I’m sitting in my office and I can hear the central AC sigh quietly reflecting my disappointment. The clock on the wall shifts from 11:20 to 11:21.
I get lost in my thoughts, as my brain flitters from one subject to another: it’s hot outside, cold inside. A muffled laugh filters through my door and I wonder what could be so funny, as I flip through my Instagram.
It’s 11:27 and my appointment is reliably late. He was supposed to come at 11:00, an appointment he asked for in a vague phone call a few days ago. My mobile rings and I start chatting with an old friend, and that’s when he decides to arrive.
“You’re late,” I growl, without getting off the phone. “Parking,” he mutters sheepishly as I shake my head in disgust. Before he makes contact with his seat I tell him to get to the point without any small talk. “I’m looking for an investor,” he stutters. “You want money?” I reply with a sneer. “I don’t have money. Thanks for coming.” And that’s how fast the meeting was.
Most of my abrupt behavior was out of annoyance - if you don’t respect my time then I won’t respect yours - and some of it was logic. I can’t invest in someone who is that late for their first meeting, one they requested.
But part of it was also meant as a lesson. How can you be taken seriously by others if you don’t take yourself seriously? An important part of being a businessman is being organized, and highly organized at that. You need to organize your time, money, energy, and resources. If you can’t do it, then partner with someone who is, or employ someone.
Punctuality is professional
Organization can be measured easily. I can tell an organized reliable person just from how punctual he is; it’s that simple. Organized people are reliably on time, every time, regardless of traffic, wind, rain, dust, or earthquakes because they know how to manage themselves.
Disorganized folks are reliably late no matter what the weather or circumstance.
Some people blame culture for being late. “Ya habibi it’s Arab time what to do?” or “If I come on time nobody else is there so what’s the point?”
The point is that you set an example. The point is that you’re setting your own standards and being professional. The point is that maybe one person is on time, so you are respecting that other person’s time.
Lateness is wrecking your business
So what’s the big deal? Why is it imperative to be on time, and to take appointments seriously? Well, according to the Houston Chronicle, this is the backlash that you can expect:
1. Feeling of resentment by the other staff towards those who are late. The sense that the latecomers feel entitled affects the overall morale of a team, which could infect the whole company.
2. Causing others to be late. You don’t care, I don’t care. And that kind of culture can spread very quickly, especially if the boss is late to work and meetings.
3. Loss of respect for the manager or staff. Respect may be the most important thing in a company, and once lost is hard to regain. Getting respect comes from giving respect, and being late shows disrespect.
4. Customer service. Once morale is low and time is not respected, then that begins to affect customer service in all aspects; from attitude to opening on time. That is where discipline begins to crumble, then how do you get that back?
5. Decreased productivity. It’s estimated that an employee who is late 10 minutes a day costs his company the equivalent of two weeks paid vacation!
The estimates of how much being late costs vary. The Houston Chronicle estimated it was about $3 billion in the US, but a survey four years ago in the UK suggested it was as much as £9 billion (US$11 billion) a year - and that’s where most people are generally on time. So can you guess how much it costs the MENA region, where it’s normal to be late to work and meetings? From a quick Google search, it looks like no one has tried to run the numbers on that one yet.
Carrots and sticks
According to management manuals there are two ways to resolve tardiness: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, otherwise known as the carrot or stick.
Rewarding someone for being punctual seems counterproductive to me, because being on time shouldn’t be considered special behavior.
I suggest only a stick, and start it with the higher ups. If CEOs, managers, and people in high positions in an organization are dealt with firmly then that culture quickly spreads down the organization.
Last year Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, did a surprise inspection to a few governmental organizations and immediately fired nine top executives for not being in the office when he came to visit.
That sent shockwaves through the country and showed everyone how seriously he was taking this issue.
Private companies should do the same, and implement a rigid three strike rule.
I’m almost always the first to a meeting but the board room is usually empty. I’m on time for the doctor but the doctor is late. Meetings with government employees, delivery companies, maintenance guys, and many other people are ridiculously late. The system can’t magically solve itself, and we can’t magically be on ‘English time’, or better yet ‘German time’, with a wave of the wand, but I’ll bet if we just improved ourselves a little then one day Arab time could be considered one of the best.
In the meantime I’ll try to always be on time, keep demanding the same from others and strive all I can to not be late. Especially not reliably late; like my fellow countrymen.
Image via Pexels.