What creates the mentality that a deadline of October 15th means somewhere near that date? Or that the deadline is the ideal, but no one really believes it will happen? Or that the deadline, while important, is totally impractical and therefore can be ignored and close enough will be good enough? Or, as long as I help you diffuse the commotion we’ve caused by being late, I am doing my part.
If you experience these situations, you have not created a Culture of Deadlines. You probably haven’t set the precedent and may not have led strategically.
- Set the deadline. Don’t assume the urgency in your mind will somehow automatically convert to a specific date in the other person’s mind unless you have spoken about the date: October 15th, close of business. It is incredibly common to delegate a task without a specific deadline – you probably do it at least 20 times a day.
- Set the deadline. Set a specific date, and test commitment. “Uh-huh,” or “Okay,” or “Sure,” are not good enough. Ask some clarifying questions to ensure they understand.
- Clarify Expectations: What specifically must be done by that time? Project A must be done. Not just started, not just outlined, not just discussed as a group, but done, and done means… Again, ask questions to test they understand: “Please describe how you see the end product looking. What will be unique about it when it is done? What is the first step you will take?”
- Set a sub deadline to check in on progress, especially if you are concerned about their performance on the project. “By October 10th, outline the steps of the project and how you will approach it.” Then, review those steps when they are submitted. In other words, break the project into manageable bites, and strategically involve yourself in the process to ensure success at the final deadline.
- Run through the ‘what ifs.’ Create a thorough list of all the possible, yet reasonable things that could go wrong. You know there will be daily interruptions, unanticipated rush projects, occasional employee illness, technology interruptions and dependencies on other people involved in the process. These are typically NOT reasons to miss a deadline. These are real challenges, we know these things happen and we must build in time for reality to occur. Again, ask a question: “If the server goes down temporarily, what is your plan to continue to meet the deadline?” If the answer is that they will just miss the deadline, without the ability to think through alternative plans, then you know not to be surprised if deadlines are missed unless you work through these things ahead of time.
- Deal with the Elephant. If you know a particular colleague routinely misses agreed upon deadlines, you can either ask for things several weeks before you really need them, or address the Elephant: ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t work, ‘patching up’ the mess, and having ‘talking them down off the ledge’ conversations with the stakeholders, is helpful in the moment, but not the answer to the real issue that things are routinely late. Ask curious questions and determine what you and they will do differently to meet deadlines. “Let’s come up with six possible ways to address each probable ‘what if’ scenario.”