How to Deal with Flaky People

Some people just don’t deliver. Don’t let them. Here's how to handle a flake.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #279

Flaky pastries are tasty and delicious. Flaky people, on the other hand, usually slow us down, get in our way, and generally keep us from working less and doing more.

The problem is that we can't depend on them. They promise to do their part on time and under budget, but then don't deliver. Or even worse, they simply don't communicate. Deadlines come and go and we're never quite sure whether we should be waiting for them to finally do what they promised, or assume they've quit and no longer work here, or start melting a wax sculpture of them over a candle flame because, goodness knows, nothing else has worked yet.;

Regardless, if you're like me and you actually are motivated by getting lots of great stuff done, you need to master the skill of being able to have a path forward even if the flakes are out in force.

Use Default Actions

Since by definition, flaky people don't get things done on time, you can start to rely on this. When coordinating with a flaky person, set up defaults. Decide what will happen if they don't deliver, and make sure they know.

Europa is now managing Bernice’s store, Green Growing Things, while Bernice is formulating strategy. Europa insists on approving every financial and PR decision. Bernice's fiance Melvin emails, "The Audrey 2s are growing so large that we need a new greenhouse. Can we spend the money?" Employee Kaitlin emails, “I need the inventory level for band-aids, because we have to reorder.” But even though she wants to be in the loop, Europa rarely writes back. "I'm too busy” she cries. Well, of course she is. She’s in the middle of everything. But Melvin and Kaitlin still need to do their jobs. They can get their work done by subtly changing how they include Europa. By introducing defaults—what will happen if Europa doesn’t respond—and deadlines, they can keep moving forward while still keeping Europa involved.

When Signoff Is Needed

When there’s a decision that requires a flaky person’s approval, send them the background material, a deadline, and the default decision. Tell Monsieur or Madame Flake that if they don’t respond by the deadline, you’ll assume they are giving you tactic approval to go ahead.

When Melvin passes along the greenhouse request, he can say...


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.