Episode 248: December 17, 2012
by Stever Robbins
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Do you know how to motivate business partners who are unresponsive? A coaching client of mine needs to know. A couple of her business partners are, well, as flaky as a buttered Parisian croissant. As she puts it:
“They don’t call back. They don’t return email. I have to drag them kicking and screaming to get things done. What should I do? I’m at my wit’s end.”
How to Motivate Through Rigorous Follow-up
First, calm down. If you know people need to be bugged, don’t get upset. Instead, build it into your schedule. How often do they need bugging? Daily? Weekly? Biweekly? Put a 5-minute appointment in your calendar to bug them at those times. You can even set up the appointment to repeat automatically.
At the appointed time, call and say in a cheery voice, “Just checking in to make sure everything’s on track!” Sometimes, a gentle reminder is how to motivate people to get back to the task at hand.
Use the Media They Pay Attention To
Should you call or email? It depends. Some people never check voicemail. Some people get a lot of email, and might overlook your message by accident.
Let’s get real: We’re all overwhelmed with incoming email, yet we expect everyone else to reply to our messages instantly. Email gets delayed, spam filtered, and sometimes outright deleted if someone is trying to get work done. Find out from your partner what works for them.
Ask how best to reach them. Is it phone? Voicemail? Email? Facebook mail? LinkedIn mail? Text message? gChat? AOL Instant Messenger? iMessage? IRQ? EFG? HIJKLMNOP? Find out their preferred method and note it in your address book. Leave your follow-up messages in the inboxes people check. I cover this in more detail in my episode on how to follow up.
Does this make more work for you? Yes. Be Zen about it. You have to do it to get things done. That’s how the 21st century works. Find out each of your associate’s preferred inboxes and simply use that when contact is needed.
Use Their Preferred Follow-Up Process
While you have them on the line, ask them what the best follow-up process is: “If we are running late and I need something from you, how can I best follow up and get us moving again?” They’ll probably say something like, “just remind me.”
Try it. You’ve been reminding them, of course, so you know in advance that it won’t actually work. That’s fine. Because since you asked the question in the first place, when they flake out, you can go back and say, “You told me that reminding you weekly would get you moving again. I reminded you and you didn’t get moving. What more can I do?”
This time, they’ll really stop and think about what really gets them moving.
Use Regular Touchpoints
When even connecting with them is difficult, schedule a regular meeting. I work with a creative team that’s spread out over 3,000 miles. We have a standing appointment every other Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. It’s always on our calendar, and there is no predefined agenda.
“No agenda?!” you cry in horror. “It must be a total waste of time!” No, exactly the opposite. We only use the time for topics we haven’t been able to connect on elsewhere. This meeting is our fallback in case regular communication isn’t working. If we’re all up to date, it’s a 20-second meeting. “Does anyone have anything pending? No. Great! We’ll talk again in 2 weeks.”
Have Defaults that Obligate Them
Of course, even with all this, they may just not do their job, and you are on the hook for it. It’s time to change things structurally. As explained in the episode on dealing with collaborators who stall progress, I recommend setting up defaults that happen if they don’t deliver. But in this case, make sure the defaults shift the risk of their flakiness to their shoulders.
Explain that you’re following up in the way they prefer, using their preferred media. But you can’t pay the price for their flakiness. Restructure your arrangement so penalties are borne by them. For example, if you’re filing paperwork with a late filing penalty, say something like: “I’ll keep reminding you as you requested. If you don’t get back to me by the deadline, however, we’ll need to put your credit card number on file to cover penalties associated with our being late.”
Surface the Issue
If all else fails, have a heart-to-heart discussion. “I’ve tried everything and you just aren’t delivering. This isn’t working for me. What do you suggest?”
Hopefully, the person will have some new ideas. If not, ask them, “What should I do if things don’t get better?” At this point, you can be pretty sure they’ll say “I don’t know” or they’ll repeat their hollow, vague assertion, “I’ll get better in the future, I promise.” Yeah, right.
Drop People and Projects That Stall
Their opinion, objections, rationalizations, and promises don’t matter anymore. They’re unreliable, they’ve proven it, they haven’t fixed it, and there’s nothing you–or they–can do about it. In this case, terminate the business arrangement.
If it’s failing with them involved, it can fail without them involved, too.
“But what about the project???” you cry. The project isn’t getting done with them involved, now it can not-get-done without them involved. Business partnerships are about getting more done than you could do alone. If a partnership is holding you back, let it go and move on to more fruitful endeavors.
Hopefully it won’t come to this. Hopefully, you’ll be able to motivate people who are dragging their feet by following up regularly, using multiple media, meeting regularly, shifting the risk, and having a frank conversation. These are the best ways I know to motivate people to deliver results.
I mentor successful people in building exceptional lives, business, and careers by helping them get clarity on their direction, aligning their commitments with their goals, and creating accountability to keep them moving. If you want to know more, visit http://www.SteverRobbins.com.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!
Man with Smartphone and Meeting images from Shutterstock