Management Tactic #5: Be. On. Time.

This may be the most important leadership post I’ve written so far. It’s not getting the #1 slot because I’m sure there’s something better for that, and slots 2-4 are already taken. So #5 it is.

I’m going to share two things with you in this post: One, why you shouldn’t be late. Two, the secret for always being on time (no, it’s not setting your clocks 5 minutes early…that actually just makes you feel like you always have extra time, even when you don’t).

I want to preface this post by saying that I am not always on time. I don’t like to arrive somewhere and have to wait for someone. It’s something I’m working on.

Why You Shouldn’t Be Late. Ever.

Quite simply, you shouldn’t be late because you inconvenience those who have arrived on time. I know this may sound harsh, but you are literally wasting their time if you choose to be late.

This applies to all areas of your life, but I want to focus on business-related lateness. Imagine trying to have a staff meeting where 8 people arrive on time, 3 people arrive 10 minutes late, and 1 person arrives 20 minutes late. The whole point of a staff meeting is to discuss things as a group that you can’t discuss over e-mail or in smaller groups, so those people are integral to the intent of the meeting.

In that situation, if a person is 10 minutes late, they’re not just wasting 10 minutes of another’s person’s time–they’re wasting a total of 80 minutes from all of those people who were on time. That’s inexcusable.

Worse yet, lateness is contagious. If people know that one person is going to be late, they’re much less likely to be on time themselves. Pretty soon, instead of 4 people being late, 8 people are late and only a few are on time. Every time you’re late, you give someone else permission to be late the next time.

Got thyme?

Another Huge Reason Why You Shouldn’t Be Late.

Have you ever noticed that you take more risks when you’re driving when you’re late? You’re rushed, your hurried, so maybe you speed through that yellow light or careen past cars on the highway in an attempt to make up lost time.

Driving while late is extremely dangerous.

I definitely do this. And this is coming from a by-the-book, 10-and-2, use-my-blinker-in-parking-lots guy. I’m a very safe and aware driver. Except when I’m late.

The Secret for Always Being on Time.

It’s simple: Get a smart phone.

People are late for a myriad of reasons, but I think a number of them involve some level of concern that they could be doing something else with their time. Why leave work 5 minutes early when you could do 5 more minutes of work instead of waiting around for someone? Why would you ever purposely put yourself in a situation when you would need to wait?

Because of the reasons I discussed above, that’s why.

So how does a smart phone help? It gives you something to do while you wait. You can entertain yourself or continue working if that’s your prerogative. I spent 30 minutes waiting at the vet’s today, but the time flew by because I was a reading a book on my iPhone’s Kindle app and answering work e-mails. It was time spent, not wasted.

Just consider that the next time you’re stalling a departure so that you won’t have to wait when you get to lunch or the coffee shop or wherever. You have a whole world in your pocket. Just go ahead and leave, and if you arrive at your destination before the other person, do something productive or fun on your phone. By being early or on time, you’re doing your part to create a culture of punctuality.

What I don’t have is a way to ensure people get to meetings on time. Smart phones don’t help as much there, because one of the core rules of meetings is that you should start them on time. I don’t really like negative reinforcements (you could shame someone by closing the door to the meeting room when you start or put $5 in the cake fund jar if they’re late)…but even positive reinforcements (like giving a cupcake to everyone who’s on time) can come across as negative to those who feel like they were justified in being late. Any suggestions?

18 thoughts on “Management Tactic #5: Be. On. Time.”

  1. This should be #1 on the list! Without question.

    Along with this, if you are leading the meeting, have all your stuff ready to go before the meeting. Projectors, computers, handouts, etc. Arrive early, it takes longer than you think.

    And if your meeting butts up against another, end your meeting 5 minutes early to give the next group time to setup.

    • That’s a great point about setting up for a meeting. I usually do that here at my job.

      Any thoughts about how to encourage other employees to be on time?

      • I’ve thrown a fit and sent out ugly e-mails to those who were late. That didn’t go over well. I don’t recommend it.

        I like making meetings short and tell them that it’s short so as to not waste their time. Fit an hour meeting into 30 minutes. If you’re the focal, keep lingering discussions between just a few people out of this meeting and take them to another gathering. In a typical hour meeting, I only need to be there for 5 minutes.

