A leader (we’ll call him Fred) recently lamented, “I feel like I set direction for people and give them deadlines, but they just don’t get stuff done. So when the deadline is looming, I end up doing it myself.”
How do you hold people accountable and not feel compelled to step in at the last minute?
Delegate well, beginning with results and impact needed. Fred’s woes may be rooted in fuzzy delegation. Read our post about delegation for a full review of best practices. Here are the steps in brief: 1) Results and impact: What outcomes are needed by when and what impact will this work have? Note the deadline, why it matters and make the delegatee responsible for the desired result and time frame. 2) Boundaries and Best Practices: What are the “dos,” “don’ts” and suggested ways of working? 3) Follow-up: When and how will we communicate about progress or issues? What will be done if it seems like the deadline is not going to be met?
Help people prioritize. Capacity is finite.When people have more priorities than can be completed in the required time, something’s got to give. Talk with your direct reports or project team members about what else they have on their plates. Help them renegotiate deadlines or shift work in order to get the most strategic work done on time.
Stop enabling. When Fred did people’s work, this spoke volumes about who was REALLY accountable. It was Fred, so people knew that they could let things slide. Going forward, Fred needs to make it crystal clear that he won’t be doing the work, and the impact if the deadline isn’t met. Then Fred needs to follow through. This may mean some rough times ahead, as people test his resolve and Fred does the work of leadership.
Need to stop bailing folks out? Comment below or tell us about it and we’ll help with tough love.
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Great information, Christie! I have a question. What is your advise for a conscientious employee who has a boss or lead who is the one that struggles with prioritizing, does not complete tasks by deadlines nor communicates if tasks will not be done on time? My son is in such a situation and is very stressed in his job. I would love to have a few ideas to help my son find ways to proactively and positively communicate his concerns which will allow them both to move toward improving how they work together.
Erin, that is a tough one. It can be really hard to have a boss who does not live up to commitments. I hope some of Humanergy’s other coaches will weigh in. My two cents for now: 1. Make sure to document what is needed from the other person (follow-up email after a conversation works). Your son may want to use a structured delegation framework when having these discussions (https://humanergy.com/delegation-done-right/), even when he is the delegatee. It sets up mutual expectations well. 2. A gentle reminder to the boss before a deadline may be helpful, as we know that everyone is busy. 3. In all of these interactions, focus on the impact if the project doesn’t go well. Too often, I lead with “you didn’t do X” when what I really should say is, “Project X is vital to Y because…” 4. Lastly, stay calibrated to the reality that we can’t control others, only ourselves. This is a hard truth.