You know what grinds my gears? I quickly admit it is a small thing, a minor peccadillo, a temporary glitch in the gears of commerce, a mere flea on the back of this dog we call life. But, nonetheless, it does work its way under my skin to a state of vexation usually reserved for those who do not hold doors for others; who use the word irregardless; who refuse to use the brains given them at their conception; who seem to purposely find ways to irritate, bother, vex, and torment us.
What is it that gets me so gyrated? It shames me to admit it; I am sure it causes but a minor blip (if any indicator) on your radar. You have done it yourself. (Truth be told, we all have.) In fact, when I finally admit to this burr under my saddle you will quietly chuckle behind the hand you have raised to cover your mouth, politely ensuring I am not embarrassed by seeing how trifle is my complaint.
But, what can really send me off the deep end is people’s seeming inability to arrive for meetings at the scheduled start time.
And I now hear your tittering and sniggering. “It is a large world of complex and interrelated activities,” you say, “And while it is nice to be on time for meetings, there is much going on and something as minor as a meeting can stand to wait the few minutes it takes because I come in a little late.”
I try to ignore your barely smothered “teehees” meant for the old man who remembers the good old days when courtesy and manners counted for as much as time, resources, and profits. I know it is an antiquated concept – the idea that my time is as important as yours and I’d like you to show up at the scheduled starting time for any meeting which I attend. (Attend on time I might add). And I know it is an indicator of just how much a dinosaur I am when I make it a personal badge of honor (a badge cared about by no one else) to be at least a minute or two early for a meeting, even calling in for conference calls before the chair does.
And then I read Tom Peters weekly quote from last week. “Punctuality at meetings influences culture of punctuality = Promise-keeping in general, on-time deliveries, etc.”
Yes, it is partly courtesy that should drive people to show up on time. Showing up late is an indication that my time is more important than yours, that something else I was doing was more important than this meeting, or that I was working with other people who are far more important than you.
But Peters has hit on the most important aspect; it is an indication that you are not as good as the promises you make. If you cannot come through on the simple promise of showing up to a meeting at 2:00 (or, to be on the safe side, 1:55), how can I expect you to come through on the tougher promises?
And the start of small delays begins a culture of longer and longer delays. I had a friend (not the head of his department) who got tired of everyone showing up to meetings late. It started with one or two instances and, in short order, it became the accepted norm for people to show up 5 to 10 minutes late for all meetings – even those with the VP of the department.
His solution? Lock the door at the scheduled start time and, if you were late, you missed it. In very short order, after people cursed his name, they began showing up on time. (No, I don’t believe he ever locked the VP out, but I know he had the temerity [and the respect] to make a point to the VP about his tendency to be late – and my friend was not fired.)
As Peters says, punctuality influences culture (as was shown in my friends department), but it is more than a culture of timely meeting attendance; it is an influencer on the ability to provide timely service and, more broadly, the ability to keep a promise that was made.
“We will get you that report by the end of the month.” “We will talk this over with your managers.” “We will not include anything until we’ve discussed it with you.” “Our conversation will be in strictest confidence.” “Honest.” “Really.” “I’ll do all that, even though I can’t show up to a meeting on time to save my life, no matter how many times I’ve told you I’ll be on time.”
Now, let me quickly admit, I understand the worthlessness of most meetings. They are the single biggest work timewasters after Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and bathroom breaks. But, they are, nonetheless, a commitment you have made.
So, I knew it was an issue of courtesy (my time is just as valuable as yours, so let’s start this together) and I knew it could spread (on time or not at all.) But Peters has really brought it home – brought it home in a customer context. If I am late for meetings, then I am saying something about my ability to deliver. Delivery of excellence is delivery in all matters, and that includes something as simple as delivering yourself to the meeting on time.
The only thing auditors really have is their word and their honor. What is that worth if we can’t even show up to a stupid meeting on time?