appoint, assemble, decide, evaluate, present, test, etc.)

  • Is often agreed on during a meeting environment

  • Is assigned to a certain employee or team of employees

  • Is placed on a to-do list

  • Can’t be broken down into smaller tasks

  • Includes pertaining details

  • Must be completed by a designated due date

  • Has a specified desired outcome

  • Moves the organization or team toward the completion of a project or achievement of a significant goal

Why Do Action Items Matter?

Action items matter because they are the required steps that need to be taken for accomplishing an objective. Without action items, it’s common for employees to drift from the main work that needs to be done. However, action items keep employees focused and on task. Without them, meetings are meaningless since employees leave feeling unclear about what they are supposed to do.

Action items are typically agreed upon together and assigned out during a meeting. In this type of setting, action items are very beneficial because they:

  • Give purpose to the meeting

  • Increase participation levels from attendees

  • Clarify issues at hand

  • Set a focus and direction to follow

  • Empower others to take action

  • Enhance both individual and team productivity

  • Establish priorities

  • Insist on commitments

  • Communicate expectations

  • Remind managers to acknowledge employee efforts

  • Help to solidify the meeting’s key takeaways

Action Items vs. Tasks

When it comes to an action item vs. a task, there are some key differences that aren’t readily apparent. Action items are defined above, so let’s now look at the definition of a task. 

A task is expansive and encompasses a variety of small action items that must be done first if the full task is to be completed. 

Here’s an example of action item vs. task:

  • Task: Pitch the Merrill Project to The Merrill Brothers.

  • Action Items:

    • Call Frank Merrill by 3 PM today to set a presentation time for next Thursday.

    • Have Dwight reserve the conference room.

    • Gather final 2021 projected revenue statistics and upload them to the client’s file.

    • Ask Sherrie to proofread the presentation slides by this Friday.

    • Make an appointment with the marketing team for Monday at 9 AM to practice the pitch.

    • Get approval of the final presentation from Mack Jalisco on Monday.

As you can see, the purpose of action items is to move forward the more general tasks, rather than being the final tasks themselves.

How to Write Action Items In Meeting Minutes

To effectively write action items in meeting minutes, follow these three guidelines when typing up an action item outline:

  1. Write out an objective at the top of the page.

  2. Review the tasks required to meet the objective.

  3. Break the tasks down into concrete action items with the following details included:

    1. The employee responsible for taking action

    2. The due date of the completed action item

    3. Any applicable details, such as contacts, file names, and things to note

    4. How (and to whom) the completed action item should be reported

    5. The action item that is next on the list

Writing down action items in meeting minutes is helpful because it keeps everything in one place for future reference, works as a jumping-off point for getting work done, and drives the productivity of the team.

How Do You Follow Up on Action Items?

Following up on action items takes detailed note-taking, a continual communication effort, and plenty of dedication. However, keeping track of every aspect of action items can be simplified when one method is chosen, outlined, standardized, and maintained. With consistency, successful implementation is the end result. 

One way to accomplish this is to use a centralized collaborative management system that allows for the recording of, following up on, and checking off of action items. Such software should also be able to:

  • Integrate with other productivity apps

  • Organize action items according to different preferences (due date, employee, priority, etc.)

  • Take detailed notes

  • Send reminders to team members

  • Encourage communication between employees and their superiors

  • Incorporate comments

  • Show a chain of action items and tasks and how they fit into an objective or goal

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