When Managing Time Is a Hard Time

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When Managing Time Is a Hard Time

By Bruce Tulgan, RainmakerThinking Inc. - 07/24/2014

As we all know, it is critical that employees be faithful to a very precise schedule. The employee’s physical presence at a specific place and time is essential to his/her work.

In retail, somebody needs to be there to open the store, first thing, and close the store, last thing, not to mention in between when customers might want to shop.

Whenever “coverage” is the critical time-management factor, everybody has much less flexibility, so everybody needs to work harder to make it work.

As a manager, trumpet the value of time –- everybody’s time. Remind people frequently and enthusiastically how valuable everybody’s time truly is and insist everybody’s time be respected.

What about the employee who is chronically late, leaves early, wastes time or takes too many breaks? What is to be done with employees who simply cannot live by a simple schedule?

In some cases, managers are right to attribute these problems to an employee’s blasé attitude or a lack of care, consideration or diligence. When that’s the source of the problem, there is no substitute for constant reminders in your regular one-on-one employee sit-downs. Just by focusing on it, you are likely to make it better, at least for a little while.

You say: “You’re late.”

Employee: “I know. I’m sorry. I overslept.”

You: “You are supposed to be on time.”

Employee: “I know. I’m sorry. There was bad traffic.”

You: “You need to be on time.”

Employee: “Yes. I’ll try to do better.”

That employee is probably going to be on time the next day. Maybe he/she will be on time for a while. Until the next time they're late. Do you have the same conversation again? How many times?

You have to be the judge of when too much is too much. When somebody does actually get fired for coming in late (or leaving early or taking too many breaks), everybody else usually gets the message -- at least for a while.

Believe it or not, some people by the time they come to work for you have never really mastered the fundamentals of living by a schedule. You might be the first person to hold them accountable for being “on time.” In the process, you might end up doing this person a huge favor.

Are some employees insulted or annoyed by the explicit focus on the petty details of living by a schedule? Perhaps they are. But almost always they start coming in on time, staying all day and taking fewer breaks, at least for a while. A lot of employees will be genuinely grateful for your helping them get better at living by a schedule.

What about employees who sneak out early? Sometimes they are just helping themselves to a little free time. Others might have obligations after work that leave them pressed for time.

You might have to talk through with them the after-work schedule so they make sure they push back any obligations to a time that does not require them to leave early. Talk through what it is going to take for that person to stay all the way until the end of his/her scheduled work obligations. Spell it out. Break it down. Follow up.

One technique I’ve seen managers use is to schedule some very concrete to-do items for the employee during the last hour of his/her work time in order to help them stay focused up to the last minute.

What about employees who take too many breaks and waste time at work? The answer is the same. Talk about it in no uncertain terms. Spell out what’s required: At work, you are expected to be focused on getting work done very well, very fast all day long.

Everyone has time wasters, but nobody can afford them. Help people identify their big time wasters and eliminate them altogether.

So, how can you help your time management-challenged employees succeed?

  • Help them set clear priorities and communicate about those priorities relentlessly.
  • Make sure your direct reports are devoting the lion’s share of their time to first and second priorities.
  • Teach them to postpone low-priority activities until high-priority activities are well ahead of schedule. Those are the time windows during which lower-priority activities can be accomplished, starting with the top lower priorities, of course.

Time wasters, on the other hand, must be identified and eliminated altogether whenever possible.

One of the best gifts you can give anybody is teaching them how to maintain an old-fashioned time log to understand how they actually use their time inside and outside of work. That way, they can start planning their time more effectively and eliminate time wasters.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.