my coworker keeps missing deadlines and it impacts my work

A reader writes:

As an avid reader of your column, I’ve read multiple articles outlining the differences between “tattling” vs bringing an important issue in front of management that impacts work product. This issue is clearly on the non-tattling business impact side, and yet I’m still struggling with how to handle it, and I am hoping you can help me.

I have a coworker who I depend on for data for a recurring project (requires major updates two times per year). Every time the update is due, I schedule check-in meetings weeks in advance and make it explicitly clear that I need X by [date] and Y by [date].

And every. single. time. my colleague slips the deadline, running us down to the wire, such that I am scrambling to pull everything together last minute – and sometimes the data are wrong – or I interpret it incorrectly – and we haven’t had the chance to QA it and only discover the mistakes months later.

Colleague is always apologetic. Colleague is a really nice guy, and I like him personally. And it is always the case that something unforeseen and beyond his control is responsible for the missed deadline. This I do not buy so much anymore, but it’s impossible for me to verify.

It seems like a no-brainer that I need to surface this to my boss or to my colleague’s boss, and it’s stupid that I haven’t done it yet. I’m just at war with myself over how to do this, and feel like a complete toad/tattletale, even though I know that it’s the right thing to do.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know what approach to take. Should I have a conversation with him first and let him know that this is unacceptable and that I have to alert my manager or his manager the next time he misses a deadline? Should I just send an email to his manager, CC mine, and not tell him first? Or I could bring it up in my next 1:1 with my manager — but my manager is very, very senior, and I worry that I’m coming to her with a problem and not a solution. I don’t even know what the solution is or what outcome I’m looking for.

Any advice other than “Grow a pair”? Maybe “Grow a pair” really is the only solution – but why do I feel like such a jerk?

Well, you feel like a jerk because your colleague is a nice person and you like him, and you’re about to relay information that’s going cause some discomfort for him.

And you’re probably a nice person yourself, and so that sucks.

But yes, you do need to speak up and loop in your manager. If this had just happened once, you could try working it out with your colleague directly. But it’s a long-running pattern, it’s causing real and ongoing problems, and the very reasonable steps that you’ve taken to try to address it haven’t solved the problem.

And it is a problem that needs to be solved, so that means that you need to escalate it.

At this point, I think you need to do two things:

1. Talk to your colleague about your concern. You shouldn’t have to do this — your colleague should already understand that there’s a pattern of him missing these deadlines and should be acknowledging it and coming up with a plan to fixed it — but since that’s not happening, you need to raise it. Say something like this: “Cecil, I want to talk to you about the deadlines for the X project. I depend on you to get me the data in time twice every year, and it’s causing me real problems that the data is often late and contains mistakes, or doesn’t come in time to QA it. It’s become enough of a problem that I think I need to pull Jane (Jane is your boss here) and possibly Fergus (Fergus is his boss) in on this because I really need the next set of data to be on time and accurate, but I wanted to give you a heads-up that I’m going to do that.”

Alternately, you could change that last bit to say that you’re going to bring Jane and Fergus in on it only if there are problems in the future, rather than moving straight to talking with them now. But that means accepting that there’s a pretty good chance that the next data set is going to be messed up too. Are you willing to accept that high likelihood in exchange for giving him one final chance to handle this on his own? Whether or not that makes sense to do depends on how much of an impact his mistakes will have if it happens again.

2. Whether you decide to do it now or wait until the next time there’s a problem, at some point, yes, you’ll need to talk with your own manager about what’s going on. You said that you’re hesitant to bring her a problem without a solution, but — while in general, yes, it’s good to propose solutions where you can — this is a problem where the solution isn’t within your control. The solution here is that your coworker’s boss needs to step in and talk with him (and probably more closely manage him for a while), and you can’t make that happen without escalating things.

Say something like this: “I want to loop you in to a problem I’ve been having with the data for X. I rely on Cecil to supply me with the data for X, and it’s always late and often inaccurate. I’ve tried checking in with him weeks in advance and making it really clear what I’ll need by when, but each time it’s late and I’ve been left scrambling at the last minute, without a chance to QA it. At this point, I think I need to talk to Fergus and get his help in resolving this. Does that sound right to you?”

(And actually, in this formulation, you are bringing her a solution — your proposed solution is talking with Cecil’s boss. But you might work somewhere where it would be more appropriate for your boss to be the one to do that, in which case you could change this wording to whatever’s appropriate in your organization, like “I wondered if you’d be willing to talk with Fergus about how we can get what we need from his team” or whatever.)

Does it suck to have to escalate something when it’s about a coworker? Yes. But this is impacting your work, it’s happened repeatedly, and your boss and your coworker’s boss would almost certainly want to know this is happening and have the chance to step in and resolve it.

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Beancounter in Texas

    I give fake advance deadlines to people who are chronically last-minute, but this usually on works with stuff like payroll, where they can’t uncover the real deadline.

    1. Rebecca

      In my experience, procrastinators quickly learn the deadlines are fake, and adjust accordingly, just like my friend in high school band who would still be in the bathtub when we arrived for carpool to leave for the football game. We started telling her we would be picking her up 15-30 minutes before we actually showed up. It worked once.

      This needs to be addressed at the root – OP’s coworker cannot seem to meet a deadline.

      1. AMT

        Yes, and then when you actually DO give them a real deadline, they’ll treat it like a fake deadline and blow it off! In fact, I’m thinking that OP’s coworker has already started to do this. Because OP “pull[s] everything together last minute,” the late guy thinks it’s no big deal because the work gets done anyway, so he has no incentive to meet the deadline in the future. (Other than, y’know, being a competent employee.)

      2. The Cosmic Avenger

        People like that need to be told “We’ll be here to pick you up at 4pm. *We* are leaving at 4:05, whether *you* are ready or not.”

        1. Engineer Girl

          Real consequences are the only things that work. I once had a room mate that proudly boasted that she’d be late for her own funeral. One of our friends finally got tired of it, had a “meeting” with the rest of us, and suggested that we start leaving her behind. You can imagine her shock when everyone started doing this at once. She’s self corrected in under a month.

      3. manybellsdown

        I tried something like that with my chronically-late ex: telling him stuff was an hour or more earlier than it actually was. It didn’t work. I’d tell him to be there at 1pm for something that started at 2pm and he’d still roll up at 3:15.

        1. jmkenrick

          I feel that strategy can backfire (particularly when used on teenagers) because it just reinforces the idea that start times are nebulous.

        2. vpc

          I adjust my own expectations with a specific friend who is always 30-40 min late. “we agreed on 3:30, so I’ll see him at 4.” Doesn’t work for professional deadlines.

          also known as Southern-style party arrival: don’t show up when the invite says the party starts; leave home when the invite says the party starts, and you will still be one of the first ones there, but not hanging around by yourself with a host who isn’t ready for half an hour first.

          drives me crazy.

      4. Anonsie

        Yeah, I have an uncle who has never been less than 2-3 hours (hours) late for a holiday meal for as long as I can remember, and that’s with my grandmother giving him a fake meal time every time. We always just eat without him.

      5. Vicki

        At that point, I think it’s important to make the deadline real.
        Marjorie – we will pick you up at 6:15. If you are not in the car by 6:20, we will drive away.

