Pritam was late in reaching office one day. He knew that he was in for a difficult conversation with his Manager, who had insisted that he be there on time. Of course, he knew that he was late for a crucial meeting with a customer. He was already 15 minutes late and he was the key presenter in the session. But, he had had to drop his wife off en route to the office and later realized that he had forgotten his phone at home. Returning to his home and getting stuck in traffic – one thing lead to another and he was in this situation yet again in his professional life.
Srinivas was getting impatient. He was having to stall for time with the customer, who was understandably anxious to get started. He had messaged and called Pritam multiple times in an attempt to ensure that he would be in the office for a 10:30 a.m. call. All of this seemed to be to no avail. Brain cells were dying with the stress building up. Srinivas was relatively new to the role of a Manager and was already beginning to feel the stress that comes with the job. He was realizing how little direct control he had on outcomes. His own boss had coached him and he had done his reading in various books on employee engagement. Theory aside, the practical side of engaging employees was a whole different ball game, as he was beginning to appreciate of late. Pritam was his star employee and getting him to perform his tasks as needed, was proving to be a difficult challenge.
The meeting did go through and despite the initial hiccup, the discussion was fruitful. Now, it was time for a stern drill down. Or was it? How would Srinivas deliver the tough message to Pritam? He had given him a lot of leeway in the method of working – had prioritized his work so he would be able to maintain a work-life balance. Many times, when Pritam was unable to complete his work on time, Srinivas had managed the situation with other stakeholders, while not exposing him directly. With respect to all of Pritam’s abilities and delivery of results, he was his key performer. The habit of being late to meetings, was one of the quirks of his work style. So, how was this to be handled?
There is a cultural aspect to this case – in India, whether we like it or not, we tend to be OK with being late. Functions, Ceremonies, parties and committee meetings hardly ever start on time. Of course, work and office are different from informal gatherings. Having said that, government offices are fairly lax with adherence to time. Government colleges are no different. Professors do not like to attend and will not be on time for their classes even. In a culture where time is malleable and emotions are on a high, making the transition to a professional setup is understandably difficult.
I think the way of tackling this issue is to make the problem irrelevant. Srinivas can start the meetings on time, he only needs to ensure that it is not imperative to have Pritam present. Adapt and ensure that their is enough knowledge within the team to present and hold their own in meetings with external stakeholders. Of course, Srinivas must provide the feedback to Pritam. That is not negotiable and Pritam must be coached at continuously on the importance of being on time. There is only so much that can be said about punctuality. The outcome lies in strategic planning and execution to ensure that there is no collateral, when we know there is a problem.
What do you think? Have you faced such situations where you had to deal with latecomers to meetings? How did you manage? Do let me know your thoughts.