Hello, new and returning readers!
In today’s post, I wanted to talk about the issue of being on time. The sheer number of increasingly flaky, unreliable, and blatantly rude behavior I’ve encountered in the last few years is quite astonishing. I’m not talking about the run of the mill stuff like being a few minutes late and letting people know you’ll be late on the rare occasion. That’s understandable.
A bit eyebrow raising is the time when an executive was 30 min late to meet with my boss. We didn’t get an update from the assistant and when the executive showed up, they didn’t acknowledge how late they were, nor that they were even late. We learned this was the norm for the executive to show up 30 min or more late without notice every single time.
It was also strange to me when people would consistently show up at 1pm to check in with security when the meeting was at 1pm. By the time they got their guest badge and were escorted to our floor 15 minutes had passed. This happened about 99% of the time.
One day, I had three meetings in which HOURS of my/our time were wasted; my entire morning was shot. They either didn’t show up at all or were an hour late.
So, here are three stories of what not to do, one example of what to do, and 7 tips.
1) We knew a vendor where we literally gave them millions of dollars in business on a previous project in the past year. So while it wasn’t a current/active project, we did know them fairly recently. They had asked for the meeting a couple weeks out and sent an invite with a location to be determined a bit closer. A day before the meeting, the location hadn’t been decided upon. Because we didn’t hear from them, we reached out. In confirming if the meeting would be taking place, they eagerly confirmed. They chose a location that suited us, the client. They updated the invite and sent it to us. The next day, we arrive at the location. We text the vendor that we checked in with the front desk, but would wait in the lobby for them before getting situated inside since we were 10 minutes early. They responded they were about to pull up and park. It’s worth noting that the location chosen (by them, since they were familiar with it) was a busy area so parking and walking to the building could take a few minutes. It would be like traversing a small community college campus. While waiting, I’m reading articles on my phones and checking in and touching base with someone in Hawaii. The contact in Hawaii asks if the vendor has arrived yet and we realize it’s been 15 minutes, which is sort of understandable. More texting with the contact in Hawaii while we wait, discussing various quick topics to get through low-hanging fruit. I check the time and realize it’s been another 15 minutes. No word and no appearance of our vendor. At this point, it’s ridiculous we’ve been kept waiting for a total of 40 minutes, since we arrived 10 minutes early. We text the vendor to reschedule and leave. And to this day, we have no idea what happened. They didn’t get back to us, nor their assistant. A complete no-show without explanation.
2) Later that day we also had a conference call scheduled with another vendor who wanted to earn our business. This call was scheduled 2 weeks out. In the meantime, the vendor sent over the Google document we could both edit in the days leading up to the call. Ten minutes before the call, I go into the document to do some quick reviews, figure out what questions I want to address first, and to prepare overall. I can see by the notes and document changes the vendor was also in the document a few minutes earlier. A good sign. Except they never call. 4pm comes and goes with no word. No word about being late or needing to reschedule, until we received an email 24 hours later. They had to work late on a project and by the time they finished it was too late to call.
3) I’ve also had vendors state they really wanted to work with us. They offer to set up a meeting in advance before they get pulled away with other projects and business travel to make sure they prioritize our project. They are very responsive to our questions and concerns, 2-3 times a day we hear back on pricing, information, etc that we’ve asked for so that we can all show up to the pivotal meeting to hash out final details. They contact us 24 hours prior to get out of the meeting. However, when they advise us they can’t attend the meeting as planned, there is no apology of having to reschedule. There are no new specific dates and times to meet except “sometime next week toward end of day.” And most importantly, there’s no assurances of it being a personal emergency or something out of their control. We get that bigger and better paying projects come along, but there was also no diplomatic finessing that is the mark of amazing customer service and client relations. All of a sudden the meeting time no longer worked for them and they wanted to change it. This is a very different message they sent earlier that they wanted to build out their schedule based around us before they got too busy. This was really odd to us and left a bad taste. Two days later, they circle back and want to schedule another meeting for a week later. We give the benefit of the doubt and agree. Again, 24 hours before the meeting, they back out, but provide no details except they’d like for us to wait until the following week again. Good vendors would still say they’d still like to work with you or refer you to another team or company that they’ve worked alongside of that can take good care of you as well. Even if they can’t work with us, they try not to burn the bridge and be helpful. If we weren’t so good at planning, securing bids, and exploring all options and pricing, we could have been really left in a bind. The only message we got loud and clear from that vendor was they did not want our business and expected us to wait for 3 weeks until we had our very first meeting. Duly noted. Forever.
