Punctuality is critical, so here's how to help the laggards on your team

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Are you easy-going about being on time, figuring it’s not a big deal if you’re five or 10 minutes late for a meeting or a function because nothing ever really starts on time anyway? Or, like me, do you experience what feel like heart palpitations when you’re running even five minutes behind?

Last week, a very funny story broke … a beleaguered Japanese cabinet minister, already under pressure to resign, apologized for being three minutes late to a committee meeting. This sparked a discussion among our team at Provident about punctuality. Most of us could relate to his need to apologize for those 180 seconds; we would have done the same.

Some would argue that’s a bit excessive; more than five minutes late might require a head’s up and 10 requires an apology, but under five is perfectly acceptable.

That may be so. But it’s a no-brainer that punctuality in a business setting is critical. If your clients don’t think you can get your act together enough to get to a meeting or dial into a call on time, you’re broadcasting to them loudly that you do not value their time or their business.

There’s really no such thing as being fashionably late in the business world.

Arriving for meetings or finishing projects and assignments on time can make or break your career. When you’re on time (or better yet, early!) for meetings, conference calls and your shift, you’re proving to others that you care about the team and respect your bosses and your co-workers. It illustrates your professionalism.

This is all obvious.

But what to do as a company if you have a talented and valued employee who simply cannot show up on time or struggles to meet deadlines? Or a partner that you otherwise love working with that is chronically late and misses deadlines?

The answer may not surprising, given I am a managing partner at a communications firm. It’s communication. Talk it out. Ask what’s going on in a non-combative way. If the employee or co-worker or partner clearly wants to do better, explore together if there’s anything that can be done to better manage time and expectations.

Could you be piling too much work on an employee in areas in which there is no comfort level? Have you clearly communicated in the job description what is expected, or have you changed gears without clearly signalling the shifting expectations? Is there a muddled chain of command, and the employee isn’t certain whose directives take priority? Here’s where regular job appraisals and team meetings, even if they’re informal and especially if they’re non-confrontational, can do a world of good to get everyone on the same page.

There could also be personal reasons why an employee struggles to be on time or to meet deadlines. Simply asking if there’s anything the company can do to help them improve their time management issues can be beneficial. If you truly value the employee and do not want to cut anyone loose, ponder setting much earlier deadlines than necessary so everyone has plenty of wiggle room.

Communication, creativity, reaching out … all can be critical components in handling a situation when punctuality is a problem. It might be too late for the aforementioned Japanese cabinet minister, but it’s not too late for your business.