A Culture Of Lateness
I think I have minor OCD when it comes to being late. I hate being late. It doesn’t matter if it is meeting friends at a bar or meeting clients for a meeting. I hate being late.
If I happen to be running late, I start feeling slightly nauseous. Even when I’m likely going to be the first one there, I still feel nauseous.
If I’m going to be 5 minutes late for a restaurant reservation, I usually call the restaurant to let them know even though I know they don’t really care.
My OCD on not being late is why I don’t understand why we live in a culture of lateness. We all have friends who start getting ready at 7:55 when they know dinner is at 8. We have all been to meetings when even the meeting organizer shows up 10 minutes late and walks in without even an apology. I just don’t get it.
When I started working at Sapient in 1999 I was in heaven. It was a professional culture/cult where being late was not accepted. You would often be fined (a dollar or something similar) for even being 30 seconds late to a meeting. I was in heaven. Thank you Sapient for making me realize I wasn’t crazy to want things to be on time. There are a lot of us out there.
Where did we learn being late is OK? I don’t think it was in school because I remember grade school being a time when being late meant being embarrassed at the front of the class. Did we learn it was OK to be late because…it was OK? Because it almost never matters if you are on time or not?
How many times has this happened to you:
- 4:58: You are meeting a friend for a drink at 5 pm. You get there a couple of minutes early just to make sure your friend isn’t waiting alone. You are the only one there.
- 5:00: Still the only one there
- 5:05: Still the only one there. You start getting a bit annoyed.
- 5:10: A bit more annoyed
- 5:15: Even more annoyed and you have probably looked at your watch/phone about a dozen times by now.
- 5:20: Your friend finally gets there and says “Oh my god, sorry I’m late again, blah, blah, blah”. Your response: “It’ OK” (while fuming a bit inside).
I’m obviously not saying you tell your friend “Fuck you asshole. Why are you always late? You think you are more important than me? *throat punch*”
But I think calling out your friend or colleagues in a non-deuchebag manner can go a long way.
This last week, I had meetings on back-to-back days with one of my clients. Both meetings had: Me, 3 or 4 people from another consulting company, and 3 or 4 people from the client team including the client CEO.
In the first meeting, everyone was on time except the client CEO. He has his admin open the call up on time and ask us to wait for the CEO. He joins us 15 minutes later without even an apology.
The next day the same thing happens! Same meeting, same people, and another 15 minutes late from the CEO. Lame.
After the meeting I asked one of the guys from the other consulting company if Mr. CEO was always late. The answer: “Always, it’s ridiculous”. But I also got the sense they never said anything to him about it.
After some thought and pausing over the “Send” button a few times, I sent the following email:
Hi CEO,Yes, I was a bit nervous about sending this email. It might have rubbed him the wrong way and when you are a freelance consultant, pissing your clients off is never a good idea.
I wanted to quickly share some feedback with you.
During our last few meetings that I have attended with the wider team you've been 10-15 minutes late each time. I of course know you must have an absolutely hectic schedule, but at this point I'm sure everyone else does as well [Editor Note: It’s a crazy time for everyone on the team because we are a few days from launch of the site]. However, having 5-6 people waiting on a call for 10-15 minutes when time is so short right now seems inconsiderate and a bit unprofessional.
Personally, in terms of my time, I start tracking and billing my time the moment I dial into a conference call. In the last 2 days, I've tracked just under 30 minutes ($[xx] that will be billed to your company) waiting on the phone. That just doesn't make sense.
I kindly suggest that if you know you will be more than just a few minutes late, to have [your admin] let the team know when we can expect the call to start so we can continue working on other activities. I think this is especially true for the [other consulting company] team that is huddled in a conference room for these calls and not in front of their computers where they can be working to complete this release.
Thank you for listening,
But this CEO, outside of being chronically late, is a good guy. He is friendly and he is always quick to thank his own team and the other folks working for him. I actually thought he would take the feedback well and appreciate that I sent him a private email instead of calling him out on the call in front of everyone.
And I was right. Mr. CEO sent the following email back:
Thanks Will. This is fair feedback. I apologize for the late start in the last couple of meetings. We have been swamped but that is no excuse. We highly value your time and the time of [Consulting company] and I agree this is not an effective use of time or money. The last few meetings I was stuck in between some urgent matters that I could not break away from but will work with my team to communicate things better and try to estimate the impact of unexpected emergencies.Well, I don’t know if it’s actually going to make him stop being late. But it felt good to not bottle up my annoyance and give my client that feedback.
So the next time someone makes you wait. Don’t be a dick about it…but don’t be afraid to let them know it’s not cool and their time is not more valuable then yours.