How does one manage team deadlines?
You see, all teams struggle with deadlines because sometimes, we put deadlines without really brainstorming the important stuff—like how much work needs to be done, or how that work is going to be produced ahead of that deadline.
So you can say that deadlines are sometimes very good educated guesses.
With guesswork, people can be wrong. So it is not uncommon for people in a team to miss deadlines. But the question here is how do you manage these deadlines. How do you make sure that your team would hit their deadlines at least 95%, or maybe even 99% of the time?
Well first, you have to be flexible. And today, I will teach you how to manage your deadlines virtually, through platforms like email, chat apps, Messenger, Viber—basically whatever channel you may have.
And to do that, I’ll also be giving you a look into how we do it at SEO Hacker.
You see, people are not all the same. Some people struggle with discipline. Some people struggle with being responsible. And some people also struggle with being accountable.
I know this because I have first-hand experience with these kinds of people. I’ve managed more than 200 people in SEO Hacker, some have come and gone and some are still with me. And this is how we make sure that we can serve them as their leaders to be more accountable, more disciplined, and more responsible with their deadlines, so that, in turn, we may serve our clients as best as we can within those deadlines.
We use a very simple system called Clarify in Advance.
Now you have to understand, clarity is one of our core values in SEO Hacker. We don’t communicate and assume the other party has understood what we want to bring about or what we want to say across the table. We make sure that the other party really understands by asking questions.
That’s why we use the word clarify because that’s part of our core value.
Now, you don’t have to call this system the same way in your teams. You can call it whatever you want. For us, it’s just easier to call it Clarify in Advance.
And the first step to this process of clarifying in advance is for that person who knows that they are about to miss a deadline to send an email or a chat 24 hours before missing that deadline.
As they know how much work still needs to be done for their tasks, they should already know they’re going to miss the deadline.
So they have to give you a heads up as their leader, team leader, and team manager that they are about to miss the deadline. And the subject line is, “I am about to miss a deadline.” Simple as that.
The email has four main points. The first point is: Why are you going to be missing the deadline? Of course, they can’t always just say I’m about to miss a deadline and that’s it. You, as the team leader and manager, have to know why they’re going to be missing the deadline.
And they are completely aware of that. They know that specifying why they’re missing it gives you the information you need, while also making sure they take accountability. They have to write it down in that email or in that chat message.
The second point is for the person who’s about to miss a deadline to specify when the new deadline will be, and why. This new deadline can’t be too far out or provide too long a buffer. It has to be the right amount because they’re already missing the first agreed-upon deadline.
So the next deadline has to be somewhere near the initial agreed-upon deadline. usually maybe just a day after. Whatever you feel would make it reasonable.
Unless, of course, there are external factors that are urgent or that have experienced a crisis that they have to first undertake before now hitting your agreed-upon deadline. But usually, that’s not the case. People typically miss a deadline because of minor reasons—so giving them another day or two should be enough for them to complete what they need to complete.
The third thing that this email or this chat should contain is if they would need help or support in removing blockers.
Maybe some people are asking them why they’re doing this or who are asking them in a bureaucratic way for some signatures, for some proof, for some acknowledgment from the client, and so on. Maybe they need you as their leader to help clear that out of the way. We also require that person to put in that email if they need help.
And lastly, in that Clarify in Advance email or chat, we ask people to put if they need to communicate this to any external stakeholders such as their clientele because, at the end of the day, it’s usually the clients who have ordered such a task.
And if the clients are going to be suffering a late deadline, it’s your entire organization’s fault, not just that one person’s. So that person has to identify if this missed deadline and adjustment would affect an external stakeholder or would affect a client.
Now, if it would affect the client now, you, as their leader, need to communicate to that client why you’re going to be missing a deadline. And usually, we ask our people to send us the message first, so we know how they’re going to be telling the client about this missed deadline.
The execom at SEO Hacker checks it, as well as the upper management. We decide if this message is good to go before asking that person to send it straight away to the client. At times, I also do it myself.
Of course, you would have to apologize to the client if you’re going to be missing deadlines. And so it’s a little bit complicated in that way.
But, by keeping clients in the loop, holding the team accountable, and addressing the missed deadline responsibly, clients better understand where you’re coming from. And, they’ll understand if the reason is valid.
Always remember that, as the leader, C-level executive, or member of the upper management— whichever position you may have—it is a waste of your time to have to keep following up on missed deadlines.
If you’re constantly following up on your people who are not accountable to you, who don’t tell you they’re about to miss a deadline or they’ve missed it already and a week has gone by, then it’s a massive waste of your time.
It’s a waste of your time to have to keep on doing this. This is why we instituted this Clarify in Advance email or chat. And whenever people fail to submit a Clarify in Advance notification to us, the leaders, the execom, we have to serve them by sending them a memo.
Remember, if you don’t send the memo, it undermines your authority as the leader. People will think things don’t have to get done on time because you don’t care enough to tell them off, to sit them down and explain to them the importance of meeting deadlines on time.
And I believe that there’s a reason why they’re called deadlines in the first place—and that’s something, somewhere has to die if that deadline is missed.
Missing deadlines means you might lose your clients, lose some revenue, lose face, lose branding, lose some authority, and lose some trust there. Somewhere along the way, somewhere dies. That’s why it’s called a deadline.
So you have to keep on hitting deadlines. And if deadlines have to be adjusted, we do it this way.
This entire system, simple as it is, keeps everyone in check and makes sure that we honor our word because usually deadlines are not just given.
We also ask our people: When can you do this? When can you submit that? And people commit to their own deadlines and we keep them in check and accountable for that.
When Clarify in Advance is practiced and observed, you spend less time chasing explanations and people, and more time focusing on more important things, such as working on your business rather than in your business.
Not having to be the secretary of your people, having to always follow up on them, remind them of things, that helps you out a lot.
This simple system also gives your producers more energy. Your producers are people in your team who are more disciplined, more responsible, they’re more accountable. This is because now they see that you are the leader, and you care about deadlines.
They see that you care enough about those in the team who miss deadlines, and make time to talk to them, to serve them by retraining them. Worst-case scenario, you care enough to decide that these people aren’t serving the team as a whole, and can make the hard decision to part ways with them.