    2. Cambridge Comma

      Yes, I was also coming here to say never give anyone a true deadline until they have proven that they can be trusted! But people do learn the true deadlines in time (when they miss the fake ones and you still deliver on time) so you have to enforce the fake deadlines as if they were true.

    3. nona

      I don’t do this at work, but I have to with family. It works as long as you enforce it like a real deadline.

    4. Applesauced

      On the otherhand, it’s REALLY annoying to hustle to meet faux deadline only to hear “oh, thanks, I didn’t need it until next week, but it’s great that it’s done”

      1. Elysian

        Ugh, yes. I am not a chronic procrastinator, but my boss gives out fake deadlines for things all the time to everyone. I always hustle to meet them, usually sacrificing sleep and other deadlines, and then he doesn’t look at my work for a month. It is incredibly frustrating and demoralizing.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I think that is ridiculous. If he wants it early to go over it before the actual due date, I can see him saying, “I need it by X day” even though he doesn’t have to turn it in until Y day. But to sit on it for a MONTH? Insane.

          1. Ariadne Oliver

            It’s even more annoying when he loses it, the true deadline is 5 minutes from now, and he swears up and down TO HIS BOSS that you never gave it to him.

    5. Dr. Johnny Fever

      I’m sorry, but this is a passive-aggressive approach in that you haven’t talked to the people about the issue but are taking actions to smooth over or erase the problem. This would irritate me as the one receiving the false deadline, and as a manager, I can’t recommend giving one. I side with transparency – “I need to give X to Fergus by y date, so I need your info by Z date to pull everything together. If late, I’ll have to let Fergus know. Let me know how I can help resolve any issues for you in getting this info on time, and keep me posted.” As long as the employee updates me, I’m good. No need for BS.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        True it sounds like she hasn’t said anything but at the same time he’s offering up excuses and therefore knows he’s doing something wrong

    6. Beancounter in Texas

      I enforce advance deadlines. If I have to submit payroll by 5pm on Wednesday and a manager is chronically tardy in giving me the numbers I need, then that deadline is bumped up, because I may need an hour to run payroll, but I’m not planning on doing it at 4pm Wednesday. So Tardy Mgr gets early deadline, turns it in tardy & I promise to see if I can rush it. Bosses have backed up me on this in the past.

      I hadn’t considered that this is passive-aggressive; I view it as holding them accountable while giving me the time to do my own job correctly.

  2. Amber Rose

    Sounds like the coworker might need some help with time management. Stuff comes up, that’s how life works. People working to deadlines need to account for that in their planning. It’s important to send the message that “sorry” is not good enough. Especially when it’s meaningless, as he’s making no attempt to do better.

    1. The IT Manager

      Yes. If his planned schedule doesn’t account for any of the unforeseen beyond his control things that have popped up every single time, he’s planning very badly. I, like the LW I think, suspect these are excuses and it’s really his fault and he knows it.

    2. nona

      +1

      Maybe talk about this if his last-minute excuses come up, OP? I used to suck at time management, and second to procrastinating, the biggest problem was that I planned as if everything was going to go exactly as planned. So any little problem would throw me off really badly.

    3. Mike C.

      People working to deadlines need to account for that in their planning.

      Uh wow, seriously? I can’t tell you how many times some manager has creatively thrown a huge wrench into my schedule and on such short notice. There could be genuine issues here, and telling someone to just plan for the unknown unknowns is really unreasonable.

      1. TootsNYC

        I think you can plan to have your figures compiled 2 days before your deadline. Or you can alert everyone to all the impacts of that monkeywrench.

      2. Amber Rose

        If it happens that often, then you set a personal deadline X amount of time before the actual deadline, where X is a rough estimate of how long you might need based on past incidents. Then if you need more time still, you speak up before the deadline about how much more and why. It’s not rocket science.

        1. Mike C.

          What if the data is time based? I can’t give Q2 results until Q2 is done, after all.

            1. Mike C.

              I’m speaking generally and using a specific example to illustrate my point. I can think of dozens of times someone has wanted to see the results of a process improvement change when the process wasn’t even done in the first place.

              1. James M.

                +1. I know of dozens of cases where Boss essentially asks for work to be completed in zero time (and a few asking for time travel).

            2. Beezus

              I hear you, and that does work most of the time. I run into trouble occasionally where people know when I’m getting my raw data, though, and assume that I have nothing else on my plate and my work doesn’t take any *actual* time, so I should be able to spit out an analysis of the data 5 minutes later. That really rubs me the wrong way.

              1. A fly on the wall

                I think this depends on exactly how many monkeywrenches get thrown.

                For the past two weeks, I’ve gotten very little pre-planed work done, and I’ve missed a few deadlines because of it. Real, honest to god, this has to be handled now, crises just kept cropping up – multiple times per day. I got as much as I could done after hours or before work, but sometimes that isn’t an option, particularly when coordinating with other organizations.

                You deal with it the way you do anything else, though. You communicated. First thing I did when it became obvious that the “plenty of time” had become “not nearly enough” was start prioritizing and communicating with the requestors of various jobs. The stuff that got dropped first was the stuff with either convenience or agreed deadlines. You know, “OK, the week of the 10th looks pretty clear, let me get that to you by the 13th,” type things. Then came stuff with hard deadlines but that was lower priority. That always comes back in order of priority, and I’ve mostly finished it.

                Again, the key is communication. If you blow a deadline and apologize later, you look like you forgot or procrastinated, if you’re proactive and keep people aware, then – at least with reasonable people – they usually won’t hold it against you.

              2. Katieinthemountains

                Ugh, yes. I had hard external deadlines with big money consequences if we missed them each month. And the developer would call the civil engineer on Monday wanting changes to the layout, the civil would send it to me on Thursday – or FRIDAY – and I would have to find a way to extract an updated drawing from my quasi-competent AutoCAD operator and get my boss to review it and have it finalized and stamped with the engineer’s seal and down to City Engineering by noon on Monday or else. Apparently the civil thought it would be an hour’s worth of work, no big deal. But in fact, it was several several rounds with the CAD guy who of course was finishing other projects for the same deadline, plus senior review, plus the not insignificant time to get six drawings off the big plotter and the drive over, etc. I finally extracted grudging promises to a) give me a heads up this was coming and b) not send me 95% complete drawings and then change noticeable stuff.

          1. Anonsie

            This is how my work is structured; there is no buffer time to build in, I can only start work once I have all the necessary information and my deadline is exactly as long as it should take me to finish after that.

      3. A Definite Beta Guy

        “I know it’s Christmas Eve, but can you run every singe individual claim for our largest payer for the last 5 years? You are maxed out at “X” lines per query, so you would need to run every single day individually. Thanks!”
        #livingthenightmare

    4. JeanLouiseFinch

      I think that a meeting involving the 2 bosses and the co-worker would be most constructive if the LW suggests some solutions that might involve the other boss, such as, _________ might need assistance when he is trying to get the data ready, can someone else help him? or, is it possible for ____________ to put the job of providing the data on the front burner for several weeks before it is due in order to avoid mistakes and/or blown deadlines? This way, the problem is seen as more of a company problem and not the co-worker’s problem. If his boss is unwilling to provide his employee with help and/or allow the data collection to be a high priority, it really is a company problem.

