Always running late? Here's why it's time to change.

Keith Dugdale

How many meetings have you been to today where at least one person was running late...and that person might just have been you?

I bet at least one, and maybe quite a few.

Over the last few months....well, the last few years if I'm totally honest....I've noticed an increasing trend in organisations for people to run late - late to meetings, late to training, late to workshops, basically late to anything where they'd committed to someone else that they would be somewhere at a specific time. And not only are people running late, but it appears to me that they are almost proud to be running late as it is a sign of their busyness, and that they are busier than everyone else.

Now I know that things crop up and stuff happens and it's simply not always possible to be on time. But being late seems to have become the rule rather than the exception, which got me to thinking about what impact this culture of lateness is actually having - not only internally within organisations, but more broadly. Those of you who know Maister and Green's trust equation will know that reliability is a key factor in trust - you need to do what you say you're going to do, when you say you're going to do it. So, if we're not acting reliably with each other internally....are we honestly still able to act reliably externally?

In the Client Choice Research that Beaton Research + Consulting run each year, one of the areas they flag for improvement fairly consistently across nearly all professional services firms is reliability: delivering on time, communicating if things are off track, doing what you said you'd do. These findings are often further substantiated by the internal project and client feedback I see many of my clients undertake. In fact, so many firms score poorly when it comes to this factor that if one firm actually got it really right, they'd likely find it's a true market differentiator.

So I've got loads of professional services firms who are always running late internally, and external research that shows that most professional services firms could seriously improve their reliability levels with their clients. It doesn't take much to suspect that there is a strong correlation between the two. In fact, it makes sense to me that if it's culturally acceptable to be late to meetings then there's a good chance that you have an internal culture that accepts lateness and a lack of reliability in general - including for client meetings and client deliverables.

If you know, or suspect, that your clients don't score you 10/10 when it comes to reliability - here's my tip. Focus on improving your internal reliability first, and watch the flow on effect. Here are some ways you could do this:

Start meetings on time, regardless of whether everyone is there or not. People have become used to meetings starting late to accommodate the latecomers...which reduces their imperative to be on time.
If you're a leader - make sure you are always on time. No excuses.
Put in place a fun campaign to encourage people to be on time - one of my client's placed jars in all their meeting rooms, and staff had to put money in, with the dollar value increasing for each 5 minute block they're late. All proceeds went to charity. This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but think of something that makes being late visible to everyone in the room.
When you're setting up a meeting, make sure you've explicity stated the value to others in attending. If they can't see the value for themselves, their enthusiasm for attending may not be high - not an excuse for being late, but if you can get people excited about coming to your meetings you might find they are more likely to want to be there for the start.
Finish meetings on time - this is just as important in making sure people can make their next commitment on time. Don't make others late!
Do you have a culture of lateness in your firm, and what have you done to try and change it?


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