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Little Things Add Up

by David Brock on January 27th, 2016
Appointment Time

It was 9:25 am, I was getting upset.  The meeting had been called to start at 9:00 am.  It was an important meeting.  We were finalizing recommendations for a project and preparing for an executive review.

At 9:25 about 70% of the required participants were in their seats.  They were tinkering with email, catching up with each other.

At 9:35 we decided to start, not everyone we needed was there.  We had sent messages reminding, pleading, demanding they show up.  But we had wasted enough time.

By 10:00 everyone that needed to be in the room was there.  The few remaining drifted in, offered their excuses.

We had to “restart” the meeting several times for the new arrivals.  Catching them up on the few minutes of discussion they liked.  By 10:00, I had gone through the objectives/agenda a couple of times—was really getting that pitch down.

You probably guessed it, our meeting went long, which meant most people were late to another meeting.

Later, I did a calculation.  We had lost roughly an hour of time.  I guessed at the “cost” this delay, without my time, it was about $1900.

For most participants, this was the first meeting of the day, and the day would continue, people being late to the next meeting, and the next, and the next….

Little things add up.

Later, I was talking to an executive about it.  He shared his frustration.  He said, “It’s OK for the executive to be a little late, but everyone else needs to be on time, ready to start when the executive shows up.”

I politely disagreed.  There are a couple of reasons.

  1. It’s a sign of disrespect.  Managers need to be as respectful of their people’s time as they are of their own.
  2. Managers set the example.  If managers are consistently late to meetings, then it becomes “OK” for their people to be late to meetings.  They show up just before the manager shows up.  Then it ripples through to other meetings, they start showing up late to other meetings, and so on.  It spreads through the whole organization.  Soon there is a culture of starting things late.

As an outside consultant, I’ve come to realize every company has a “clock.”  It’s an unconscious, but consistent set of behaviors around timeliness.  It starts with time integrity around meetings.  I’d figured this company had a clock of about 37 minutes.  Generally, meetings could get started 37 minutes late.  Every company has a different clock, some of it tends to be culturally driven with attitudes around time and meeting commitments  (more on that in a bit).

Think for a moment of your own company’s clock and the amount of time wasted by waiting for people to show up for meetings.  Sure you can fill time by doing email, but since you don’t know when the meeting will actually convene, you can’t commit to doing anything but the simplest and probably least important stuff.  The story’s the same for everyone involved in meetings in the company.

It all starts adding up.

But then you start noticing other things.  Organizations with lax standards around meeting time integrity, start having lax standards around other commitments.  Reports expected by a certain time are late, projects slip by just a day or two, other commitments slip—not a whole lot, but enough that people start investing time in follow up, finding out what’s happened, why the delay, and so forth.

You can imagine the scenario.  Say I’m expecting a forecast by the end of the day.  A number of people miss it, I have to take time to send reminders to get it in.  People have to take time getting back to me telling me when they will have it to me.  Pretty soon a lot of time is spent in needless follow ups about missed commitments–and I still don’t have the forecast.  When I eventually get all the forecasts, it’s late, so I have to rearrange my schedule/priorities to look at the forecast.  This causes meetings and other commitments to be shuffled, rippling through everyone’s calendars.

Now multiply this by the number of commitments, the number of people I an organization, by the number of days in a year.  Convert to an averaged burdened cost to the company.

The time and money wasted on non-productive things becomes staggering!

Everyone has too much on their plates already.  We can’t afford the time lost due to all these little things.

Here’s a secret that will cause the productivity of your organization to skyrocket.  Just do one thing, but do it right every time.

Start meetings on time, every time.

Without doing anything else productivity will increase.  It’s not just the lost time for meetings starting late.  It has a snowball effect on meeting other commitments.  After getting into the habit of showing up on time to meetings, people start getting into habits of meeting other commitments.  Forecasts come in on time, reports are on time, projects start meeting their deadlines/goals.

Less time is wasted on follow-ups and reminders, because they are no longer necessary.

We find more time to be working on the right things–like being prepared for the meetings we are having or even thinking about whether we are having the right meetings.

Imagine what individuals and organizations could achieve if they just started paying attention to 1-2 little things.

 

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