5 Keys to Ensuring Your Employees Get Their Projects Done on Time

How frequently do you get frustrated with one or more members of your staff team because they just don’t get their work done when you want them to get that work done? Rounding to the nearest 50, what’s your best answer?

If you answered “frequently” or “weekly” or “daily” or “200 times” or “500 times” don’t worry, you’re normal. The vast majority of business owners and entrepreneurs get frustrated with their staff on a daily/weekly basis.

The more important question is, “How can you turn that around?” How can you change the systems in your business so that you’re decreasing the frequency of your feelings of frustration, while increasing your staff members’ level of execution?

Well, here are five ideas that can help ensure that the people you’ve already hired actually get their work projects done on time.

I. Remove All Assumptions From Your Delegation

I was talking with a client recently who was frustrated with an employee who regularly didn’t get things done on time (like I said, you’re not unusual). After listening to him I simply asked, “When you delegate a project to this person, do you clearly define your expectation about when that task should be completed, as in, “I want this completed by the close of business today or by 2:00 p.m. tomorrow?” I already knew the answer before asking. You do as well.

Most leaders when they delegate, don’t delegate, they dump. “Mary, take care of this.” Nothing is explained. Why? Because of the problem of knowledge (i.e once you know something it’s difficult to remember what it’s like to not know that thing). In your mind, everything is clear.

In your mind, you already know, “I want this project done by the close of business today. I want it to look like this. I want it to cost this much. I want it to take this long. I want it done at this level of excellence. Etc.” Why? Because all of that is in your head. The problem with your dumpee, is that they’re not in your head. You assume they know what you know because you already know what you know … unfortunately, they don’t.

That’s why from this moment forward, instead of assuming that someone knows what’s in your head, you need to make sure you delegate, with clarity, what’s actually in your head (i.e. what your expectations are). And the #1 rule for ensuring that your employees will get their projects done on time is simply this …

Never delegate a task without a date attached to it

II. Create a Culture of Accountability

One of the first lessons of counseling is that dysfunction can’t exist unless there’s an enabler. If you see someone who consistently does something wrong, there’s almost always someone else who is enabling that problem behavior to exist.

In the case of your business, that’s usually you. If someone on your team can consistently get away with not getting their work done on time, and still be employed, you have to accept some of the blame—you are enabling that behavior to exist.

So, how do you turn that around? By choosing to no longer be an enabler.

For example, let’s say you’ve delegated a task to Joe that you wanted completed by this Thursday. It’s Thursday afternoon and the project isn’t completed. What do you normally do?

If you’re like most business owners and entrepreneurs, you do nothing. In your head you’re calculating, “If I give Joe a hard time about this, he’s going to be pissed for the next week. If I fire him, we don’t have anyone to take his place which means I’ll probably end up doing his work and I don’t have time for that, let alone time to find a replacement. So, I’ll just let it slide.” And we wonder why employees think they can get away with not getting their work done on time.

A better option would be …

“Joe, it’s 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, COB is in 30 minutes. Will I see the final version by then?” “I’m sorry, I’m running a little behind …” “Joe, was I clear on Monday when I assigned you this task that I needed it completed no later than COB on Thursday?” “Yes.” “Does no later than COB suggest that it could have been completed sooner than Thursday at 5:00 p.m.?” “Yes.” “Does it suggest that it could be completed later than 5:00 p.m. Thursday?” “No.” “So, why isn’t it completed?” List of excuses.

“Joe, those sound like a lot of excuses. The one thing you haven’t owned up to is your responsibility. This is your responsibility. So, how are you going to fix this?” If Joe doesn’t come up with a good game plan or is being defensive, you ratchet it up. “Joe, I’m not trying to be a jerk here but you have a history of doing this. When I assign you a task and say to you ‘I need this completed by X date and time,’ it needs to be completed by X date and time. These aren’t suggestions, these are orders. So, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to write up a 60-day performance plan for you. We’re going to both sign it on Monday. And 60 days from now you’re either going to be one of the most productive people here on staff or you’re going to be looking for a job. But I will no longer tolerate you not getting your work done on time. I own that I’ve been an enabler for you over the past three years but those days are over. I haven’t been doing what’s best for you or our company but now I am. So, I would highly suggest that you start taking seriously any work deadlines you’re assigned from this point moving forward.”

Do you think Joe would know how serious you are about accountability from that conversation?

So, how are you doing at creating a culture of accountability?