    5. Kate M

      Yeah, one of my biggest pet peeves are people who are always late due to poor time management. (This happens more socially with me than with work, but still). And they ALWAYS have a reason that seems totally legitimate to them. “Oh I’m sorry I’m half an hour late, you know the metro runs more slowly on weekends.” Yeah, that’s why I INCLUDE THAT IN MY PLANNING. “I got stuck in traffic at 5:00 PM on a Thursday.” Seriously? Like this doesn’t happen every single day at rush hour? If you can’t make it by 6, fine, just tell me to meet later. But don’t make me sit around and wait because of your poor planning.

      1. Anyonymous

        The folks who are chronically late often talk about falling victim to “magical thinking” in that one time, on Christmas morning when there was no traffic and they hit all the green lights they got to X place in 20 minutes, so that means it takes 20 minutes to get there and they just think it’s going to work out like that every time. I’m the exact opposite. It could take me 20 minutes 4 out of 5 times, but if ONE time it took me an hour, I now think it’s going to take an hour every time. This often leads to me showing up to places 45 to 60 minutes earlier than I need (or should) be there.

    6. Engineer Girl

      This is why you go to the airport 1-1/2 hours before a domestic flight. You never know if security will have a line, or if you’ll need rescreening, etc. Bumps are a normal part of life and a person that doesn’t plan for them isn’t acknowledging reality.
      Frankly, I get sick and tired hearing sorry with no change. Words aren’t an apology. Changed works are an apology.

  3. Dawn

    I’m making an assumption that the letter writer is a woman here. I think there’s a really really strong ingrained cultural norm of expecting women to “not make waves” or “not make a fuss” or “not do anything that might jeopardize a man’s job” or “not criticize a man for how he does things” and so on, and I feel like that’s the case here.

    This guy has repeatedly missed a really important deadline, not once but multiple times, even when he knows well in advance it’s coming up and even when he knows that it’s critical and he’s the only person who can meet that deadline. I see this as being pretty blatantly disrespectful of you as an employee and co-worker, and time and time again he’s caused you stress and headache unnecessarily with zero consequence to himself. If he’d messed up once, well things happen. Twice in a row? Well… OK maybe. But over and over and over again? Aw hell no.

    If you’re intimidated by “calling this guy out” or “getting him in trouble” or whatever it might help to think of it as a problem that is being created for the job position that you hold instead of thinking of it as a personal problem. So instead of all of that stupid cultural “don’t make waves because you are a woman and you’re supposed to hold your tongue” crap, look at it like “This guy’s gear in the corporate machine is not interlocking with the gear that I am responsible for and therefore the corporate machine has a breakdown until things are set right. I am not in charge of the corporate machine and I cannot fix this guy’s gear because I am not responsible for it, therefore I will let corporate maintenance (your boss, his boss) know about this issue.” I find that divorcing my sense of self from company issues helps a ton when I have to call something out or question something, because then it has zero to do with ME (Dawn the individual woman) and everything to do with the company (for which I am only in charge of this one gear here, you see, this one gear that cannot mesh up with these other gears because of reasons X, Y, and Z).

    1. Cambridge Comma

      I agree with you, although I think women are also expected to not get other female colleagues in trouble either. And the value that we place on people being ‘nice’ doesn’t help either.
      Although the LW comes across as a really considerate co-worker, which is to be appreciated! But she deserves the same consideration from Cecil.

    2. Elysian

      I think that culture extends to men, too, though. My husband and male friends often struggle with similar issues because they don’t want to get someone else in trouble. They’re just not confrontational people and usually genuinely like their coworkers as people and don’t want them to get in trouble. I think it would be a minority of people of any gender that would feel comfortable escalating things in this situation.

      1. TootsNYC

        I actually see a greater “wimpiness” on the part of men! My husband can’t tell the electrician that he did it wrong, or needs to put the outlet where we told him, or that he was supposed to clean up.

        I don’t think it’s gendered, not really.

    3. Artemesia

      This. Producing an error ridden report that doesn’t blow up for weeks is going to affect YOUR reputation as competent. And when you get called on it for having repeated last minute or error ridden work, it is going to sound lame when you whine ‘but I didn’t get the information until the last minute.’ So the time to deal is now before the next round. It is IMHO too late to do the one more chance thing with the co-worker — time to sit down with your own manager and suggest options. One option might be to talk with the co-worker one more time with the suggestion that you and he sit down with Fergus and your boss about this. Another might be to go immediately to your boss getting Fergus involved. But it is well past time to have had the discussion with YOUR boss noting that you have done X, Y and Z to try to get this to work with the co-worker but in spite of early warnings and follow ups and so forth it continues to happen and is impacting this important report.

      1. Paige Turner

        True, OP doesn’t want other people (especially higher-ups) saying, “Oh, OP always messes up this report.” They might not know the whole story, or they might expect OP to deal with Cecil- whether or not it’s reasonable, it’s the OP’s reputation that might take a hit.

    4. Dasha

      Dawn is soooo right. I’m not sure if LW is a male/female but either way, I think the LW should ask themselves what would happen if they missed an important deadline over and over again? I’m sure they would get in trouble, why shouldn’t the co-worker?

    5. The Hand-Wringing OP

      You are correct that I am a woman. But I think I would still be in a state of hand-wringing angst if my colleague were female. I know plenty of women who are very direct and would call my always-late colleague out on his BS and have no qualms whatsoever about bringing in the big bosses. I can’t blame my gender for my non-confrontational wimpiness.

  4. Cambridge Comma

    Usually I would think that telling Cecil ‘if this goes wrong again, I will have to tell Jane and Fergus’ might be enough, but as it is a twice yearly thing, this means that the problem won’t be solved for another year.
    Also, do you know much about Cecil’s area? Maybe Fergus isn’t allowing him to prioritise this task and it would actually help Cecil out if Jane could ask for this to be more of a priority.

    1. Judy

      It certainly might be a priority issue. I know when I have those types of issues on my end, I usually say something like “I have been covered over with my top priority of X and the deadline for your Y is slipping, if you need to rearrange my priorities, please talk with Fergus.” So I do think that it’s somewhat on Cecil to be clear why things are not completed on time.

    2. TootsNYC

      Also–it sounds like a complex thing, and if Fergus is going to work with his guy to get him on track, he needs to start now, not after.

  5. Cambridge Comma

    I also wonder whether your extensive preparations and check-ins well in advance are giving Cecil the message that he can slack off, it won’t matter because you have everything under control. You could try one clear e-mail with schedules and explicit wording (perhaps also ‘this round, I won’t be sending out reminders as I have done previously) and no other reminders.

    1. fposte

      Or, rather than a check-in, a request for X amount of the work to be completed and shared rather than getting a status report. I think that’s what I’d do, and make part of the discussion the necessity of getting those on time so that we don’t have to loop the managers in.

      In other words, I’ll keep this away from the managers if you can get me half by the month before (or some equivalent); if that’s not met, this isn’t going to work as a management device and I have nothing else to offer, so I’m going to need to talk to managers about how to get this data.

    2. Ariadne Oliver

      I agree with your first sentence, but not your last one.

      Colleague has absolutely no incentive to do his job properly because OP takes care of everything for him. OP – that needs to stop today! To paraphrase Rick Grimes, “he doesn’t get to do this again”. Colleague has blown every change you’ve given him. It’s over.

