Stop People From Being Late to Meetings

Keep people on time through extreme psychological manipulation, and it'll be fine.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #363

Meetings! I just love meeting! No ... I don't. I hate meetings. There's nothing worse than a meeting. Except a meeting where people show up late, and the rest of us have to sit around pretending we don't hate each other while we wait.

Europa, being the secret ruler of the entire Eastern Bloc, is used to the privileges of power. She comes and goes as she pleases, expecting everyone around her to accommodate her whims. She now works undercover as the manager of Bernice's Green Growing Things plant store, but lately she's been slipping back to her old habits. The management team scheduled an 11 am meeting to discuss a very important order. Dr. Moreau wants a hundred venus fly traps sent to his private island. The team needs to figure out how to make this happen. Europa is the only team member who knows the ins and outs of shipping, and she waltzes in 15 minutes late. The team is not pleased.

Meetings Cost Money

The team is upset that Europa is wasting their precious, irreplaceable time. Bernice is concerned that Europa is wasting precious money. If the staff were all on salary, it wouldn't matter so much. We call salaried employees "wage slaves," because you can make them stay late, and the wasted time comes out of their family and social life, not the company's profits. But with hourly employees, efficiency matters. A 10-minute delay four times a week adds up to a full week a year per each employee. That's a lot of wasted pay.

Asking Europa to be on time hasn't worked. Every delay, she reports, is unavoidable. There's always something terribly important that has to be done. Like her nails. Or going on Facebook. Or invading the Ukraine. Courtesy and requests haven't worked. Bernice is almost at the end of her rope.

Being Late is Just … Fine

There is one thing everyone in business understands. It's the universal language of business: money. Cold, hard cash. The late waltzer-inner is costing the company money. How much money? Let's calculate. Divide a yearly salary by 2,000 to get the hourly salary. Everyone at Green Growing Things makes $50,000/year (we're a very egalitarian plant store), which is $25/hour. If Melvin, Bernice, Thomas, and I are waiting for Europa, it's costing the company $100/hour for our wasted time. If Europa is 10 minutes later, that's 1/6 of an hour, or $17. Who should pay that $17? It hardly seems fair for Bernice to foot the bill. It makes much more sense for Europa to pay for the time she's wasting.

The money is used to buy yummy treats, but only for the members who showed up on time.

Charge Cash

The group can create a Tardy Jar. When someone comes in late, they have to pay up in cash for everyone's time that was wasted. The money in the jar is then used to buy yummy treats for the team, or at least for the team members who showed up on time.

Charge Budgets

Some people are squeamish about asking coworkers to pay up in cash. They work because it gives their lives deep meaning, a sense of purpose, and connection to deepest human values. They think it's crude and inappropriate to charge someone cash for bad behavior, which is ridiculous. People expect to be paid wages when they do their job. When they actively prevent others from doing a job, they should be paying wages—of everyone else's wasted time.

But if cash fines seem too cold and hard, you can still exact a monetary penalty for late arrivals. Charge the late fees to the late arrival's budget. It's not quite as gratifying as watching them dig for cash, and put their last dollar in the Tardy Jar, but it's a close second.

Charge Bonuses

If it doesn't seem fair to charge a project's budget for the dastardly behavior of one errant person, keep track of each person's late penalties and take it out of any bonus or extra compensation they will be awarded. But when you give them the bonus, make sure they know how much money they lost for bad behavior. "Quarterly performance bonus, $1,000. Quarterly late fees, $783. Net bonus $217."

Let the Group Choose the Terms

get it done guy

Whichever system you design to deal with people who keep your team waiting, it's best if the team itself chooses the penalty. That way they're much more likely to buy in when they're the guilty party, and when they're not, everyone else will be committed and will apply the appropriate amount of peer pressure.

When a member of your team is chronically late and holding up meetings, always first try to fix the problem by talking to them reasonably. If that doesn't work, figure out the dollar value of the team's wasted time and charge the culprit for the time they're wasting. Charge cash, charge their budget, or charge their bonus. It doesn't really matter as long as it feels real to them. It only took three $17 payments for Europa to shape up. The money was enough to buy the team a large Oreo Ice Cream cake, and all was quickly forgiven. Now, we're off to listen to Get-Fit Guy for tips on whether a standing desk can help work off a large Oreo Ice Cream cake.

This is Stever Robbins. I help CEOs and high-potential leaders create strategy and lead people. If you want to know more, visit www.SteverRobbins.com.  And don't forget t ofollow Get-It-Done Guy on Twitter and Facebook.

Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!

Late image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.