The Art of Selling a Deadline

The old adage is true, “Time is money, don’t waste it.” This particularly holds true in a business environment where the bottom line is either your shareholder’s friend or foe.

You’ve been given a project to pull together data from several departments within your organization. How can you convey the urgency and deadlines to someone in another department who isn’t directly affected by this project? Managing this challenge will be half the battle for you.

The key to this dilemma is communication. Given the deadlines that you have been given, the knee-jerk reaction is to bark orders at your co-workers. Resist the urge to order others around. Doing so will only creates resistance to the project. It’s a natural reflex to show defiance when someone communicates in this manner. Remember the sage and ageless advice your grandmother gave you: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

Communicate your project and what is needed from your co-workers. If your project is due on October 15th, ask your co-workers for the information a few days prior so that there is room for unexpected and last minute issues. If your co-worker is unable to meet a particular deadline, be flexible and provide a few alternate dates for them. Once you have confirmed the date and information that is needed, verify what time of day it needs to be turned in to you. For example, by noon on October 15th, or by close of business October 15th, etc. As a closer, ask the employee if they would like to have a reminder email or phone call. Most will say no, but it will again demonstrate your need for timely information, and illustrate that you want to be helpful without feeling “pushy”.

What happens if your co-worker(s) miss a deadline? This doesn’t grant authority for you to stand in their doorway and rant! By blaming, you may escalate the discussion into something more than just a late piece of the project. Now it’s a character defect that’s being debated – something taken far more personally and potentially damaging to interdepartmental communication. Instead, take a moment to call the person rather than email them.

People have a harder time making excuses if you speak to them directly. If they aren’t there leave a voice mail. If you happen to catch them on the phone, take an apologetic tone and tell them you haven’t received the information and you are worried you deleted it or it never made it’s way to you (although you may suspect that they just didn’t send it.) Most of the time, co-workers will let you know they dropped the ball and simply didn’t get the info to you as previously agreed. Your initial tone and method of communication has resulted in your co-worker feeling accountable and more receptive to you.

If it just isn’t possible to reach them by phone, send an email with the same approach as above. When they confess they haven’t completed their piece in time, take the opportunity to ask for a firm date when they will commit to having it ready. The subtle confrontation will bring a level of discomfort which will no doubt serve as a reminder to get your project done by the due date next time!

Remember, extreme communication tactics don’t usually work. A tactful approach that conveys a willingness to help the project along is the winning ingredient in this dilemma.