      You need to talk to your own manager about this now, not when this event comes up again. Explain how diligently you strived to get this information from Colleague in a timely manner, and what happens every single time. Ask your manager for her help with this situation, i.e., should Colleague’s manager be brought in to help, or should you (OP) keep doing what you’ve been doing and keep sending out final product that you’re not confident with or proud of.

      Do not try giving Colleague false deadlines. As others have pointed out, it might work once but it won’t work twice. Colleague needs to face consequences for his habitually unacceptable behavior.

  6. DatSci

    Am I missing something or isn’t it obvious that the first step should have been to move up/create artificial deadlines to ensure the OP has enough time to allow for Cecile to be late, check the work and ensure his/her interpretations of the data are in fact correct? As a manager I’d expect my direct reports to do that very thing first before an issue comes to my attention. If the data is only sent twice a year, start planning the deadlines for much earlier than truly necessary, this will allow a “time cushion” for Cecile’s carrying on and still allow the project to be finished by deadline. Yes this could be viewed as “enabling” Cecile to continue to miss deadlines, but I choose to see it as preparing for the inevitable.

    1. The Other Dawn

      I used to do that at my last job. I’d build in time so I could have time to review the material. So if the project had to be done by May 15, I’d tell everyone I need their information by May 5 so I could have time to review and account for any last minute items. Didn’t always work, as some people would see it as they have a cushion on 10 days. Sometimes I could hide the hard deadline, but other times a couldn’t.

      1. jmkenrick

        But that’s not really creating a “false” deadline. That’s creating a honest deadline – because you DO need time to check work, and work is always better if you’re not checking in a rush.

    2. TootsNYC

      Sometimes those deadline can’t move all that far up–if your task is to gather and transmit sales data from the 4th quarter, you can’t do that until they’ve been filed.

      1. Meg Murry

        Yes – I think this is something you need to talk to your manager about, to have him talk to Cecil’s manager, because it’s possible it’s a problem upstream from Cecil – for instance, if the sales staff haven’t entered all their final numbers for 4th quarter, Cecil can’t run the fourth quarter reports.

        The Cecil’s manager might also decide that this task is better suited for someone else in his department and re-assign it. Or, as Wilton Businessman points out – is Cecil just pulling info out of databases? Could it be automated or semi-automated or give you permission to pull the data yourself?

        Last, if it’s something like monthly sales numbers, any way you can get the data more often, so maybe you would have January-April to work with and QA and then you only need May and June from Cecil to add in?

    3. jmkenrick

      Depending on the office, this might not work. It certainly sounds like OP is doing their due diligence in meeting with Cecile ahead of time and checking in.

      Our office stresses transparency, so I’m often aware of timelines that other people might be dealing with. Additionally, I think creating false deadlines can sometimes reinforce the idea that deadlines are nebulous and it’s not a big deal if things come in a little late. Especially if the OP works with other employees in Cecile’s department, he could be sending mixed messages.

      I guess I feel that this should be a last resort – first, it makes sense to loop in higher-ups and see if they can figure out what’s causing the delays. (It may well just be that Cecile has too much on his plate and some things need to get reshuffled. Or that it’s not a priority for his team and it would be helpful for OP’s team to know that.)

    4. The Hand-Wringing OP

      The check-in meetings are designed to be artificial deadlines. I can’t pretend that the actual deliverable is due any earlier than it is because it’s part of a huge cross-functional project managed by another department. My colleague and I are responsible for one segment.

  7. Mena

    One thing to consider: your priorities may not be your colleague’s priorities. You seem to assume that once your project is scheduled, nothing can intervene. Your colleague may have other, assigned tasks that take precedence over your project, despite how far in advance your project is scheduled and despite how important your project is to YOU and your job. Colleague would be remiss to not be communicating earlier in the process, making you aware of a change in priorities for sure but in my environment, my priorities change daily and projects with strategic, revenue impact will supersede anything else, despite how long it has been scheduled and in queue. Communication and prioritization may be the problem here.

    If this is the case, it may be necessary that your boss and colleague’s boss decide how to handle/balance the load.

    1. Liane

      That doesn’t change anything, except to make it more urgent that OP talk with their boss.

    2. BadPlanning

      I was thinking the same thing — the OPs deadline may be getting trumped by things deemed more important by colleague’s boss. In this case, “escalation” to the bosses is the right thing to do — they need to hash out the priorities.

      Of course, if OPs gets bumped down the list, they should have a procedure to alter the OPs schedule — otherwise if OPs is carved in stone, than either it must be top priority. Otherwise, it’s just “have cake and eat it too” foolishness.

    3. The Hand-Wringing OP

      This project is a high-visibility, high-stakes effort that occurs twice a year – so it’s not like it suddenly intervenes on other work. If it were the case that my colleague was belated because he is grappling with competing deadlines, I would assume that he would surface that to me so that I could remove roadblocks and work with his managers accordingly, as is my job.

      But this is more like “Oh, I didn’t realize that when you said we would do a thorough review of the data at our check in meeting that you meant that I should actually have started working on this.”

  8. The Other Dawn

    I struggled with this all the time at my last job. I was someone who wore many hats, one of which involved collecting information from various departments in connection with our annual insurance applications (it was a bank). There were lots of questions that each department had to answer, as well as providing detailed transaction volume information. I usually gave them 2 to 3 weeks to gather everything and get it into me. Inevitably the same department would drag their feet every year and wait until the last minute to start. And of course they felt that resulted in an emergency on MY part. Then I’d have to spend a ton of time explaining what I’m looking for (these were things they worked with every day; it wasn’t some new fangled thing!). So, they were always late, which meant not a lot of time to do QA and make sure I actually got what I asked for. Explaining why the information was needed, how important it was, etc., didn’t help. Most times I’d have to go the CEO to crack the whip (we were a tiny bank) and then it would get done. Barely.

    I don’t miss that. At all.

  9. AndersonDarling

    I’m imagining this scenario: The OP tells the report guy that it’s time for the big report. It only happens twice a year and report guy doesn’t really think about the data until he gets the email from the OP. Report guy is in the middle of some big projects, talks to his boss and his boss says to let it go and continue on big project.
    And if the reporting guy had a work order system, is the OP putting in a ticket or just sending emails?
    If the OP talks to her manager, her manager may need to talk to the reporting guy’s manager just to clarify how important the request is. That may be all it takes.

    1. NickelandDime

      I agree. I’m not even sure I would talk to Cecil about the missed deadlines. He already knows and he hasn’t fixed it. I would go straight to his manager and mine.

      1. TootsNYC

        I would go straight to my manager.

        My manager can talk to his manager. Or, can loan me her authority, which I can take with me when I go to his manager.

        I feel like my manager can say, “my department needs this from your department, we’re not getting it, what’s up?” If I go, it just sounds like I’m complaining and trying to get him in trouble.

    2. moss

      but it isn’t just one email, sounds like. Multiple check-in meetings means it IS on his radar more than just the one time.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        And at the check-in meeting it’s his responsibility to say, “my boss said this is low priority for me so I won’t have your figures until X.”