Here’s a good example of how to cancel with grace and diplomacy.
One day I heard from a CEO who was looking for an assistant. Instead of having me go through HR and be screened by other executives, they wanted to meet with me directly. They ask when I’m free. Because I’m about to go on vacation, I give them a date when I’m back from vacation. They politely and kindly asks if we can meet earlier as they are interviewing other candidates and because they are about to be out of the country for a month while I’m on vacation. So, I agree to meet the day before my vacation out of courtesy and to foster goodwill. They assure me if anything changes with their schedule because they are traveling they will reach out to me. I’m juggling getting ready for vacation among everything else in my life. I now have to prepare for this interview which will take at least 3-5 hours. I read extensively about the company, the executive team, any news articles, and prepare many questions. I also have to think about which stories and skill sets to showcase that will best fit the role and company I’m interviewing for. This is why it takes me a few hours to prepare for one meeting, not counting the commute time in LA traffic. I show up to the interview and the CEO is not there. No one knew about the meeting because they set it up directly with me. Thus no one knows who I am and they are not expecting me at all. So I offer to come back in a month when the CEO is back. By the time I get home they have already left me a very long voicemail profusely apologizing, explaining what happened. They admit they completely forgot as they had a personal emergency and no one has access to their calendar. They offer to talk to me on the phone if I wish whenever I’m available at my convenience. I respond I can just wait until they get back so they can focus on their trip.
7 Tips to recover from canceling/rescheduling with grace and diplomacy:
- The greater the offense the more profuse the apology should be. And the greater the offense, it must be a phone call. If rescheduling with enough notice, written communication is fine. In more last minute cases, call/leave a voicemail AND send a written notice so you can make sure you covered all your bases and made every effort to reach them in time. It’s harder to listen to phone messages, but people can see emails/texts via Apple Watch while in meetings.
- Explain what happened, just own it like the above CEO did. Some sort of explanation based in truth is better than nothing or completely disappearing. The greater the offense, the executive should make the call personally. If it is minor, you can. If it’s really bad, you should do immediate damage control and then your boss should follow up personally with a call or direct written communication, whichever is appropriate.
- Have ready or follow up with 3-5 alternates dates/times immediately, the sooner the new time slots are the better.
- Go to great lengths to make it up to them, especially if it was a great offense and if you can. If the meeting was at your office, you go to them, or meet halfway. Perhaps make it a lunch meeting vs a regular meeting. In the very very worst instances, you might need to buy flowers or a gift.
- Most importantly, be very mindful of how many times you/your exec has already cancelled or rescheduled very very last minute on a person in the last year or two. They will most likely remember, and over an extended period of time, people will draw the conclusion that you’re not reliable or just plain flaky. They will no longer want to do business with you, because why should they bother?
- Always remember that unless it is a true personal/family/business emergency, most people do what they want to do. If you don’t hear from them after 1-3 tries, they are avoiding you. Everyone is busy. Everyone has priorities. If people can be on time to what they enjoy, love doing, important things, but are late to everything else, that speaks volumes. When someone is late to a meeting or appointment, you not only wasted someone’s time for the duration of the commitment, but also everyone else’s time in the meeting as well, not counting all the hours it took to prepare, plan, and commute. The most valuable resource is time; we can never get it back.
- One of the busiest, most well-known CEOs I worked for had the uncanny ability to keep track of time while running a meeting, while on the phone, on a vid conference, it didn’t matter. In my entire time with them, they were MAYBE late 2 times. And those 2 times they knew they were late; they just chose to stay a little longer. They never lost track of time, got sidelined, nor distracted. It was the first time I had met a CEO like that. They were so reliable with time, I never had to remind them to wrap up a meeting by passing them a note. If this well-respected, well-known, multi-millionaire CEO can keep track of time this well, I find it hard to believe others can’t, especially when executives have assistants and non-CEOs have a cell phone with an alarm function. For the record, they never used the alarm, and obviously I didn't need to remind them how much time they had left in a meeting. So, how did they do it? I think they would very discreetly look at the time on the video conference TV mounted to the wall or their computer monitor. There was no hanging wall clock and they did not even wear a watch. This executive timed everything to a tee, to account for traffic, packing up their belongings, etc. Being punctual starts with respecting everyone's time and showing up a few minutes early.
Do you have any examples of good and bad ways to cancel? Or horror stories of how late people have been or no shows? Share them in the comments section!
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I also write over at Jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant.