Deadline v. Schedule (Results v. Control)

All time is not created equal.

I have had conversations with managers regarding ways to improve performance by being more specific about the results they want and less specific about the way people work.  Citing numerous pieces of research on autonomy and self-direction as a driver towards engagement.  The most common roadblock people get stuck on is the “schedule.”  Commonly, I hear “if people are dedicated to the task, then they are here early and leave late.” And that may be true…for some people.  For others, the set 8-5 schedule and the corresponding “early” and “late” aspect creates a world of anxiety, interruptions, and stress.

In my years of facilitating priority management skills not once has someone asked me how to meet the demands of their personal lives on Saturday.  And while the demands may be different, I would argue that there are not fewer things people have to accomplish (ask anyone with to young kids on some sort of team and you will understand.)  The major difference is people control every aspect of their personal schedule: when, what, where, and how.  The “what” they must do is not always something they choose but they get to choose “when”.  Similarly, you don’t hear of many independent contractors or business owners struggling with priority management.  They only people I tend to see are people who have lost control of when, what, where and how they get things done…in other words, people who are on a schedule.

Now before I stray to far, I often hear “but without a schedule things would not get done on time”.  A schedule of when a person works is different then someone getting something done by a certain date.  If you need something done by a certain time or date, that is a deadline.  Deadlines are an absolutely crucial component of most job process, tasks, or projects.  And here is the difference: deadlines set an expectation for completion; a schedule tells people when, where, and what they are supposed to be working on at a given time.  Deadlines are about results, schedules is about control.

Despite antiquated thoughts of Theory X, science proves when people are left to their own devices they will generally engage themselves in some sort of work.  This is especially true when there is an expectation of a certain result.  In fact, studies and workplace experiments have shown when employees are given more control over how, when, where they do their work, people tend to get more done in a shorter period of time.  Look no further than BestBuy, Netflix, or GAP.  All of these places have instituted what is know as a ROWE – Results Only Work Environment.  There are no set schedules or artificial elements of control.  Employees are given clear expectations of when something must be completed (a deadline) and the rest is up to them.  Since implementing these programs, productivity, retention, and engagement is up.  And guess what, not a single priority management class in sight.

Many people abhor micro-managers they have had in the past yet they have difficulty letting go of the schedule piece.  Schedules are about control based on an assumption that people, if not looked over, will not do their work.  This tends to make managers and leaders feel like babysitters to their employees and tends to feel overly oppressive to your employees.  To be sure there are legitimate reasons that some schedules exists, like retail business hours, but the large majority of today’s businesses are operating on a 24-hour, 7-day global clock.  In those cases, schedules are all about control.  Besides, attendance is a weak performance metric, just because someone is there…doesn’t mean they are doing anything.  Spend more time getting clear about deadlines and less time playing babysitter.  Focus on results, not control.


One thought on “Deadline v. Schedule (Results v. Control)

  1. Very good post. I enjoyed it so much you forced me to leave a comment!

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