People who are chronically late may be fashionable, but not very businesslike.
people make it a point to arrive fashionably late for social events. It stems
from a psychological quirk to make them feel important, as if the party doesn’t
begin until they arrive, and everyone is awaiting their grand entrance.
(Professional psychologists tend to view this as a counter-reaction to low
self-esteem.) I know people like this, and I suspect most of you do,
Tardiness in a social setting is easy to shrug off. Early arrivals simply
mingle with one another, and enjoy getting first crack at the tastiest hors
d’ouevres. In a large gathering, few people even will notice when the
self-styled life of the party gets there.
Stakes are higher in the business world. Showing up late inconveniences
customers and other business associates. Productivity suffers when employees
show up late for work. In my line of work, missed deadlines make it hard to
meet printing schedules, and create more work and headaches for
Tardiness in all of these aspects always has been a pet peeve of mine.
Throughout my career, I’ve taken pride in getting work done on time, and in my
ability to manage time effectively. To me, it’s an aspect of professionalism
that goes hand-in-hand with talent and initiative. I also believe the quality
of work diminishes when you’re scrambling to produce something at the last
minute. Haste makes waste.
Moreover, it’s simply not smart business to annoy customers, prospects and
other business VIPs by showing up late. It’s easy enough to get your work crews
out of the habit simply by docking their pay and holding tardiness against them
in performance reviews.
But what if the problem rests with you, the boss?
Bosses tend to be very busy people, constantly chasing around and dealing with
phones calls, subordinates and superiors. Yet I don’t buy that excuse. A boss’s
job performance ought to be evaluated in part by how well he or she manages
time. People who are too harried to get things done on time shouldn’t be in
charge of anything.
Everyone at one time or another shows up late due to circumstances beyond
control, but it doesn’t take much observation to notice that certain people
tend to be chronically late. They always have an excuse – traffic, last-minute
interruptions, sudden emergencies, etc. Yes, sometimes the excuse is
legitimate, but when these excuses arise over and over, it becomes clear that
the underlying cause has more to do with personal habits than outside
Tardiness sends a message that the latecomer’s time is more valuable than that
of other people. That’s not an impression you want to give to customers,
prospects or other business VIPs – or to subordinates. Employees take their cue
from the boss’s behavior. Being on time is a sign of competence. It shows
people you are able to manage your time, and that you show respect for that of
When being late is unavoidable, the sensible thing to do is call ahead and
inform whoever it is you have an appointment with that you’ll be late and by
how long. This is a matter of common courtesy, as well as smart business. And,
if you’re late by even five minutes, make it a point to apologize, even to
Chronically late people seldom do this. They become so conditioned to arriving
late they regard it as the natural way of doing business and assume everyone
else thinks the same way. It’s also because they’d be making so many apologetic
phone calls, it would slow them down even more.
Let’s take a look at some of the causes of this tardiness
Disorganization. You intend to keep appointments on time, but as the workday
progresses, situations arise that you simply didn’t anticipate. When it happens
over and over, it’s a sign you need to analyze and reorder priorities.
Distractions are the rule more than the exception in business, so you have to
assume they will arise and organize your activities
Skewed priorities. Time management is about ordering priorities and judgment
calls as much as anything else. Is it necessary to meet someone face-to-face,
or can the business at hand be handled just as well over the phone or via
e-mail? Which activities are critical to do right now, and which can be put off
until later? If you do judge it important to meet someone in person, then
elevate that meeting to priority status above everything
Stop fooling yourself about how long it takes to get from one place to another.
What might be a 15-minute drive at noon is likely to take twice as long during
the morning or evening commuter rush. Get in the habit of calculating time to
arrive 10 minutes to 15 minutes early for appointments, leaving some leeway for
unexpected traffic jams. If there are no delays, you can use the extra time to
decompress with a cup of coffee, and catch up on paperwork or check phone/e-mail
Procrastination. Putting things off until the last minute is bound to cause
delays. When you finally get around to tackling the unpleasant task you’ve put
off, a dozen other pressing duties may occur at the same time. So don’t leave
difficult issues for last. It’s better to tackle tough tasks first, because if
you need extra time to deal with them, items that get pushed back will be of
lower priority. Dealing with easy issues first often leads to spending more
time on them than warranted in order to avoid the more difficult
Delegate. Tardiness tends to go hand-in-hand with micromanagement. As long as
you’re bogged down in minutiae, there never will be enough time to get
everything done. You have to trust subordinates to handle the small
Get inside your head. If you’re a person who’s habitually late, take an honest
look at yourself. Is it really because you’re always busy or for other reasons
beyond your control, or deep down is it because you really enjoy being fashionably
late? No one else needs to know what you find inside your own psyche, but just
as with alcoholism, the first step towards a cure is to admit to yourself that
you have a problem.
Smart Business: Unfashionably Late
November 1, 2010