Develop a Sense of Urgency in Your Team (Part 2 of 2)

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • How do I get to my staff to work faster?
  • How do I help my staff get their work done on time?
  • How do I set deadlines?

Today, we finish up our series on building a sense of urgency in your team.

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On the topic of late meeting arrivals,

On the topic of late meeting arrivals, I once had a college marching band director that said "If the schedule says practice begins at X time, then you are expected to be in place and ready to play at that time. If you show up on time, you are late. Let me rephrase that: If you show up on time, you are late!".

I carry that philosophy with me throughout my career.

One thing that was not explicitly

One thing that was not explicitly stated, is the importance of the manager sticking to their commitments as well to maintain and foster good culture. When you need to get something done for your employee (approve an expense report, make a call on their behalf to help with a tough relationship, etc.) give them the deadline you'll do it by and stick to it. If you don't it sends the message that it is important for your directs to meet deadlines, but not so much for you and that will ultimately foster resentment.

Also, I can see where a manager may give a deadline of Tuesday at 4:00PM, be in a meeting and forget to check that the deliverable arrived on time and maybe forget until later that night. Then the direct is thinking, "I bust my butt to deliver and he just checks whenever?!" That's where I see capturing and habitually checking/following up on deadlines is key. If they know you'll be checking within 30 minutes of a deadline and feedback is on its way in that window, I bet that will keep the fire lit.

Thanks again for the practical and actionable advice.


One thing I do is when I have something

One thing I do is when I have something to deliver that takes say 2 hours, I schedule 2 hours on my calendar to do "schedule for project X". That way, I make time for myself and it is easier to make my commitments. My pet peeve is when the person I am to deliver the project for schedules another "Important" meeting at that time.


Another great series, guys. Some

Another great series, guys.

Some time ago, I tried to do the 'passive feedback' thing, by setting up a simple Excel tool - one sheet per person. All they were required to do was update it by close of business on Thursdays with the number of hours they had spent on each task assigned to them, and how many hours were remaining. Sounded good at the time. Know what I got?

On a 150-hour task, each person simply subtracted the effort spent from the effort. I was really pleased that things were going nicely to plan until the week before the task was due, when suddenly there were still 35 hours remaing to be done.

The problem was no-one bothered to actually estimate the remaining effort and took the easy route until it was too late to do anything about the slippage.

What do you recommend?

Quiller- I think this is a GREAT


I think this is a GREAT question, but I'm not following you. What do you mean that each person just subtracted?

Sorry, I'm just missing it.


Quiller, So, what you're saying is


So, what you're saying is that say a project had 100 hours on it. If I worked on the project for 25 hours one week I would be left with 75 hours. However, if I worked on the project for 25 hours but really only got 10 hours of real work done, I still put 25 hours completed even if only 10 were "actually" completed. So at the end of the week instead saying I am 10 hours complete, I would actaully say that I was 25 hours complete. Is that what you mean (if that makes any sense)?


Hi Mark Very interesting cast. however

Hi Mark
Very interesting cast. however your "urgency" cast is very targeted towards direct reports. How would this model differ as regards delivering a sense of urgency into a matrixed team?
George (from UK !!)

Brad and Quiller- The interesting

Brad and Quiller-

The interesting thing is that the point is moot, in my and Mike's opinions. HOURS are for ESTIMATING length of work... TASKS are what one reports as complete or not. As Mike said, a 100 hour task has been insufficiently scrutinized for granularity.

Boy, do we have more to say on this subject!!!


George- You'll have to be more


You'll have to be more specific. Are you the matrixed team leader/PM? If so, this technique would work the same. The PM is responsible for ensuring deadlines get done, so one would be clear about deliverables and dates, and talk about them constantly.

What am I missing?


I really enjoy and find your podcasts

I really enjoy and find your podcasts important and informative, however these
last two... I disagree on many points. I think your hardline attitude on deadlines may work well with some employees, while it would be excessively
counter-productive with others. If you have an employee who gives you everything
he has, just for nothing more than a pat on the back, this method would be not only
be a major morale killer, it would hurt the company. When you're in your office
bench pressing pencils, he's out killing himself to make your business a success.
He's hoping for a kind word and gets a deadline instead.

