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That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #15 January 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Tips for Corporate Success.

There’s no reason to show up for a meeting or conference call early, or even on time. No meeting or call starts until five minutes after it’s supposed to.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who show up early and those who show up late. For a long time, I was an early person — I got to the bus stop early in school, I got to class early in college, I got to work early in my career, and whenever I’m supposed to meet my friends somewhere, I’m early too.

CC-licensed photo by Emery Co. Photo

CC-licensed photo by Emery Co. Photo

But so few people are early people. Most of them are late. And as a result, something that could legitimately be punished in school by detentions, grades, demerits, or being grounded (late for curfew) has become the norm. I’ve got a post developing in my head about the only way to control behavior is to use negative reinforcement, but for now let me just say that the reason we all showed up on time in school and college was because there was a risk of getting in trouble. We still show up to work around the right time — more so if we work where there’s a punch-clock — but if you work in an office, what’s the point? As long as you get in before your boss, who cares?

Once you’re at work, though, time is relative. Is your project finished early? Don’t hand it in because people will expect you to finish things sooner. Are you able to get to that meeting before it starts? That must mean you don’t have enough work to do. No, the safe play is to show up just after the start time. There’ll still be chairs available, and the meeting organizer has been trained to expect at least a quarter of the participants to arrive after the meeting has already started. And of course the organizer will be glad to start over twice — once for the stragglers, and once because the meeting has to be stopped to deal with someone else’s problem.

Been on a conference call lately? What’s the first thing the leader says? “Let’s give everyone five more minutes to get here before we start.” Possibly the twelve most irritating words to people stuck on conference calls. You can’t do anything in five minutes except maybe go to the bathroom or grab a cup of coffee. Just don’t try to brew a new pot — better to drink the acidic sludge someone made at 8:30 than be late and have to start everything over.

The concept of meetings starting late has been so ingrained into the corporate culture that most employees and managers now consider a meeting’s official start time to actually be five minutes late — if you set the meeting for 2:00, mentally everyone thinks “2:05 is fine”. Then they show up later. And later. And later. And pretty soon you’re blocking out well more than an hour to do something that should take no more than thirty minutes, just to make sure everyone shows up and takes away the information they need.

So just stop showing up on time. No one else will bother; why should you?

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1. lowcommotion - January 30, 2009

“the only way to control behavior is to use negative reinforcement”

false! the only way to control behavior is to use positive reinforcement. negative reinforcement is still reinforcement.

ask any zoo trainer ;-)

2. That Guy - January 31, 2009

In a large-office environment — where there are more than 100 people — it’s impossible for management to control behavior without negative reinforcement. It’s never done because management believes they shouldn’t have to do it, but it’s amazing how quickly everyone else would fall in line if showing up late or continually misspelling things on the public website was punished by having to work a weekend-inclusive schedule (Wednesday-to-Sunday) for a week… and then have to start the next work week (Monday-to-Friday) right afterward. No one to blame but themselves.

3. Click and Inc - February 2, 2009

What you say is very true. Everyone is always in a hurry to get somewhere or do something and our society moves so fast and expects so much of us that we do have it ingrained in our heads to be late regularly. i wonder if things would be different if our society was more like some European countries, where their work week is not as long or demanding and they take frequent breaks and have more free time.

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