I am on a bit of a rampage lately about organizations not addressing missed deadlines.
I see this a lot. The reason why so many organizations have so much trouble doing what they intend to do, on time, is because when they fail to meet a deadline, nothing happens.
The dates come and go and no one talks about it.
People who were on the hook either assume that they have been granted more time, or it wasn’t that important to begin with. Then there is no new deadline established because no one is talking about it at all. So the strategic task takes an even lower priority over the more urgent tactical demands of the moment.
This simple failure to address missed deadlines is one of the biggest factors that keeps organizations from making strategic progress.
You can’t let the date come and go and leave the failure totally unacknowledged and unexamined. This sends all the wrong messages and sets a very low standard of execution.
What you are communicating (by not communicating) is:
- It wasn’t that important;
- It doesn’t matter that it didn’t get done;
- There are no consequences for missing a deadline;
- We’re not serious about meeting our commitments;
- Late is OK.
Why people don’t follow up
I have observed four main reasons why executives fail to follow up on missed deadlines:
- Too busy to keep track.
- Not personally good at keeping track.
- Don’t like the conflict of keeping track.
- Don’t know what consequences to impose when something is off track.
The first two are really easy to fix. Get someone who’s naturally good at this to help you. I talked about how to do that that here.
Number 3 and 4 you can’t delegate. As a general manager, if these things make you uncomfortable you need to do them anyway. Here are some suggestions:
How to deal with the conflict:
- Be really clear up front about dates, owners, and measures, and communicate the status at the beginning of the project when everything is “green.”
- Start communicating regularly about what is getting done before anything goes wrong.
- Everyone can see their name on the chart with the due dates and measures. It is up to them to keep on track.
- Then when something goes from green to yellow or red, it is not as much of a conflict to bring it up. At least it is not a surprise. Everyone saw it coming. The person who failed to deliver had the chance to avoid it, and knew before hand that it would be addressed, so the conflict is not personal.
What consequences to impose
You don’t need to fire someone every time a deadline is missed. So if you don’t fire the person for missing a deadline, what do you do?
There are so many options between termination and nothing!
You don’t need to be a tyrant. But you do need to have a conversation.
Ask, “what happened? How to do you intend to recover?” The act of having this conversation sends the message that it is NOT OK to miss a deadline.
It should be uncomfortable
Sure it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it should be! You missed a deadline. That should not be pleasant, comfortable news for anyone.
It’s not about coming down hard on someone or being disrespectful or nasty. It’s about moving the business forward.
Also, I find that strong performers take a lot of ownership in these conversations and put more pain on themselves then they get from you. Many leaders struggle with the motivation factor.
They feel like if they give someone a hard time the person may get de-motivated, be less committed or leave. In reality, the impact of not having the conversation is that you are letting the person know that what they were working on wasn’t very important, which I think is always even more de-motivating.
This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.