        I think people are late because often they are not needed that often so they work the odds and figure the time they are late isn’t going to be something they need to contribute too. If you meeting is scheduled for 3 hours and they are 15 minutes late, the odds are in their favor. If the meeting is 30 minutes, the odds are not.

        • I love the idea of keeping meetings short–I like the numbers you present (15 minutes missed out of 3 hours doesn’t seem like much; 15 minutes out of 30 seems like a lot). I try, every time, and it never happens. I’ll keep trying new things to make it happen.

  2. Tardiness is a function of prioritization. If people are late to your meeting, then they have directly communicated that this meeting is not as high a priority for them as something else. Sr. Ellen John told you this in the 2nd grade and she was right. The difference is that, as adults, we get to exercise the Free Will that God gives us. There is no inherent quality of tardiness that is bad. But as you learn about others’ prioritization you will inevitably make your own determinations about where you (and your meeting) SHOULD fall vs. where you ACTUALLY fall. This is especially true with reoccurring meetings.

    To increase your meeting’s position on others’ priority list, the meeting needs to be considered more important. Clarifying everyone’s role in the meeting is really helpful. Not just Note Taker and Facilitator, but how am I as an individual expected to contribute to the topic(s) being discissed. By understand what is expected from you, you can come prepared to contribute. For reoccurring meetings, a living, updated agenda communicates the intention for each meeting’s occurence. If there’s nothing on the agenda the day before, guess what – MEETING CANCELLED. Another idea is to hold the meeting as a meeting, not a lecture. If people are asked to contribute information at the meeting, they feel valued rather than captive.

    Concluding question: Is it really “better late than never” when it comes to meeting attendance?

  3. This is a great post. When I conduct meetings, it is known that if someone arrives late, they are responsible for figuring out what they missed on their own time; I don’t stop the meeting to recap what has already been discussed to get them up to speed. Opening the meeting with the most important topics also provides people an initiative to arrive on time. They’ll be less likely to arrive 15 minutes late if the most substantial topics are well under way or over by that time.

    I also agree with keeping meetings short. I feel like most of my 2 hour meetings could be condensed into 30 minutes if everyone came prepared and didn’t get sidetracked.

    • That’s a really interesting point. I had actually been doing the opposite (starting meetings with more “social” topics for which important decisions don’t need to be made) so we don’t end up backtracking…but I like your method. I’ll give it a try.

      • I think I may have suggested starting with the more social topics. I like Katie’s idea as well, unless the person who is late has the authority to force you to backtrack. I’d definitely give her method a try for meetings that only involve those who are organizationally on your level or below.

        Good luck!

        • I think starting with social topics gives people the feeling that they don’t really need to be there on time, since nothing crucial is being discussed. I wouldn’t even suggest starting with important topics EVERY time. Just do it a few times at first and then often enough after that so they can’t rely on a social start anymore.

        • I like that idea, of specifically structuring meetings so that the top dog can’t just show up late and mess everything up.

          • Or, you could start every meeting like this:

            People would be guaranteed to show up on time! My HR department actually opened an ethics meeting this way yesterday. I wish I could say the next 8 (!) hours of the training was as entertaining. And yes, it was just as awkward as when Michael and Holly did it.

              • Somehow when you start talking about employee fraud and the appropriate reasons to fire someone, the fun atmosphere just seems to dissolve. Pity.

  4. I get the feeling that in your meetings it may be the ‘top dog’ who is late and then that makes all of the suggestions more challenging to implement. Have you thought about telling people different meeting times? HEHEEE. I think everyone had good comments.

  5. I can understand how extremely unprofessional it is to be late for any work related event. I can also understand that if someone is consistently late to other things and consistently keeps someone waiting for them then its appropriate to be upset at them. But, I have more important stuff to worry about than getting upset at someone who has me waiting 5 or 10 min for them at a restaurant or at the movies, or even at the mall. Big freakin’ deal! I’m not going to stress myself out because of someone else. If they are late then that’s on them. I’m not going to waste my energy being upset. Life is bigger than that.


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