If staff miss deadlines, look into how they're managed

Individuals deal differently with deadlines, writes Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: Why is it so difficult to get my staff to meet deadlines?

A: We all know people who can be relied upon to get to meetings on time and those who are guaranteed to turn up late. Interestingly, this kind of punctuality is not always an accurate indicator of an ability to meet deadlines. So let's look first at what's behind your problem.

As managers, we have to accept that we are responsible for a number of the issues that come into play.

How often have you given someone a deadline without discussing whether their workload makes it realistic? Or perhaps you have fallen into the trap of giving false, early deadlines to allow for potential delays.

Unnecessary anxiety

This seems like a good idea - but if you have a reputation for doing it, canny staff will assume any deadline includes a margin of a day or two. If you are delegating a project, are you sure you have assessed the amount of work involved to complete it accurately? It might be that your concern is really about people leaving things to the last minute. If this is not the way you would do things, it can lead to unnecessary anxiety.

Individuals deal differently with deadlines, and there are people who really do not have any sense of time. They can often be the brightest of the bunch. I worked with someone who had a first-class honours degree but managed to miss the train to an important job interview simply because he lost track of time wandering around a newsagents.

Then there are those who are so keen to please that they would not even consider admitting that a certain deadline would be a challenge. We all know people who are badly organised and don't have the systems to prioritise or manage workloads.

Job description

So what can you do about it? If a particular job involves frequent projects with important deadlines, have you checked that this competency is in the job description? How are you assessing candidates? It is very easy to say in an interview that you are good at meeting deadlines, but it's another thing to prove it by completing a specially designed pre-interview exercise.

Do you know the working style of your team members? Management tools such as Belbin Team Roles, which assesses how people behave in a team environment, will help you to decide how tasks should be allocated and how you can support each person to get the best outcome. If your staff understand how you tick, it will help them to manage your expectations.

Finally, look at your staff in the round. Personal issues at home, such as caring responsibilities or family issues, can result in deadlines being missed.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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