Saturday, January 10, 2009

Showing Up

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is showing up. You get to 90% by showing up on time.

But what happens when you are punctual to a fault and other people are late. You are tired of suffering other people's lateness and you want to figure out how to "encourage" them to adopt your good habits.

This is a great question, asked and answered by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times a few weeks ago. Link here.

It is a great question because it aims at the essence of management. How do you get other people to do what you want them to do? And to do it well, and to mean it.

First, managers lead by example. A manager who is punctual, who starts meetings on time, and who follows an agenda scrupulously will encourage others to do the same.

As Kellaway and her commenters noted, a good manager does not accommodate tardiness. He or she begins the meeting at the appointed time, and conducts the day's business expeditiously. Some even suggested that the door to the meeting room be locked once the meeting has begun.

Anyone who is late and misses part or all of the meeting is responsible for finding out what was said and done in his or her absence.

Most people who wrote in the the Financial Times agreed that a person who is chronically late must be shamed and embarrassed. A good manager will single the person out and express disapproval or disappointment. Perhaps with a scowl or a dismissive glance.

That does not include a full dressing down, because the attendant drama would make the person too important and would distract from the business at hand.

Other suggestions offered by Financial Times readers include: levying fins for those who arrive late, setting meetings at odd times like 3:42 or 8:57, and serving lunch, but only enough for those who arrive on time.

Ultimately, everyone needs to understand that being late to business appointments is rude and disrespectful.

Many people still do it because it feels like a power game. The person who is late is saying that he or she is so important that the world has to bend over backwards to accommodate him or her.

There are, however, times in life when it is appropriate to be slightly late. A woman who is meeting a man at a restaurant will likely be several minutes late. She knows that if she arrives on time and her companion is late she might be subjected to unwanted attention.

And everyone knows that when going to a party it is better to arrive on the late, not the early side. This is a courtesy to the host and hostess who might have to do some last minute organizing.

In some place people who arrive at 8:00 for a party called for 8:00 are revealing that they are rubes who do not understand the social code that has told everyone else that 8:00 really means 8:20.

But neither of those cases mean business, and that tells us that a manager's task is to make it clear that when a meeting is called he or she means business.

A manager can begin by being organized, by having and following a strict agenda, and by taking only as much time as is necessary to accomplish the task at hand. A good manager will not suffer foolishness gladly, will not waste time on idle chatter, and will not allow a business meeting to turn into a group therapy session.

1 comment:

Adam said...

"If you arrive after me, you're late."
~ The best leader I ever worked for at the first meeting he was leading that I ever attended.

Needless to say he didn't resort to weird meeting times or durations, and didn't confuse speaking for thinking.

He recruited us to the mission through the power of his ideas and the value he assigned to those few of ours that had any.

He went on to lead a global IT company through a radical, profitable re-branding, delivering stunning value to the shareholders.

Decades after I'd worked for him, we met on Sixth Ave. as he was exiting a limo in front of a midtown office tower.

He remember my name and what we had worked on together while his current staff stood by enjoying this astounding feat of memory.

As we shook hands and exchanged best wishes, saying goodbye for what was surely the final time, I felt the same pleasurable near-fright he'd provoked the first time I laid eyes on him. I've never been late to a meeting since that day.