        1. S

          YES! All the people making excuses for Cecil, because poor Cecil might be so overworked etc are basically saying Cecil has no ability to say “hey, the deadline is impossible, Q2 only finished yesterday” (or whatever), when the OP has given him multiple opportunities. I get that lots of people want to support the underdog/can relate to Cecil rather than the OP, but this isn’t a case of “I asked for it in the morning and he hadn’t delivered by lunchtime”…

  10. TootsNYC

    “At this point, I think I need to talk to Fergus and get his help in resolving this. Does that sound right to you?”

    At my company, *I* the manager would want to be the one to talk to Fergus, and so this would not be a phrase I’d want to hear from you.

    I’d want you to say, “This a serious problem, I don’t have patience for it anymore. It’s making me look bad, because there isn’t time for me to ask questions and check the data and react if we discover that something is wrong. It also creates stress and costs me time. What can we do now?”

    Maybe even, “Help me!”

    I would want you to leave room, verbally, for -me- to be the one to say, “I am going to take this to Fergus.” Fergus is over your head, but on my level. So I will go to him and say, “This is impacting my person, you need to fix it.”

    It annoys the pants off me when people step in front of me as I’m trying to go my job. They get in my way. And I have to waste energy (and political capital) saying, “Please step aside so I can walk here.”

    So–bring me this problem. Tell me how it impacts you, and what you’ve done to try to fix it. And then tell me that you’re at a point where you need it go away, and make room for me to maneuver. You want to create a framework for a strategizing session for the two of us.

    1. Marzipan

      Probably that’s why Alison did also say: “But you might work somewhere where it would be more appropriate for your boss to be the one to do that, in which case you could change this wording to whatever’s appropriate in your organization, like “I wondered if you’d be willing to talk with Fergus about how we can get what we need from his team” or whatever.”

    2. The Hand-Wringing OP

      OK so my boss is a very senior VP, and I am by far the most junior director on her team. I have a tape running in my head that says “Camilla, Dreyfus and Andromeda (the more senior directors) would be able to figure this out on their own without bugging the Big Boss.” Is that insane? As a manager, do you want your directs to work this stuff out on the playground and leave you out of it? (Just in case that last sentence was unclear, Cecil does not report to my boss)

      1. zora

        You mentioned below that Cecil is part of a team of other analysts. Is it possible that Camilla has or would solve this problem by not using Cecil, ever, but going to other people? That happens in some places where the most efficient people just know to avoid the most difficult people in the system. Unfortunately that means they get to keep their jobs because everyone else is picking up their slack, but at least you would get your stuff done.

        Another idea, are you friendly enough with Camilla or the others that you could go to one of them and ask their advice? Find out what they would do (or have done) in this situation? If you are all a team, they should be willing to help you out in the interests of the whole department.

  11. TootsNYC

    Another thought–escalating this is not about “getting Cecil in trouble.”

    It’s about “getting all the parties involved aware of the problem and able to find a solution.”
    Cecil may need help–permission to make it a priority; coaching for setting priorities; etc. And the time to start is right now, while the snags that came up are fresh enough in people’s minds to identify them, and before the problem happens again.

    1. AndersonDarling

      Agreed. This may not be about Cecil doing a bad job. There may be a hole in the whole process, either on the requesting part, the prioritizing side, or gathering the data may not be a simple query and there are more people involved than expected.

      1. Meg Murry

        Or maybe it’s the same time of year as 5 other departments asking Cecil to pull slightly different data, or the time of year Cecil has his giant project as well. Might be worth having your manager talk to his about big picture and whether this could work better to switch to April and October releases instead of January and July, for instance, if that’s possible.

        1. The Hand-Wringing OP

          You’re right – it’s possible that Cecil has other competing priorities. But we all have other competing priorities. And I’ll say that all the other people on Cecil’s team who have competing priorities are able to meet deadlines or at least communicate proactively when deadlines are at risk.

    2. Marina

      Absolutely. Cecil needs help, whether it’s getting his boss to prioritize his workload better, or training in time management. Escalating this to your boss is one way to get Cecil the help he clearly needs.

    3. Ad Astra

      I agree. Cecil and the OP likely have different priorities, since it sounds like they don’t have the same job and may not even work in the same department. So the delays on Cecil’s end could be caused by other, legitimate tasks that came up and were deemed higher priority than the OP’s project. If Cecil is managing his time and prioritizing work the way Fergus wants him to, it would explain why the work is consistently late without anyone but the OP having a problem with it. Bringing this up with Cecil and Fergus and/or Jane can help everyone straighten out their priorities and expectations so each team gets what they need to be successful.

      Or it could be that Cecil just sucks. It’s hard to know for sure.

  12. AnnieNonymous

    Hmmm, I think it’s helpful to make a distinction between “nice” and “kind.” If you view niceness as a genetic trait (which recent studies indicate may be the case) and kindness as actual actions taken, I’m thinking that the coworker is someone I’d eventually start to see as Not A Great Person. So what if he has a generally nice demeanor? He’s doing some jerky, unkind things (lying, slacking when he knows someone else is going to have to pick up the slack) because he’s used to playing the “but he’s so niiiiceeeeee” card. Maybe I’ve been burned by too many exes who behaved this way (tangent alert!), but this is a personality type that I loathe. OP’s coworker knows he’s taking advantage of her work ethic and their friendship. He’s fully aware that he’s getting away with not doing his job. He is being very unkind, and I think the OP should try to look beyond his “nice” personality.

    1. AnnieNonymous

      ETA:

      All of that said, it’s worth investigating the coworker’s explanations for the delays. Are other people late in getting their work to him, creating a snowball effect that only appears at the end of the chain, where the OP is the only one who gets nailed by it? OP’s phrasing makes the justifications sound like they’re process-related somehow. Is there a reason they can’t be looked into? If it turns out that the coworker needs an extra two weeks tacked onto his part of the project going forward, that’s something that may be able to be embedded in the process. Sometimes the explanation is that the process has always been flawed.

      1. Artemesia

        None of this is the OP’s problem; this is all Fergus’s problem. If the delaying co-worker genuinely can’t get the job done for internal reasons in his department or his boss has other priorities then the OP can’t do anything about that nor is it her monkey. Thus she needs to NOW go to her own manager and get her involved in dealing with Cecil’s manager. It is their problem.

        1. Mike C.

          It might not be the OP’s problem, but if it’s the case it’s certainly not the fault of the colleague either.

          1. Artemesia

            But who cares whose fault it is? This is not the OP’s problem. She can use this to phrase her concerns to her boss, but ultimately it is her boss and his boss who have to resolve this.

            1. Mike C.

              A lot of folks commenting here seem to be assuming that the colleague is screwing up.

              1. neverjaunty

                A lot of other folks commenting here seem to be falling all over themselves trying to make excuses for Cecil. Who cares? If the problem is that his workload is too high or he’s badly managed, that is something that needs to be fixed in the workplace. It should not be OP’s problem.

                1. Mike C.

                  Actually looking at the process isn’t an “excuse”, and I never said it was the OP’s problem.

              2. Artemesia

                but why care if he is screwing up or not? It is not the OP’s problem, that is Cecil’s problem. And if Cecil’s job is impossible that is a management issue hence Fergus and the OP’s manager need to be involved in fixing it.

                If it is a Cecil problem that he can be reprimanded; if it is a Fergus problem then it has been kicked to the management level where managers can deal with it. In no case should the OP be going to Fergus, she needs to talk with her own manager and get her to intervene.

