Missing Deadlines: What You Can Do to Get The Team Back on Track

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Aug 15, 2014

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.

And then there is no new focused deadline established because no one is talking about it at all.

Strategic progress

This is one of the biggest issues I see, why organizations fail to accomplish strategic things.

If you don’t address the very first deadline slip on the strategic thing, the urgent tactical demands of the moment take over, and strategic progress becomes a distant memory.

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 really wasn’t that important after all;
  • It doesn’t really 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:

  1. Too busy to keep track;
  2. Not personally good at keeping track;
  3. Don’t like the conflict of keeping track;
  4. 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 here.

Numbers 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:

Clarity, communication and conflict

  • Be really clear up front about dates, owners, and measures, and communicate the status at the beginning of the project before anything is late.
  • Start communicating regularly about what is getting done before anything deadlines are missed.
  • Then when something starts going wrong it is not as much of a conflict to bring it up. At least it is not a surprise. Everyone saw it coming. (As long as you were really clear about what is being tracked). The person who failed to deliver had the chance to avoid it, and knew beforehand 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.

Is it de-motivating?

Short answer — no. But, but many leaders struggle with the motivation factor. They feel like if they give someone a hard time for missing a deadline, the person may get de-motivated, become less committed or leave.

In reality, the opposite is true.

The impact of not having the conversation is that you are indirectly telling the person that what they were working on wasn’t very important.

I think not-having the frank conversation about a missed deadline is always more de-motivating than saying, “What you are working on so important, that we have to talk about this missed deadline and focus on the go forward plan.”

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life.