We live in a world that trains us to meet deadlines, starting in grade school: Your paper is due May 15; college applications are due October 1; finish your community service hours by August 1; taxes are due April 15; the budget is due November 15; your annual goals are due January 15; your payment is due by February 1. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.
Your team's inherent desire is to meet a deadline to please you, their leader; however, people typically fail to consider timelines before committing to deadlines. So, inspiring coaches focus on timelines (when work gets done) to meet deadlines (when work is due).
For example, say it's a Tuesday morning and you ask an employee: "Hey, Ryan, I need this market analysis finalized by Friday noon. It should only take a few hours to clean it up from the last draft you showed me. Can you please do that for me?" Ryan replies, "Sure, I'll take care of it!" Then Ryan goes back to his office, checks his calendar, and says to himself, "Oh bummer! I didn't realize I had all these commitments, day and night, and have no avail- able time between now and Friday noon."
At this point, the typical response for most people is to go into face- saving and avoidance modes. Ryan feels like he cannot go back on his word after he just so confidently told you he would take care of it. He also hopes that if he just avoids it you might forget to ask him for the analysis at noon on Friday.
Yes, these responses sound irrational and even ridiculous, but they're very predictable human tendencies in the workplace. So, when Friday noon arrives you naturally expect the analysis from Ryan. By 1 p.m. you swing by his office to ask him where it is. Ryan's stomach sinks as he comes clean. You're frustrated because you, like any leader, hate surprises when it comes to missed deadlines.
Ryan does not feel good about his performance and neither do you. It's a lose-lose situation, as the results are not delivered on time and the relationship credibility is damaged. This is a predictable scenario when you don't ask about your team member's timelines before he or she commits to a deadline.
Paul Spiegelman is the former CEO of The Beryl Companies and Chief Culture Officer of Stericycle. He has found a healthy balance between driving performance and the award-winning culture he has stewarded at his booming company. Spiegelman explains, "We don't like surprises. It's okay to give a leader a heads-up--that shows you are managing to timelines. But if you don't give a heads-up and you miss the deadline, then you are just managing deadlines."
Avoid surprises and improve alignment by negotiating timelines to determine dead- lines your team members can meet.
Learn more in The Power of Positive Coaching. It will help you inspire winning results and relationships.