              3. Elsajeni

                But it seems like, at a minimum, he’s screwing up by not communicating about whether he’ll meet the deadline and what the issues are. The OP is having check-in meetings with him and reminding him repeatedly about the importance of the deadline for her work — if there’s some process issue or higher priority that’s likely to prevent him from meeting the deadline, he should be mentioning it in those meetings.

        2. AnnieNonymous

          I don’t disagree with you, but I think that the OP’s stance of, “Fergus is the problem, and I’ve never questioned him further about his reasons for the chronic delays” is making things convoluted. She accepts his reasons even though she suspects they’re false, but she never follows up. IMO, following up with Fergus actually is her problem to solve, since she’s the one tasked with asking the initial question.

          To take things further, it’s the OP’s problem if Fergus’ manager sees things as running smoothly internally and isn’t seeing how it’s impacting the OP. OP needs to speak up and say that, actually, there are some problems that have never been brought to light. We’ve all been in situations where we have different managers telling us to do different things. If this is what’s going on, I can’t say that Fergus is at fault for sticking with the norms of his own department instead of rushing things along (and potentially disrupting other people in the chain of command) for someone outside his department who hasn’t yet treated this situation like it’s a for-real problem. This is a situation where OP is somewhat holding Fergus responsible for reacting appropriately to information that she never gave to him.

          But at the end of the day, I still think Fergus is a jerk for knowing that OP wants the data sooner and isn’t proactively looping his manager in. But he’s not, and the OP is being impacting (while Fergus isn’t), so she needs to step up to the plate.

          1. S

            But it’s not as though Cecil is giving proper excuses either. The work just isn’t being done. I think it’s more reasonable to assume that if the reason was Cecil was doing the job of 5 people, Cecil would have mentioned it and OP would have framed her question differently. Assuming that instead there’s a really good reason Cecil can’t meet the deadlines (the data’s not in yet! Everyone’s asking him to do 11 jobs at once!) and Cecil is patiently explaining this to OP and OP is choosing to ignore it is a real leap, in my mind.

      2. TootsNYC

        I think you absolutely DO need to investigate the explanations or reasons. Because that’s where the solution is. The secret to success isn’t just say, “Do better!”

        Now maybe that’s not the OP’s problem or pathway; it may be Fergus’s pathway to helping Cecil succeed.

        But it has to be done. We used to talk (at my company) about “the Five Why’s”–ask “why” five times, and you may end up with the core reason. Once you fix it, the rest may fall into place. Or, get tremendously easier. And until you identify the core problem, you may never fix it. (Doesn’t always work; and people don’t always answer with the correct “why,” but I always liked that idea.)

        And it might be a great growth exercise for the OP to see what she can identify in terms of root cause.

    2. zora

      “He’s doing some jerky, unkind things (lying, slacking when he knows someone else is going to have to pick up the slack) because he’s used to playing the “but he’s so niiiiceeeeee” card.”

      This x 293834787700 + infinity. This is an important skill to learn for all relationships, not just work ones.

  13. Laurel Gray

    I come in every day and I make a list of things I need to get done today. Sometimes I make my list the night before. On top of things I have set to pop up on my calendar at any given time. Unfortunately, there is always a pressing issue or crisis that makes me have to drop everything and tend to it. Sometimes it takes 5 minutes, other times it is 50 minutes and you better believe something on my to-do list has to wait. Sometimes it is bad time management on my part (reading AAM – LOL!) other times it is 12 hours worth of tasks for an 8 hour work day. Fergus could be missing this deadline continuously for a number of reasons and OP, FWIW, finding out the “why” and making your work life easier is not tattling/snitching/throwing Fergus under the bus.

  14. Mike C.

    There’s a question that needs to be answered here:

    Is the colleague really getting hit with a bunch of high priority short time span projects or not? Is the colleague a slacker or someone who keeps fighting fires?

    Where I am, it’s *very* common for my boss to hand me a project to work only for his boss to say, “Nah, forget that, I have something more urgent”. If it’s the former, then yeah the bosses need to get involved but it’s not the colleague’s fault. If the latter, then yeah.

    1. Mike C.

      Wait, let me ask a more basic question – what reason does the colleague give for not having the data ready in time? Everyone here is assuming a great deal and there could be a whole bunch of factors that are leading to this issue.

      1. Splishy

        Yes, there needs to be some root cause analysis here. Maybe it is just that Cecil is either lazy or has bad time management, but maybe there are other process factors going on. Is the data from the beginning of the quarter stored offsite and it takes too long to retrieve? Does the data extraction take a long time to just complete? (I’ve seen some situations where pulling data could takes hours or even days, depending on how much there is. Assuming the data extraction can’t start until all the quarter’s numbers are in, this could be the delay.) Does Cecil have to do a bunch of preliminary cleanup/reconciling before it gets to you? Is Cecil too overworked and should delegate the task to someone else?

        1. jmkenrick

          But I don’t necessarily think it’s OP’s place do to that root cause analysis. That sort of review / prioritization / troubleshooting of someone’s workload should be between them and their manager.

          1. Mike C.

            Right, but folks here shouldn’t be assuming the colleague isn’t simply being lazy without further info.

            1. jmkenrick

              Gotcha. In that case, I completely agree. In fact, I generally think it’s best to err on assuming the best of people until proven otherwise.

          2. AnnieNonymous

            I think this is one of those emails where the phrasing is causing us to spin out in other directions, which is kind of the point, as the email seems to be focusing on some weird angles to the problem. OP is right to be annoyed that she’s getting her data late, but I think a lot of us are dancing around our impressions that she’s blaming Fergus for stuff that might not be his fault. He’s working well enough within his own department, and OP’s not understanding that her project (which only happens twice a year) may not be prioritized all that highly by Fergus and her team. She’s also acting like she doesn’t have any information to work with.

            So yes, she needs to go to management with the situation and the answers that Fergus has provided, but the approach of, “Fergus is lazy and is completely to blame for not getting this end-product to me” is most likely not appropriate. As far as he knows, OP always gets her info a little late but still manages just fine. Fergus should be trying harder, but OP is probably indicating to him that things have been working out fairly well thus far.

            This is also the dreaded email from someone who’s thinking about laying down the disciplinary gauntlet before letting Fergus know that the problem even exists.

            1. TootsNYC

              I think you are switching the names.
              Cecil is the colleague in the other department who doesn’t meet his deadlines. Fergus is his manager.

              To clear up the confusion.

        2. The Hand-Wringing OP

          The excuses are usually in technical jargon that I cannot understand – and that’s part of my frustration. I can’t validate any of Cecil’s reasons for being delayed. The “Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to work on this even though you told me explicitly to do so” doesn’t really need validation. That’s just a slipped deadline.

          And I’ve been reading a lot of comments about Cecil’s potentially divided priorities, or errors upstream that are preventing him from doing his job. Here’s the thing though: Cecil works for an analytics team where there are about 10 other people who do the same job. I never have any trouble with any of the other analysts, just Cecil, and Cecil is for better or worse the one who has been assigned to this particular deliverable.

          So yes, there could be intervening factors, and our database is terrible and everyone knows it, but no one else seems to have these difficulties. Or at least they’re transparent and upfront about it if a deadline is at risk.

