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, letting the date come and go and leaving the failure totally unacknowledged and unexamined, is one of the biggest factors that keeps organizations from making strategic progress; it 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 to begin with;
- 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; and
- Late is okay.
Why no 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; and
- 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. In an IT organization, you should have plenty of people with project management skills. Get one of them to structure a project tracking process around your strategic initiatives, and help you do the follow up.
Number 3 and 4 you can’t delegate. As an IT leader, if these things make you uncomfortable you need to do them anyway.
In order to deal with any conflict that may arise:
- 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.
- If everyone can see their name on a 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. But there are 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 okay to miss a deadline. Sure it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it should be! A deadline was missed. 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.
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or FaceBook, or read her book RISE…How to Be Really Successful at Work AND Like Your Life.