Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
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
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
Insist on commitments
Remind managers to acknowledge employee efforts
Help to solidify the meeting’s key takeaways
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.
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.
To effectively write action items in meeting minutes, follow these three guidelines when typing up an action item outline:
Write out an objective at the top of the page.
Review the tasks required to meet the objective.
Break the tasks down into concrete action items with the following details included:
The employee responsible for taking action
The due date of the completed action item
Any applicable details, such as contacts, file names, and things to note
How (and to whom) the completed action item should be reported
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.
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
Show a chain of action items and tasks and how they fit into an objective or goal