Don’t be on time… Be early

January 18, 2024

Almost everything about a culture is different. There are different positions, salaries, skills, genders, races, backgrounds. With all these different perspectives, how can we all agree on reality?  What can we call the “single source of truth”?

Some say it’s values but values can change, and people can interpret them differently. In a toxic culture, values can actually be weaponized.

When I present this in a class, I ask, “What can we all agree on that is real?”  And of course, everyone looks confused. So I hold up a blue pen, and ask, “Is this pen blue?” Everyone says yes, but if someone is color blind, they would say no.  So what reality can we all agree on?

I’ve only found one thing: Time.

We all might have different relationships to time, but when it’s 10:30am Pacific time, no one disagrees with that statement.

So why is this important, and what is the culture hack relating to time?

It’s important because it’s a single truth that we can all navigate around. The highest performance cultures (think: Navy Seals), put a high and precise value on time because it’s a critical coordination point.

For companies, the highest performers:

– Start meetings on time

– End meetings early

– Deliver on deadline

On time is very clear. You’re either on time or you’re not.

The most powerful leaders I’ve worked with are always on time. And people think it’s because of respect, but it’s much more than that. It’s because of agency and control.   At Zappos, Tony Hsieh was always on time (both personally and professionally). He never once said, “Sorry I’m late, Jeff Bezos held me back at the meeting.” No, he would have literally walked out before that happened.

What that does is convey confidence to a team that their leader is in charge and not being controlled by other forces or people. It gives people a sense of peace and confidence to know the leader is in fact in control.

Also, when we’re late, it’s like we’re trying to bend reality to our own needs and that never works out well.

As a leader, by setting a high standard of being on time, the rest of the company follows, meetings flow well, and projects get delivered on time.  And make sure to start the meetings on time, regardless of whether everyone is there. Delaying a meeting caters to the least conscientious people in the company. And starting it on time ensures everyone will show up the next time on time.

Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself. Try not only being on time. Try being early. Why? Because if you go for on-time, you’re stressed about getting everywhere exactly on time. If you arrive early, it frees your mind to think about more productive thoughts. And it sets an example by leading by example. Everyone will start arriving early, meetings will start on time with everyone there. The purpose of the meeting will be achieved without stress or wasted time.