There's two types of managers in my book, the ones who say "go do it", and the ones that say, "follow me" and set the example. I think when a manager is too
busy to "listen to his people and pulls a strong arm routine on them has failed in
his job. You want to see your employees do their best? Roll up your sleeves and
get out and work along side of them. You'll learn alot and your deadlines will take
care of themselves.

Geopew- Thanks for sharing your


Thanks for sharing your point of view! Sorry you disagree with us here.

And insofar as you engaged in an ad hominem attack, we'll respond no further than to say 'it's a privilege to serve you'.


geopew- If you listened to the


If you listened to the previous podcast you might notice that Mark prefaces his comments by saying that the techniques are for environments where a greater sense of urgency is required. Clearly if people are already working their guts out you would not take the hardline approach

I think the suggested behaviours are pretty reasonable in any case. If you have a fixed deadline, make it clear from the begining. Otherwise, ask your employees for a deadline and then make them accountable for achieving it. Mark even pointed out the idea is move beyond a discussion about WHEN something will get done to HOW it can get done by the deadline.

If you take any technique and apply it without regard to the situation and people involved of course it can become counter-productive.

Hey Guys, Fab cast (as

Hey Guys,

Fab cast (as always!).....if you removed step 4 this cast could as well have been titled "Develop a Sense of ACCOUNTABILITY in Your Team"......A comment on out times we have to use URGENCY.......have a request : could we pls have a cast on managing poor and stars in a what you do...


Mark, Great topic! Like George,


Great topic! Like George, however, I was left with some uncertainty in how to implement this in a matrix organization, as well as with clients. I am a professional services consultant/program manager in a matrix organization, and my primary client is the Government. I have dozens of people who are "accountable" to me and my projects, but very little recourse for providing correcting feedback when deadlines aren't met.

I understand that my responsibility is to set, capture and track all deadlines, which covers me in the event of failure. Obviously, though, what I want is for the projects to succeed, thus bringing value to both my company and the clients. In other words, what is the best way to motivate others meet your deadlines when they have very little personal skin in the game?

Just some food for thought. I don't expect you to be able to answer this in one or two paragraphs. Heck, this may be a topic all its own!

Thanks again for your work here. I always enjoy and appreciate your podcasts, and they have helped me tremendously in my professional growth.

Best regards,

Shawn- You're right, it's a big


You're right, it's a big topic. it will be a future cast.

I would venture two thoughts:

1. I've done everything in the cast in a matrix. Works fine. Never did it with clients, and wouldn't recommend it, either.

2. I'd bet you're making feedback out to be more than it is. It's just feedback. It's not counseling, or a warning... it's just feedback.

We'll do more here... but lots of folks aren't even doing this stuff, and "motivation" of others is WAY harder than being clear about deadlines.


Brad, you understood my ramblings

Brad, you understood my ramblings correctly. I needed ongoing estimates of the remaining effort against each task, in order to catch any slippage early. It didn't work.

How do I get my people to look forward to the effort that remains?


Regarding making people look forward to

Regarding making people look forward to remaining effort and imparting a sense of importance to it (note that I did not say urgency, just importance):

There is a project management technique called "earned value calculation" where the progress of a project is measured not in terms of schedule or even tasks remaining but in the benefit to the organization of the work already done. A lot of people try to make it complex, but it boils down to this: The value in a project has nothing to do with the money and/or time spent. It has to do with what you have accomplished in relationship to your goals.

Suppose your plan was that 30 days in to a 60 day project you will have spent 50% of your time and money while having met 50% your deliverables. If you have actually spent 65% of your budget and 50% of your allotted time but accomplished only 25% of the planned work, your earned value is 25% of the budget, your planned earned value is 50% of the budget and yet your expenses are 65% of budget. Begin to see the value in expressing things this way?

If not, remember this: In the end, you and your staff are only measured on the earned value to the organization of their work. There are no medals for spending money and time, only for producing results. Anyone that doesn't understand it that way is someone you probably don't want on your team in the first place. If your people are unclear about what is expected of them, well, that is your fault as a manager.


Paul- Very interesting concept!


Very interesting concept! Thanks for sharing!


Yikes, I urgently have to listen to

Yikes, I urgently have to listen to this pair of casts ;-)

I am managing an R&D department with focus on R, and scheduling is exceedingly difficult. We are not dealing 100s of hours in a project, but often 1000s. Multidisciplinary projects. Large projects running in parallel with small ones. And a single mishap can mean months of delay and 100s of extra manhours.

