Why do things take so long? A few years ago, I did some work at a large organization we’ll call Honking Big Company, Inc. Neither of us will ever be the same. In my first few weeks, we decided the company needed a website. Great!
I’d set up my own website for my coaching business, and it’s really pretty easy. And by “pretty easy,” I mean that we could have a WordPress.com blog up and running in about five minutes. I know this because I’ve set up three this week for various projects. If you want to host it yourself, then it takes 15 minutes, because you have to register the domain and upload the files, too. No, really. It only takes about 15 minutes. At Honking Big Company, it took over six weeks. Being a really curious kind of guy, I proposed a second website that should have taken five minutes. But this time, I watched closely to understand how five minutes turned into six weeks. The answer will shock you! (Not really. I’ve just been reading too many clickbait headlines.)
Coordination Creates Delays
You see, when I asked one of the managers, “Can I create this WordPress site?” The answer was “Sure. Let me check with Sidney in branding. Because it has to be on brand, of course.” Sidney was on the last day of vacation in Yellowstone Park, and when I sent a text (because that’s what cell phones are about, right? Freedom from the office, so you can go on vacation and your co-workers can still expect to reach you even though you’re free?). Sid promised to have the branding materials to me by Friday.
Friday came and went. No branding materials from Sidney. I sent an email, but no response. Then Sidney wrote back saying, “How about next Thursday?” Thursday also came and went. We rescheduled several times. It took five weeks, six days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes to get the branding materials. In the remaining 15 minutes, I got the site up and running. Elapsed time: six weeks.
Other People Don’t Have Your Best Interests at Heart
The culprit was the same culprit that causes all our problems: other people. Especially in larger companies, even simple decisions need to be slotted into the corporate machinery, since other parts of the company will be affected by the decision. Every one of those people has different priorities than you, and your decision is an interruption in every one of their lives. It’s almost certainly not top priority, which means getting you what they promise is likely to be pretty low on their priority list. (Unless they actually believe keeping work promises is important. That’s so rare, though, that we needn’t even consider that situation.) The more people who have to be involved in a decision, the more you must contend with all those broken promises. But what if you had a way to structurally make sure they’ll keep they’re promises? What if, indeed.
Respect People by Giving Them Slack
First, get people on your side. This means showing respect for them and their priorities. If you texted Sidney on vacation and said, “You lazy slacker! You need to make sure someone gets me those branding materials or I’ll arrange to have you roasted alive in a geyser and fed to a bear!” You would be unlikely to get eager cooperation. So instead, you hear Sidney’s proposal—branding materials by Friday—and you agree. This gets Sidney on your side. You do the same with Jordan, only instead of not-threatening with a geyser and a bear, and you don’t threaten to take away the one pound bag of M&Ms Jordan thought no one knew was hidden in the lower left desk drawer. Either way, you don’t threaten. You honor their priorities by letting them set an initial deadline.
Trust, But Modify
You’ve honored them. You trust them. And now, you just add one teensy-weensy tweak to the plans. You say, “Great, Sid! Tell you what. Let’s schedule a half-hour meeting for Friday at 4:30 PM to review the materials. Of course, if you’ve gotten the materials to me by then and there are no questions, we’ll just cancel the meeting.” This way, you’ve actually set a hard deadline for Sid. If the logos aren’t in your hands by Friday, you can get them at the pre-arranged 4:30 PM meeting. In the absolutely worst-case scenario, you’ll still have what you need.
Furthermore, now Sid has some incentive. There’s a meeting on the calendar that will go away as soon as those branding materials hit your desk. Since Sid just loves meetings (no, not really. Sid hates meetings), the ability to get one off the calendar is a motivating force for getting you those materials. If Sid doesn’t get you the materials by Friday, and then calls to try to cancel the 4:30 PM meeting, start turning the screws. “Why don’t you take pictures of the materials with your smart phone and text them to me right now? Then I’ll be able to cancel the meeting.”
Related: How to Overcome Procrastination
Coordinating with other people is always tricky. When you need something from them, give them plenty of rope; schedule the deliverable so it really works for them. But make sure you’re holding onto the end of the rope that’s not tied around their neck. Let them specify the deadline, and schedule a meeting with them on that deadline day to “review the deliverables.” If they flake, use that meeting to stand over their shoulder while they get you what you need. Otherwise, reward them for delivering early by canceling the meeting. You get what you want. They get more free time on their calendar, and you can return the rope to the hardware store, unused.
This article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips. It has been republished here with permission.