Last week one of my favorite clients said to me, “No one is responding! Not my editor or my designer! It’s been 6 days and we need tags for the new site and need to finalize the design. We’re moving into new office space next month and I need to get moving! I don’t have time to wait; I spoke to X last week but it’s been 6 days and haven’t heard anything!”
I could hear her frustration, and it reminded me of when I first started my business. I hired people who did great work, but didn’t respond to me. Unclear communication soon led me to feel like a failed business owner.
I had to learn how to set boundaries in a MAJOR way.
But before I learned, I made many mistakes, especially thinking that hiring a professional meant I didn’t have to manage.
My client was now learning the same lesson!
As a business owner you always have to manage on some level. Only when you grow large enough to hire someone to manage, can you let go of it.
The truth is, if you let go of “managing” simply because you hired a professional, bad communication won’t just ruin results, it’ll ruin a potential future relationship with that person too.
My first question to my client was: “Did YOU have an initial conversation with each of your contractors about deadlines? Did you tell them explicitly what your expectations were?” I told her what made a difference for me: “You need to set clear boundaries and step into your CEO-shoes asap. Address this head-on and have an honest conversation. Via phone.”
Confronting is NOT easy. It often takes many painful mistakes to learn, but it’s unavoidable as a business owner.
Sheepishly, she said, “I didn’t realize I had to do that once I hired them…”
We do. As business owners we always need to address (instead of making it our vendor’s responsibility) and take ownership of the process.
As angry as my client was, she needed to see how she got herself here in the first place. Then she had to confront the unmet deadline positively.
If you’re in a similar situation, where unclear expectations is leading to frustration, it’s time to take ownership:
Address where they currently stand.
The first thing to do with your team or anyone you hire, is to be direct without blaming. Get yourself out of anger and realize that other people can’t see imaginary deadlines you set in your head. They don’t know your boundaries, what’s actually “late” versus just pushing deadlines, or what your cut-off line is.
If you haven’t first had a very frank conversation about your expectations and deadlines when you hire them, you can’t fault them for blowing past deadlines.
Get into a positive mindstate and be direct. Do NOT email about it; tone can never be expressed in email like it can over the phone. Ask, “Hey, where’re you at with X?” Be curious and don’t assume they know where you’re coming from or can see the to-do list in your head. Ask, listen, and know that YOU must set clear expectations. Otherwise, they’ll keep disappointing you.
What you need is information to move forward. So ask without criticizing.
Next, have an honest conversation and establish a new deadline.
Once you hear their status and know you can’t make your original deadline, establish a new one. Do NOT dance around the fact that the deadline has been blown. At this point, the truth is what counts, so they can see your real expectations. If you dance around them now, you’re setting yourself up for the same thing happening again!
Be clear. “It’s clear we won’t make the original deadline of X. I should have been clearer about my expectations and timeline, but I wasn’t. So I can see why we’re at this stage with X task. Now, we need to set a real deadline and know that we can’t push it.”
Ask if the deadline is realistic NOW and get honest answers.
Now that you’re attempting to get clear, don’t play nice or undermine your boundaries. As a business owner, your job is to make a decision about whether or not the relationship and deadline will work for what you’re trying to achieve. Be respectful, assertive and ask if the new deadline is realistic.
“Is this do-able and realistic for you now, given where you currently are? I want to be honest because X depends on this and the end product. I need to have a realistic answer to move forward and do what else this project entails. Given where we are, does this feel realistic and good for you?”
Don’t be afraid if it isn’t. If they waiver, you must find someone new.
Establish your deadline and stick to it.
Once they agree to meet the new deadline, reaffirm the deadline out loud as well as your boundaries. “Great. This is our new deadline. I’ll expect X on Y date from you with Z components. I can’t push this deadline further because we have X coming up. I’d love to do this with you, but can’t wait on this. Since you’re up for it, please let me know ANYTHING that may get in the way of the new deadline and let me know ASAP. Please let me know if you need anything to move forward on this, whether information, guidance or support.”
The last part is important and makes them feel like you’re on the same team again, driving toward the same goals.
It’s great whenever a boss or CEO says, “Hey, we’re in this together. What do you need from me to move forward? I know you can do it, but let me know if I can help you knock it out of the park.”
My client felt much better after she knew how to take responsibility. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to confront it, but she needed to know that SHE had to start the conversation and take responsibility for allowing it to get to that point. Once she saw it wasn’t her vendor’s fault, it was easier to be nice and feel more in control.
So, when have you been frustrated because of a communication breakdown on your team? Have you ever let it get to a point where you didn’t know how to confront it? Did you use a process like this to remedy it?
I’d love to hear how you’ve handled a situation like this. We can learn so much from each other. If you know someone who needs to hear this and can benefit from it, please share it with them. My friend Jo-Na always says we help ourselves by helping each other. She’s right. Please share this with someone who may need to hear it.
Your CEO-shoes are waiting…