          As I’m typing these responses, I’m coming to the realization that maybe Cecil is just someone who needs to be micro-managed. I hate micro-managing people, but maybe this is one of those situations where it’s truly called for. For what it’s worth, I’m not the only one who complains about Cecil – he has a reputation in the organization for being difficult to work with.

      2. jmkenrick

        OP says that the colleague claims reasons out of his control, but the OP has no way to verify.

        Either way, since it’s OP’s deliverable, it make sense to follow-up. Ultimately he’s responsible for getting in this info, and making sure deadlines are being recognized is part of that. So even if the coworker has a totally legitimate reason for not turning in the data, it still makes sense to loop in higher-ups.

        1. Splishy

          Totally agree. It’s not the OP’s responsibility to do root cause analysis and higher-ups should be looped in. (The OP probably doesn’t have the authority to make substantive process changes anyway.) However, the OP could use the approach of “the data is always late and/or inaccurate, how can we get to the bottom of this and make the process go smoother?”

      3. SanguineAspect

        This is exactly why I was going to comment on. It’s clear that these twice-yearly reports are VERY high-priority and important for the OP. But we don’t know that his colleague’s boss isn’t sending him work that he needs to get done YESTERDAY during the period he needs to collect data. I deal with a lot of “your emergency doesn’t trump my emergency” in my job. And if this is the case, you may need to get his boss in a room to say: “Hey, I need X days of Colleague’s time during X period in order to get the data I need for IMPORTANT REPORT. What can I do to make sure that Colleague has the bandwidth to do it?”

        1. A Definite Beta Guy

          Oh yes. If you “own” the data, data requests come all the time. And your twice-yearly report? What? If a report is “important,” then it’s a WEEKLY report, and there are pre-reports for the report and then pre-meetings for the pre-report and pre-discussions for the pre-meetings for the pre-report for the report pending revisions for the final report.

          1. Elsajeni

            Wait a minute, the frequency of a report has nothing to do with its importance — that completely depends on the situation. The most important report I produce in my job is our five-yearly accreditation documentation, and most of my other important projects are yearly or semesterly. The point that what’s important to the OP may not seem important to Cecil is well-taken, but let’s take her word for it that the report is important for her work and not getting it done has an impact on the business.

            1. A Definite Beta Guy

              Understood, but that’s not how it might look to the person receiving hourly data requests for the discussion prior to the meeting prior to the pre-report prior to the first revision prior to the Witch’s Coven prior to the Armageddon-acolypse-OHMYGODWHYDONTYOUHAVETHISDATANOWIASKEDFORIT3MINUTES AGO!

          2. The Hand-Wringing OP

            That’s not true in this case. This is for a “report card” that is due twice per year that reflects on how well my entire company is performing on a particular aspect of the business. This report card goes out to all of our national clients and we are stacked up against our competitors. No one in the company would argue about the importance of this deliverable.

    2. TootsNYC

      But it’s not about whose fault it is–I think that’s part of the OP’s problem in feeling crummy about this.

      Separate “whose fault” out and ignore it. Focus on “how to fix the problem.”
      And since the problem seems to be bigger than Cecil can handle on his own, he needs resources (i.e., his boss’s attention and assistance, with whatever is effective, even if it’s some discipline instead of better resources, skills, priorities).

      That would sure be my approach if I were Jane, the OP’s manager.

    3. Bolistoli

      Regardless of whether Cecil is lazy, overbooked, or has other obstacles preventing him from delivering on time, it IS his responsibility to communicate that he is going to miss a deadline. That, to me, is an absolute minimum requirement of doing your job.

      I’ve been in the position of supporting either multiple people or projects, or both, and that inevitably leads to too many tasks, and not enough time, to meet conflicting deadlines. Not once, when I’ve communicated the issue, have I been reprimanded for not being three people. I typically suggest a prioritization, to help out and get buy-in, but the key is communicating. And, on several occasions, it has required me to work late or on a weekend to get it all done, if not on time, reasonably close to on time. And no one is surprised.

      I can understand someone being timid about what may appear to be pushing back, so if it happened once, I would not get angry. But I would counsel that person to be sure to let me know when/if it happens again. If I don’t know it’s happening, I can’t help out – whether it’s bringing in additional resources, moving back less critical deadlines, or some other solution. However, if it happens again and again, after we’ve spoken, THEN it’s an issue.

      1. Turtle Candle

        Yeah. I’ve had times when someone from another team said, “I need X from you by [date],” and I know that I also had Y and Z due in that timeframe and that my manager considered Y and Z far more critical than X. But in that case, I’d express that–“I can’t guarantee X by [date] because my manager wants me to ensure that Y and Z are done first” or whatever–not let the date go bye and excuse myself afterwards. (Or, if I don’t know about high-priority Z until after I’d agreed to X, I’d let the person know ASAP.) If the other person really, really needs X by [date], they can then talk to my manager (or get their manager involved, depending) to coordinate prioritization between the teams and determine whether I should bump up the priority or not.

        It’s not my fault that my manager thinks that Y and Z is more important than X and wants me to prioritize that way, or that the other team really needs X from me when I’m busy with Y and Z. But I think it is important to communicate that clearly.

        Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I think Alison’s exactly right: the way to sort this out is to loop in your manager. If there is a genuine conflict, they can get to the bottom of it and get the prioritization between teams untangled. (It’s possible that Cecil is explaining this in advance, I suppose, but that just gives you a perfect way to frame the discussion with your manager: I need this by this date, but Cecil says he can’t because [reasons], how do you want us to resolve this?)

        1. Jessa

          Exactly. The main problem with Cecil is not that he’s missing deadlines, it’s that he’s not communicating that he’s missing them. The way a professional works is that you respond to a request for information, especially one with a deadline attached. You don’t just ignore it and hand over the data late and unverified.

          Extra bonus points if you actually try to resolve the issue about the deadline yourself, but if you don’t at least you give the person with the request time to do so on their end.

      2. The Hand-Wringing OP

        Exactly! I can’t imagine showing up at a meeting and saying “Oh sorry – I didn’t know I was supposed to come prepared for this meeting.” Or emailing one of my colleagues the night before something is due to say “I’m sorry, I’m experiencing technical difficulties and I can’t meet the deadline.”

  15. cv

    In a lot of management situations Alison suggests wording along the lines of “This needs to be fixed. What do we/you need to do to make that happen?” that I think could be useful here when talking to Cecil. If he often has reasons that seem legit for why he’s getting things to you late, maybe try approaching him from a collaborative-sounding perspective of wanting to understand why he misses the deadline and whether your managers need to be looped in to solve the upstream problems. If you just hate confrontation and awkward conversations it’s also a way to make yourself have the conversation with him to let him know it’s serious but without sounding like you’re threatening him.

    Then you can talk to you manager – you can tell him you want to keep him in the loop, that this is a problem and you’ve talked to Cecil about it and Cecil reports X, but despite Cecil’s promises to do better (which is the response I’d expect from Cecil) you think it’s serious enough that Fergus should be made aware of it, too.

    1. TootsNYC

      That’s a nice way to approach Cecil directly and more firmly. Because a colleague (like the OP) can be a source of brainstorming help, observations, etc. And encouragement to ask the boss for better priorities, etc.

