Why deadlines are better than schedules


I know I have said it many times but I again feel like proselytizing the benefits of deadlines vs schedules.  And here is my message today.  Deadlines are about accountability, schedules are about compliance. So why does it seem deadlines are more acceptable to miss than coming in 10 minutes late or leaving 10 minutes early everyday?  Reason: the excuses are perceived as more valid.

Typically the reason someone gives for missing a deadline is either a displacement of blame or a heraldry of how hard they are working on everything else.  They go something like this: “Oh Phil from accounting didn’t get me the right figures until XXX so I was not able to create the proposal in time…”(displacement); or, “I have had my head down working on the executive presentation and interviewing for the new XXX, that I just did not have the time this week.”(heraldry)  Or my favorite, “I’ve been in meetings all week.”  This one bugs me the most, probably because it is a mixture of both displacement and heraldry, but also because it is an epidemic at most companies.  It is one example of how many companies get in their own way of performance.  On the flip-side, most reasons for coming in late or leaving early are personal, “my dog got out of the backyard”, or “I have a doctor appointment,” and so on.

The managerial approach tends to be more forgiving of the first, and less so of the latter.  Though, from a performance perspective, missing deadlines tends to have a much more detrimental effect on the company.  The message I have heard all too many times delivered is essentially, “regardless of what you need to take care of in your personal life, you need to be here and ready to work at X:XX and you are expected to stay until X:XX.”  But the response to deadline excuses is usually one of accommodation instead of accountability.  It is either a brief, “okay, well when can I expect it” or a lengthy discussion about the importance of the deadline that still ends the same way.  Why isn’t the expectation of how people manage their time the same?  Is it not the expectation that they do all those other things at their job AND meet their deadlines?

Work is a myriad of priority and project management complexity. Some employees navigate it well, others do not…and often at the expense of their personal lives because attendance is more rewarded than performance. Employees who are “burning the midnight oil” or “pulling all-nighters” are seen as hard workers…even if they miss deadlines because they “put in the hours” in effort. Yet the employee who is not compliant with the archaic norm that work gets done from 8a-5p at your desk, is a slacker…even if they consistently meet deadlines.

It seems backwards and it is a paradigm you can change. To improve performance on projects, focus on setting and providing accountability around deadlines, not managing where people are at a given time. If they are meeting their deadlines, then chances are you can trust they are doing what they need to in order to balance ALL of life’s priorities, even the ones you gave them. Deadlines are about results, schedules are about control. If you feel like a babysitter at work, are you managing through results or control?

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