High ROI Leadership: Schedule the Finish

Schedule the finish to reduce frustration and increase performance

You’ve got more to do than time to do it. Your plan is going to get interrupted, and your interruptions are going to get interrupted. If you don’t have an intentional, focused way to finish what you start, it won’t happen. Effective leaders consistently achieve meaningful results and build a healthy culture–but they don’t leave it to chance or a heroic act of willpower. They schedule the finish.

Why Is This So Difficult?

Imagine I asked you for a report and told you, “I need this information soon.”

What does soon mean?

For fun, go ask your team this same question. In any group of five or more people, you’ll hear answers ranging from “right now” to “next week.” And for some people, when they hear soon, it means “this isn’t really important.”

These different interpretations of just one word can cause massive headaches and frustrations. One mistake that many leaders make is they rely on people’s good intentions, willpower, or even dumb luck to ensure that things get done. But, when you leave the definition of a word like “soon” up to chance, chaos ensues.

If you’re talking to someone who has a high internal sense of urgency, they might get it done right away. They might even neglect something that was actually more important than what you asked them to do. But if they interpret it as “when I have time to get to it,” you might wait for weeks.

The solution to these challenges is called Schedule the Finish.

Scheduling the finish means you create a specific mutual moment where you will follow up, follow through or finish the task. This isn’t a vague intention. It’s an appointment on the calendar of everyone involved.

Schedule the Finish to Remove Ambiguity

For example, let’s say you have that team discussion. And each person’s going to call their three largest clients and ask them how they’re responding to a recent change.

You’ll collect their answers and send them to Joe. Joe and his team will take that data and build a new client intake process. That’s good, but so far, it’s only an intention.

Schedule the finish with clear times and agreements. It would look like this:

We will each call our three largest clients, ask them that question and send the answers to Joe. By Friday at 5:00 PM, Eastern Joe and his team will give us the new intake process by the following Thursday at noon Eastern, everyone can put those two times on their calendars.

Now there’s no question of when the team will finish the task.

Scheduling the finish applies to many daily leadership and management conversations. Here are a few more examples:

  • When you have a performance conversation using the INSPIRE method, the final step (E) is the Enforce step. Schedule a brief meeting to review their desired behavior. Eg: “Sounds good. Let’s meet at 10 next Tuesday to see how this is going and if you have any questions.”
  • When you delegate, schedule a time where the other person will meet with you in person or by video to return the project to you, answer questions, and discuss next steps.
  • When you lead a meeting, conclude the meeting by asking who will do what, by when, and “How will we know?” The final “How will we know?” is a scheduled commitment to the team. Eg: “We will all have our data to Linda by Friday at 4 pm. Linda will send us the new process by Wednesday at 3 pm.” Everyone puts the times on their calendar. If Friday 4:00 pm comes and Linda doesn’t have data from Bob, she calls him. If 3 pm Wednesday comes and they don’t have the process, they call Linda.

Schedule the Finish to Prioritize What Matters Most

In addition to eliminating misunderstandings around vague words like “soon” or “when you have time,” scheduling the finish forces everyone to think about the workload and whether they can do it. When you discuss delivering that data to Joe by Friday at five, everyone must think about whether they can actually do that.

And if they can’t, then you can have a conversation about priorities, what matters most, and adjust as needed.

Your Turn

Good intentions and talented, capable people will only take you so far. High-performing leaders and teams that build performance cultures schedule the finish to ensure they know what done looks like and how this priority fits with others.

We’d love to hear from you: how do you and your team ensure good intentions translate to activity and results?

Related: The Most Challenging Person for a Human-Centered Leader