This morning’s paper had a commentary piece called, Misfits or robots: A millennial entrepreneur’s take on corporate America. In it the author suggested that people who are never late for a meeting are corporate robots. Creative people, apparently, show up when they want.
Perhaps those latecomers are more creative, but their behavior leaves a whole lot of robots irked about not getting the meeting started on time.
I like promptness. You should make every effort to get your meeting started on schedule. Here are nine actions for you to try.
1. Start when you say you are going to start
This one’s totally on you. When the time comes, you say, “Good morning. It’s 10:30. Thank you all for coming. Let’s get started on time.”
While a few people may not have arrived, start without them. If they are necessary to what’s on your agenda, you can still start. You likely need a few minutes to do the meeting’s introductory work. The latecomers may not be needed for 4-5 minutes and with a little luck, they’ll roll in before the time they are needed.
But what if they don’t show up when you need them? Your first option is to rearrange your agenda a bit to cover something that you can do without them. That’s a bit of an accommodation, but it keeps you from wasting time for the people sitting in the room.
If you can’t change things up or they still haven’t shown up when they are needed, cancel the meeting. You can say to the group, “I’m so sorry, but without Roger here, I don’t see how we can make meaningful progress.” Before you do this, it might be smart to give Roger a quick call. It’s possible he lost track of time and could get there in a minute or two. If you can’t reach him, adjourn. Follow up with Roger and tell him what happened. You don’t need to scold. Simply help him understand the consequences of his not being there.
4. Schedule smart
One of the reasons people are late is because they booked back-to-back meetings. You know most meetings are scheduled for and manage to fill an hour, so you can do yourself a favor by starting your meetings on the quarter or half hour. To keep this tactic from making it harder to find a workable time, schedule as far in advance as you can.
5. End prior to the hour
This one won’t help your meeting, but it will contribute to building a more effective meeting culture. Your meetings should never last for any multiple of 60 minutes. They should end at least 10 minutes to the hour. That way people with another meeting have the travel time they need.
6. Tell people it’s important they arrive on time
If people are chronically late, you need to let them know that you plan to do something out of the ordinary—start on time. Emphasize this in your meeting invite. When starting a new project team, tell them you will be starting the meetings when scheduled.
For people who still run late to your meetings, talk to them offline. Let them know why you want to start on time and the impact their tardiness is having on meetings.
7. Punish latecomers
Okay, I’m not a big fan of this idea, but plenty of organizations use some form of this. Here are some of the punishments:
- Fine people who show up late.
- Lock the door at the start time and don’t let them in the room.
- Make them do the meeting minutes.
My preference is that you create an environment where more natural consequences occur:
- They feel embarrassed that they rolled in late.
- Nobody takes the time to catch them up (which would enable their behavior).
- Their lack of dependability damages their reputation.
8. Use performance management
If you manage the latecomers, you can use the performance management tools your organization has. Have a coaching conversation. Explain your expectations. If the behavior continues, impose consequences.
9. Reinforce promptness
The best behavior modifier is positive reinforcement. Publicly thank the people who show up on time. Let them know you appreciate their promptness and help then see the positive impact it has on the meeting.
You have control
There are many things you can do to help your meetings start on time. The secret is actually doing them.