Frequently leaders complain to me about employees who miss deadlines, are disorganized or who put things off until the last minute.  If you’re someone who easily juggles multiple priorities and gets things done in a reasonable amount of time without being reminded, it’s easy to believe that this skill is innate to everyone.

Today’s job descriptions are peppered with language like, “works independently,” “is deadline driven,” or “is self-motivated.”  These words broadcast that many companies have limited bandwidth to handhold employees who are not self-starters and results driven.  Or, in some cases, managers have no interest in or expectation of playing a role in helping employees develop or improve their basic work habits.  They prefer that people come ready to perform and deliver results on time and on budget.

But the reality is that effective time management doesn’t come naturally to everyone.  Prospects and new hires might have great industry knowledge, advanced degrees and technical skills, but they may lack the ability to identify and execute the step-by-step processes needed to complete complex tasks.  As companies scale back on basic skills training, the opportunity to learn how to manage time and projects properly is increasingly lost.  So, where is the emerging workforce supposed to learn these basic productivity and career survival skills if not on the job?

Productivity and profit suffers when managers let people go or allow them to languish without giving them tools to improve.  While some leaders may believe that it’s up to the employee to show up with all the necessary skills to do the job, it doesn’t always work that way.  Showing up fully skilled may happen on occasion, but when it doesn’t, throwing the baby out with the bath water isn’t always the solution.

If you work with someone who is unable to efficiently manage projects, here are two things you can do to help the person, yourself and the company.

Break projects down into manageable pieces.  The scale of projects can overwhelm employees if they have never learned how to break them down into manageable steps. Feeling overwhelmed fuels procrastination, which all too often leads to lateness.  Instead of being disappointed that your direct report can’t work independently, understand why.  If the issue is feeling overwhelmed by the size and complexity of a project, work with them to break the project down into its component parts.  Help the person lay out the steps needed to get from A to Z.

Start by meeting with them to list each activity required to complete the task.  Then, in regularly scheduled follow-up meetings, discuss what’s been completed and what remains to be done.  Encourage the person with genuine praise for progress made. Next, establish the deadline for the next step or steps in the process. By asking the employee what he or she thinks needs to be accomplished next, and when they will complete it, you can retrain their thought process.  Finally, don’t leave the meeting without putting the next one on your calendars.  Regularly scheduled follow-up is critical.  It says you mean business.  And, it creates an opportunity to correct course should that be necessary.

Invest in time management training.  A few hundred dollars is nothing compared to the lost productivity and profit that comes with lackluster performance, firing and hiring.  One-day Fred Pryor Seminars are held throughout the country.  Franklin Covey offers online training designed to improve one’s ability to prioritize and manage their schedule.  Often, understanding priorities is an even bigger issue than managing time.

Give them a copy of the tried and true, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  There’s even an audio version narrated by Stephen Covey himself.  The original book may have come out in 1990, but its message is just as useful today.  Even Dale Carnegie has online virtual classes that can help in this area.

There are far-reaching benefits to helping people manage their work time better.

  • It shows you care enough about them to invest in their growth.
  • Better time management reduces stress because the employee feels less like the victim of mayhem and more like someone who can handle what’s expected of them.
  • What they learn will extend into their personal life and likely to the generations at home who follow them.
  • And, finally, you’ll have a more complete employee who has technical and soft skills that are working to benefit the company.