III. Run Daily Meetings

If you haven’t read my blog post on daily meetings, make sure you do so now by clicking here >> But the reason why daily meetings are so critical (note a daily meeting is a 10-15 minute meeting each day, often done standing up, with three questions), is because they reduce cycle time. For example, if you have a monthly staff meeting and Angela doesn’t get her project done before this month’s staff meeting on the second Wednesday of the month, no one will ask her about that project for another thirty days until the second Wednesday of next month (which is a very long cycle).

If you have a weekly meeting and Angela doesn’t get her project done, when is the next time she’ll be asked about that project? Exactly. Seven days from now (which is obviously better than 30 days). However, if you’re running a daily meeting and Angela says she hasn’t made any progress on that project, what’s the next time she’ll be asked about it? Exactly, 24 hours later. In other words, you’ve shrunk the cycle time from 30 days to 24 hours when you run a daily meeting.

If Angela shows up for the daily meeting and hasn’t completed her project and has to say, every day for the next three or four or five days, that she hasn’t completed that project, don’t you think that group peer pressure and Angela’s desire for self-preservation will inspire her to get her project done? Absolutely.

I know that most business owners cringe at the idea of having a daily meeting (you probably feel you’re already in too many meetings). So, here’s my challenge to you. Don’t start off by making an organizational change for the rest of eternity, start off with a test. Tell you team, “For the next 30 (or 60 or 90) days, we’re going to try an experiment that a lot of other businesses have tried and have found success with.”

I’ve helped tons of companies implement a daily meeting and no one has ever come back and said, “That was a waste.” Instead, they usually embrace it and often say, “That was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”

If you want to speed up the process of getting “stuff” done, look no further than running a daily meeting.

IV. Run 30-Day Challenges

This is the practice that really accelerates the power of a daily meeting. If you haven’t downloaded a copy of my 30 Day Challenge guide, you can do so by clicking here >>

Since I’ve written extensively about 30-Day Challenges, I won’t belabor the idea here other than to say, similar to speeding up the cycle time in point three above, creating 30-Day Challenges does the same at a macro level.

If every day that you’re meeting with your team for your 30-Day Challenge, you’re standing in front of your 30-Day Challenge board and moving tasks from the left to the right (from the “Hopper” to “On Deck,” and from “On Deck” to “Doing” and from “Doing” to “Done”), you’ll notice that your people will be more focused on getting their projects done. For example, if Mohammed is supposed to finish a key code project and day after day it sits in the “Doing” column, “everyone” will be asking, “Mohammed, why is that code project not done yet? Barb can’t get started on her project until you get yours done.”

Note: if your team is distributed, you might want to use an online tool like Trello and have that open while you’re on a GoToMeeting or Zoom or group call so everyone can see the board and what’s supposed to be done when (and who’s getting what done).

As you can well imagine, there’s something very powerful that happens when “everyone” can see your project list and who is responsible for completing that project ensures more of your staff members will get their stuff done. The very visible nature of the list adds a wonderful sense of accountability that an individual to do list or project list never can or will.

V. Automate Your Accountability

Why should you, the owner/CEO, have to do all the work? If you want to build a business where you’re the business owner, not a business employee or operator, then you should always be looking for ways to create controls that don’t involve you doing the work. So, here are a few options.

1. The low tech way to automate – have them do it. For example, you could have them send you a daily email at the end of the day, detailing what progress they’ve made on the project (or on larger, bigger projects, a weekly digest).

2. Use project software – there are plenty of platforms available to you. Pick one and start using it. You’ll know exactly what George has done and how much he’s done by simply logging in once a day and seeing progress (even better if the system automatically color codes what’s behind schedule in red).

3. Use triggers. Some workflow and project management solutions offer the option of triggering emails or texts based on due dates. In this case, if George is supposed to get X done by tomorrow, he would receive a text or email today stating, “You have a milestone due tomorrow for X project”. You could also have a text or email go out for missed milestones to George (as well as a daily recap to you for anyone or any project that’s running behind).

There are plenty of options here, but the main idea is to remove the mental energy you have to invest in remembering who has to get what done by what date. Instead, automate that process and then set up systems that will ensure your people get their work done before their deadlines.

So, what and how can you automate accountability in your business?

Well, there you have it. Five keys to ensuring that your employees get their projects done on time.

  1. Remove all assumptions from your delegation
  2. Create a culture of accountability
  3. Run daily meetings
  4. Run 30-Day Challenges
  5. Automate your accountability

You now know what to do. The only question left is, “So, what’s the next action you need to take to ensure your people get their stuff done on time from this point moving forward?”

To your accelerated success!

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