If Your Deadlines Are Often Unmet, Blame Yourself

“You are strong and you can be tough,” I told JC. “That’s good. But you have to recognize that your approach is wrong.” She started to defend herself: “You wouldn’t be complaining to me if your deadlines were being met. I know that my people are …” I stopped her. “Being tough is great,” I told her, “but you have to be realistic too.

Instead of intimidating people into accepting deadlines that may be unrealistic, take some extra time when you assign projects to figure out what exactly needs to be done. Identify on paper the main components of the project, how much time and materials are required for each, and who will be in charge of them. Get those people to do this with you.” I happened to have on my desk a big project she needed to be in charge of — so I was able to show her exactly what I meant.

The delegation process I had gone through with her many times in the past was now visible. She could see how I included her in figuring out what needed to be done, who the best people would be to do it, and when and how she would report back to me. She could also see how this process made it obvious to both of us that although I was pushing for a quick completion of the job, it couldn’t be done in the two weeks I wanted but would require an extra week. She felt comfortable with that. I felt fine.

And she was impressed with the process itself. “This is good,” she told me. “But it’s not enough.” I told her that after she broke the project down into its component parts and assigned her people a mutually agreeable deadline, she had to double-bind their commitment through a sort of loose, verbal contract.

I suggested that she ask them — in her own words, of course — some version of the following questions:

1. “Do you have the authority you need to achieve this?”

2. “Do you have the tools you need to achieve this?”

3. “Are there any problems that could arise that would delay you?”

4. “So … is it fair to assume that this goal is reasonable?”

5. “And, so … when can I expect this to be done?”

I told JC that if she got any “no” responses she’d have to come up with some reasonable solutions. And after she did that, she should repeat question No. 5. After getting the fifth “yes,” she should say something like, “That’s good. Because the reason this needs to be completed on time is because [fill in].” (Many studies have shown that giving people a “because” doubles or triples compliance.) Finally, I told her to ask for intermediate goals to “move the project along.” This last step is key to bringing a project in on time.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]