      Focus on “how can this get fixed? Is there something you can do? Is there something you need, that you’ve been hesitant to ask for? Is there something I can do?”

  16. Not the Droid You are Looking For

    I wouldn’t worry that you are coming with a problem, not a solution.

    You can clearly demonstrate the steps you have taken to try and make this process work, but it sounds like you have gotten to a point where things are beyond your control, whether or not its a performance issue or a process issue.

    As your manager I would *definitely* want to know!

  17. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

    Ugh! I feel the OP’s pain. I have worked with plenty of Cecils. A recent Cecil of mine was chronically overbooked and also a massive procrastinator. To make matters worse, he was higher ranking than I was, so there wasn’t much I could leverage, other than asking him early and often for his deliverable. When I finally received it, it was always crap. I can’t tell you how many times I got stuck holding the bag when a client would be expecting something from me that included Cecil’s stuff and it fell short.

    What I finally wound up doing was working with Cecil’s subordinate, and getting the deliverables from him instead. Thankfully both the subordinate and I have moved on and no longer have to deal with Cecil!!!

    1. Elizabeth West

      I’m STILL waiting for a deliverable from someone who has promised many times that it’s finished, and it’s making me crazy. I’m about to get on a plane and go get it!

      1. NicoleK

        I was waiting for a deliverable from new coworker. The deadline was delayed multiple times. Boss didn’t seem to care. And so now, I don’t care. I just expect that new coworker won’t work on anything I need her to.

      2. TheAngryGuppy

        I have actually done this once! Sooooo many empty promises from a collaborator via email, then phone, so I finally said, “oh hey, I’ll be in your city in 2 weeks – looking forward to talking about our project!” Amazing how quickly it materialized!

  18. AdAgencyChick

    I would come at this — to my supervisor, not the other person’s — from a place of “something is wrong with our systems” and not “Fergus is always late.” Because it sounds like Fergus often has a legitimate reason for being late — and it is entirely possible that the solution to this problem is having someone other than Fergus supply the necessary data so Fergus can focus on priorities X, Y, and Z. Maybe Fergus’s group as a whole is not planning well enough for these “unforeseen and beyond his control” items — maybe they should be foreseeable, even if the individual incident isn’t, you can foresee that SOME client tends to call in with crazy requests in January and July, or whatever it is that’s getting in the way.

    OP can bring her individual problem — she’s not getting the data she needs when she needs it — to her boss’s attention. And the solution might be that Fergus’s boss comes down on him and says “Next time, you need to put this ahead of any last-minute requests that come in,” or even “This project is important enough that you need to plan on working extra hours twice a year in order to get that done while not letting the ball drop elsewhere.” But it might not be — it might be that Fergus’s boss will decide Fergus needs to focus on his other duties, and someone else in that group should take over supplying data to OP.

    Anyway, no one will know to solve the problem unless OP brings it up — but I think coming at it from a place of “Can we fix our process?” rather than “Fergus doesn’t get me stuff on time!” will both help OP get over the feeling of “I’m tattling” and may also be more effective since people are less defensive about a process being criticized than they are about themselves or their direct reports’ being criticized.

  19. Thoughts

    I find these scripts very useful, because often my inner dialogue responses are in need of much editing.
    As in, “I like you as a person, but your output sucks. Please do your job, so that I can stop stressing. Thanks.”

  20. Mimmy

    Is it possible that Cecil thrives on doing things close to deadline? I’m not at all condoning his performance; it’s just that I know there are people who work best when they are under the gun with a looming deadline. Just a thought.

    I would suggest maybe giving him your own deadline so that you can QA the data in order to meet the project deadline.

  21. voyager1

    I don’t think it is fair to jump on the colleague, so I am going with the minority of posters and saying… don’t assume that this colleague has any issues. He reports to someone else by the LW, the colleague has to keep his boss happy and that might mean those priorities don’t align with the LW’s.

    1. Jessa

      Except he does have a major issue, the major issue is that he is not communicating with the OP fast enough for the OP to try and get the data some other way, or to make some other arrangements. You don’t just ignore a request for info. You tell the person making the request why you can’t deliver. Then it’s up to that person to talk to management and decide whether or not to push back their deadline, get the info some other way or push back your other work.

  22. JenGray

    I think a lot of good points have been raised but based on my current job experience with projects it is possible that this issue could be bigger than just the fact that the data is always late due to a coworker ignoring deadlines. If the project has a contract and the contract specifically says that QA will occur and it doesn’t and then the client finds out than it could be that a contract dispute (or even legal action could result). Now to be clear I am making a lot of assumptions here and there are many reactions that could occur in this situation (regardless of the presence of a contact). But it’s really not good that the data numbers are wrong on something that is turned in on a project because if one part builds on another (again based on my job experience where the parts build on each other) than it could mean that the project is not be handled as efficiently as it could be.

  23. Ellie H.

    Isn’t it possible that Cecil has no idea his deadline missing is a problem? I don’t really see where the OP has explained to him that it is such a serious problem the next step is going to management. Honestly, I’ve been the Cecil type in the past (easy to fall into when you have a culture/reality of not enough time to complete everything, and working to accommodate those possibilities) and I can easily see how he wouldn’t be truly aware that this is really not working for the OP – there have been no consequences in the past so as they say, she’s “trained” him not to be on time and that it will be OK. I’m not blaming the OP at all, but because she feels bad, I think it’d be worth it explaining to him that it is actually so serious, that she is about to go to management.

  24. Kadee

    For all you know, perhaps escalating things will be helpful to your co-worker. It’s easy to see why you are concerned about how to approach it, but what if it’s a case where your co-worker has been telling his boss “I can’t do x, y, and z in this timeline without negative impact.” Only when he’s late, you scramble and do your best to make it work, negating the chance for your co-worker to be coached, guided, or developed in a way that would make him a more effective employee. It’s possible that it will be a painful experience for your co-worker, but given you state he’s a nice guy, I don’t assume malice on his part. There is something going on and pushing back may actually help him get that stuff addressed which will help him in the long run.

    Not that this has to be the goal here (it’s not your job to fix other people), sometimes the painful stuff is actually beneficial to growth, particularly in situations where the person is identified as someone “nice”.

  25. jules

    This is really useful! I’m running into a similar problem (well-liked colleague that never delivers on time and on brief), and this script will definitively help me with that conversation – I suck at confrontation!

  26. Katie

    I’m wondering how often the letter writer gets a status update from Cecil? She says she meets with him several weeks out to let him know it’s coming, but then what is the follow up on this? Should Cecil be able to manage his own schedule? Absolutely, and the issue should be addressed. At the same time, any time you are managing a project (which is essentially what this is) with multiple moving parts, checking in with the individuals you’re relying on to complete the project regularly is a good way to 1) communicate that your project is important, 2) remind other people they need to be working on your project, and 3) find out in advance if there truly are any unforeseen obstacles that might be hindering the process and work to help your coworkers clear them before you end up scrambling at the last minute to put together a subpar product. It doesn’t have to be an involved process. A 5-minute check-in every week or two (depending on your timeline) will suffice. It will likely help keep things moving, though, or shine a clearer light on the extent of Cecil’s laziness/disorganization/poor time management.

  27. LDG

    It’s possible that the guy might not be realizing it. Better to mention it ASAP because then when he his fired, he will complain that there was no warning.

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