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Make it more likely meetings start on time

3 min read - Meetings start late because people arrive late. There are many reasons why a person may arrive late for a meeting. In organisations where late arrival is a behavioural norm pay attention to what actually happens when a late attendee shows up. Do they avoid having to wait around for the meeting to get started? Avoid the small talk at the start? Is a recap provided for them? Does the late arrival receive lots of attention for being so busy?

The big problem with late attendance is that it’s infectious and it’s easy to see why: if the attendees arriving on time have to wait around for the meeting to get started, then have to start again once the late attendees join, soon enough they’ll now anticipate a slow start and its highly likely they will adjust their behaviour accordingly... arriving late to avoid hanging around. New employees start off showing up on time, but they soon work out what gets reinforced and pretty soon their behaviour will likely drift to the cultural norm.

“If you punish on time arrival by having people hang around and then recap for the late arrivals, don’t be surprised when more people start showing up late.”

If you yourself are a serial offender, you’re likely to rationalise your own behaviour, “I’m so busy, people keep booking back to back meetings in my calendar, I have too much to do”. What we don’t always realise is that our behaviour is on display for anyone who is paying attention to see. If you can’t manage your own behaviour of turning up at an agreed time, how can you manage the behaviour of the many people that work for you?

How many people turn up late for an interview? Not many since they are highly motivated to create the right impression and show up on time. The key to getting people to show up on time just comes back to managing the environment, using new prompts and consequences to motivate a change in behaviour. The fix will depend on what is currently driving the behaviour.

“The key to getting people to show up on time just comes back to managing the environment”

There are some simple things you can do set the scene for people to show up on time:

• Ask attendees to make sure they arrive on time • Start all meetings at 10 past the hour, giving people time to get from A to B • Book your meetings for last thing when people are keen to get away

And on the day make sure you are not inadvertently reinforcing late arrivals by:

• Starting your meetings with the people who have arrived on time • Avoid recapping for late attendees; they’ll soon get the gist of it anyway • Avoid commenting, humouring, paying attention to late attendees • Publish data on how many people show up on time (not late)

You may have to run a couple of meetings that are less productive in the short term because late arrivals are missing critical information, but taking the pain now makes it more likely that they will turn up on time next week.

So to summarise:

• Meetings start late because people arrive late • Pay attention to what actually happens when people arrive late • Put new prompts and consequences into the environment to reinforce on time arrival

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