Of course, higher management is often asking for a greater sense of urgency, where, as other people commented before, all people are working very hard already. Doing things well rather than doing them quickly takes a lot of time for R&D people, but saves oodles of time and money in after-sales....

Thanks for the casts, guys! A good

Thanks for the casts, guys!

A good (manager) friend of mine has been recommending them to me (individual contributor) for months, and I finally made time to check them out.

I knew they were going to be good when I felt my blood pressure rise as I listened to the first "developing a sense of urgency"! As I sorted through why I was grinding my teeth and ready to spit nails, I realized that thee and me were operating with several different assumptions.

You nailed it (albiet only in passing) in the second 'cast, that is -> make sure there's a reason behind the deadlines, and they aren't just arbitrary. As an individual contributor working hard to make sure the project kicks ass and the customers are delighted, there is nothing more frustrating than seemingly arbitrary deadlines. (ok, there are things more frustrating but I have limited text, here..)

I tried to listen to the remaining cast maintain the mindset:"this is coming from managers who aren't handing out arbitrary deadlines, are clear on requirements, and have their heads around what is actually possible."

(Sadly, this is directly at odds with most of what I've experienced in my working career. )

With that in mind, I agreed with 99% of what you had to say. I _like_ having my managers put a firm stick in the ground. If I don't think I can meet the deadline with the parameters requested, I say so. (and do my best to offer alternatives)

It's all about the accountability, folks! (and it's not just for managers: )

Mark, I wish I could take credit for


I wish I could take credit for Earned Value Management, but I can't. It's actually about 100 years old and was given it's modern form by the Department Of Defense. The bigger (and more expensive) the project the more complex EVM becomes, but it always boils down to what i said: The ultimate measure of a project's performance is in results achieved for the time and money spent and not in the mere spending of time and money. EVM is a way to measure a project in those terms.

It also goes to the point the two of you make over and over again that it's not about the tasks you perform but the deliverables you produce.

Wikipedia has a good primer on Earned Value Management, if you are interested.


Paul- I know about EVM... but had


I know about EVM... but had never heard it applied this way, and was hoping that my kudos would encourage others to look into it.

There is SO little thinking about how individual management behaviors can connect us to the organization's efforts and scorecards... more of that is in our futures, I'm sure of it.


Aaron- We figure, as bad as the


We figure, as bad as the state of management is (compared to what it easily could be), if we don't make some folks' blood boil every once in a while, we're not making our case forcefully enough! ;-)


Hey this is a great cast. Listened to

Hey this is a great cast. Listened to both back to back and implemented that morning when I got to the office. Hey Mike, I felt like the guy from Planet X when I heard about the passive reporting came up. I love it and have it now have all my attorney directs reporting to me. One each day.

For the Deadlines, I record them on my Treo calendar with the start and end time the same. It even has a alarm. Put this to use on a big project and we'll see how it turns out. It already sounds better than what I had going before.

Hey Guys, Thanks for yet another

Hey Guys,

Thanks for yet another fabulous cast. heard both of them back to back. amazing stuff. When i tried implementing them, my reports kept on giving me bad answers. when i stated the deadlines,they agreed to the deadlines, but still kept falling short. how do i tell them that slippages are not acceptable?


Anand- They already know that


They already know that missing deadlines is not effective. But when you call them slippages, you paint them in a larger context that suggests it's okay.

What you do is give them negative feedback every time they miss. EVERY TIME.

They'll get it.


I'm just finally catching up with all

I'm just finally catching up with all the casts. Really liked this one. I'm in a matrixed position - lots of project/functional responsibility, but no direct reports. I did get quite a few good tips from this, but there's an underlying issue about "clear consequences". I believe you guys touched on that in the cast, but not too much. My point - I can do all the things suggested here, but if the person isn't clear on the consequences to him, his team, the organization and if those consequences aren't more than an idle, implied threat, we will still have challenges. I long for conversations around the "how" rather than the "when" and "how long" too. And, I long to stop spending 25-30% of my time chasing people on deadlines. There has to be something else I could do to influence/educate the team member's direct supervisor as well?

good stuff, are there more examples of

good stuff, are there more examples of "capture" mechanisms?

Right.... great cast, and I don't want

Right.... great cast, and I don't want to watch the whole "Lake House" movie - whereabouts is that great scene you recommend? :-)