"CEOs can't wait to read Sunny Bindra's articles every week."

Why always being late is a discourtesy, and costs money

“How did it get to be “OK” for people to be late for everything?
Because as far as I am concerned, it’s not OK.
In recent years it seems that a meeting set to start at 9 am, for some people means in the general vicinity of any time which starts with the numeral ‘9’. Like 9.30 for example.
People drift in at 9.10 or 9.20, or even later. And they smile warmly at the waiting group, as they unwrap their bacon sandwich, apparently totally unconcerned that others have been there since five to nine, prepared and ready to start.”

GREG SAVAGE www.gregsavage.com.au (7 June, 2010)

One of the best things I like about Twitter is the serendipity. If you follow the right people, you will inevitably uncover some far-flung gems of writing. The excerpt above is not recent, but I found myself nodding vigorously through the blog post I clipped it from. Thank you, @RookieKE, for pointing me at it.

Greg Savage is an Australian business advisor, speaker and blogger. He is angered by the fact that people simply refuse to be on time. Most people are becoming utterly blasé about showing up a few minutes late for pretty much everything. Here in Nairobi, ‘traffic’ is a convenient scapegoat, used even by those who are late every day for every engagement in every part of town, including their own offices.

As Greg points out, keeping 10 people waiting for just 20 minutes is more than 3 collective hours wasted. If this is repeated a few times a day, every day, in a month you will end up with…a very large number.

In most busy lives, time carries a price. How lowly do you rate those whose time you squander? So I agree with Greg: “You are not running late; you are rude and selfish.” And when you are the one who asked for the meeting in the first place, need some help, or are trying to sell something…well, that now becomes unreal.

In these parts, another angle to tardiness can be observed. Kenyans are pretty much always on time when they are meeting someone higher up in the pecking order. Most would not dream of being late for a meeting with the boss, or a major customer. Yet those same fellows will be serially late for meetings with their peers or friends. And will blame ‘traffic.’

We also observe that bigwigs are pretty much never on time for meetings with underlings. It seems to be a badge of honour to be able to keep lesser mortals waiting. You do it, because you can. And guess what? That underling you kept waiting will now do the same to his underling…

Which reveals something: it’s the leadership, stupid. If the boss sets a bad standard in time-keeping, the organization will never respect time. And it will suffer millions in lost hours simply because the person at the top lacks the personal discipline.

This applies to nations too.

I once had a boss who would lock the door 5 minutes after any meeting was due to begin, and answer the door personally to latecomers. After the first few times, no one was late. Ever. Magical, isn’t it?

At the end of the day, being on time for (most) things is a personal standard and a professional courtesy. If you don’t have it, you are revealing a whole bunch of other traits you may also lack.

Now, having just written all of this, will I be late for my next meeting? Quite possibly. It’s been known to happen. You can’t control all the forces that may prevent you from making it from A to B at time C. But you can anticipate. And be genuinely sorry when you are late. And make amends. That’s all any of us can do, but it matters that you do.

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  • Lucy

    I totally agree with your article- it just so annoying for people to be late.

  • Kevin

    quite true – late coming always resembles a failure

  • Kimenyi Waruhiu

    Mr Bindra

    I recently co-founded a new business and earlier this year we let the most experienced of our employees go. Not only was he constantly late coming in to the office (first bad sign that was always self-excused with “…but I live on the other side of town”), he also never met deadlines, did not adhere to Company Policy in his professional conduct, and to add to the injury was insulting by being wanting in the quality of his work.

    My business partner is a non-Kenyan and – despite my constant protestations – was convinced that this was the norm of our fellow nationals. Proving him wrong was only possible when newly-minted university graduate employees started knocking that stereotype into the ground time and again.

    My point is that there is a culture that can be learned, and if allowed to nurture, will become the de facto mindset; discourtesy is not inherent to us as Kenyans, and neither is poor time-keeping. Our laxity in this respect was learned from poor examples in the business world – probably the same folk who wished us to believe that we ought to relax as, “there is no hurry in Africa.”


    • Kimenyi:

      It’s all about culture and norms, not inherent nature. Behaviour comes from accepted cultural norms; which in term is driven by leadership and role modelling. In this case, leadership really matters. Hence my former boss making a huge change happen with just a simple policy.

  • Imran Manji

    Sunny, such an apt article. I agree with you 100%. When people fail to keep time, they are basically telling you that their time is more important than yours. Of course, everyone is late once in a while but it should be common courtesy to call ahead and inform to say that you are running late.

    I like the idea of locking the door 5 minutes after the meeting is due to begin. I think I will try to do that when I hold meetings.

  • Caroline

    I so totally agree with this read. We got back to work today and people were literally late for our morning meetings and the boss was appalled or should i say livid by this behaviour. Even after being off for an entire week, people still walk in late? I think hourly pay should apply so that we all run to work 30 minutes before time- just thinking.

  • I absolutely agree! Think about the total number of hours wasted each week in just Nairobi alone.

    I also agree with the last part, surely we cannot control all the elements of life and we are bound to be late once in a while. But we must keep it that way; ONCE in a while.

    • John:

      Absolutely, we will all be late once in a while. But some people are always late because they don’t see the issue….

  • Arthur Omolo

    I remember a quote from a motivational speaker one Mr.Kimani, who said that ” people who keep time are capable of keeping their promises”. I guess when you are serially late, it speaks volumes on how you manage your promises. I also found myself nodding in agreement as I read this article.

  • A former colleague of mine used to do some personal life coaching and I once asked if I could accompany him to a meeting at the Savoy in London. We were to meet in the lobby beforehand however a few minutes to the meeting there was no sign of him; I called his mobile and woke him up from a nap! And he was at least an hour away! I ended up taking the meeting on his behalf. Whether he retained the client or not is something I never brought up.

    However, what was sad is this held no surprise. He was constantly tardy and he only began to understand how irresponsible and disrespectful this was to others when I explained it to him. Some people just don’t get it unless it’s laid out for them.

    Oh, and no the irony of this situation is not lost on me but it may have been lost on him.

  • Wycliffe

    Indeed your article is spot on and I think if my memory hasn’t failed me, you have once written about time management in your site. My opinion is that Government institution and employees are worst time keepers. Good piece!

  • The Mad Paddler

    Apart from the lack of discipline, and the discourtesy described, there are other facets to this problem, such as poor planning, poor organisational skills and poor communication skills. Say an attendee is late for a meeting because his or her previous meeting “ran over”. In my mind the questions are: Does it happen on a regular basis? Does it point to inability to plan adequately for (the flow and context of) meetings? Yes, sometimes the AOB item at the bottom of an agenda can throw up suprises that require more time for discussion – and the matter cannot be put back to a different meeting date. If so, why did I not get a quick text, email or phone call to say they are running late – and how long it will take for them to get here? …And that is where discourtesy creeps in.

  • Kamau

    Nice article.., i was facing the same problem with a member of my unit, but once i recommeded for him to be transfered to another region, he came begging for mercy and since then he has never walked in late.

  • tony

    hehe… quite true. I once heard a preacher giving an analogy of time with his parents… he said to his dad, being on time is 15 minutes before a meeting was scheduled to start… his mum on the other hand could only be described by a verse in the bible… no one knows the day or time of her arrival. when she’s there she’s there… sad but perhaps a true indication of us… from ‘mr working on being on time’

  • Michie

    My hubby’s idea of being on time is arriving an hour late while for my best friend its anything from 3 hours upwards. I’m a stickler for time and it drives me CRAZY to say the least. For me, its lack of respect for my time, like I have nothing better to do with my time!!!