Get-It-Done Guy’s tips on keeping things moving forward when business partners are flaky.
Use Their Preferred Follow-Up Process
While you have them on the line, ask them what the best follow-up process is: “If we are running late and I need something from you, how can I best follow up and get us moving again?” They’ll probably say something like, “just remind me.”
Try it. You’ve been reminding them, of course, so you know in advance that it won’t actually work. That’s fine. Because since you asked the question in the first place, when they flake out, you can go back and say, “You told me that reminding you weekly would get you moving again. I reminded you and you didn’t get moving. What more can I do?”
This time, they’ll really stop and think about what really gets them moving.
Use Regular Touchpoints
When even connecting with them is difficult, schedule a regular meeting. I work with a creative team that’s spread out over 3,000 miles. We have a standing appointment every other Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. It’s always on our calendar, and there is no predefined agenda.
“No agenda?!” you cry in horror. “It must be a total waste of time!” No, exactly the opposite. We only use the time for topics we haven’t been able to connect on elsewhere. This meeting is our fallback in case regular communication isn’t working. If we’re all up to date, it’s a 20-second meeting. “Does anyone have anything pending? No. Great! We’ll talk again in 2 weeks.”
Have Defaults that Obligate Them
Of course, even with all this, they may just not do their job, and you are on the hook for it. It’s time to change things structurally. As explained in the episode on dealing with collaborators who stall progress, I recommend setting up defaults that happen if they don’t deliver. But in this case, make sure the defaults shift the risk of their flakiness to their shoulders.
Explain that you’re following up in the way they prefer, using their preferred media. But you can’t pay the price for their flakiness. Restructure your arrangement so penalties are borne by them. For example, if you’re filing paperwork with a late filing penalty, say something like: “I’ll keep reminding you as you requested. If you don’t get back to me by the deadline, however, we’ll need to put your credit card number on file to cover penalties associated with our being late.”