No Nagging Needed: How to Get Employees to Meet Deadlines


If your boss micromanages you, it feels awful. It instills a sense of powerlessness, cramps your productivity and squishes your creativity. This same feeling could be true for the employees you manage if you’re micromanaging them and unaware of it.

You need to manage your employees and make sure you, and they, meet deadlines. It helps them, you and your organization succeed. That’s a win-win-win situation.

The challenge is how to help them get assignments done well and on time without nagging. Here are some strategies to put you on the right path.

Set Clear Expectations

Take some advice from the old adage, “measure twice, cut once.” You’ll want everyone involved in a project or task to be clear about what’s needed before they venture off to do the work.

A 2015 Gallup poll showed that many employees in today’s workforce don’t know what’s expected of them. Let employees know what you’re asking of them and when it’s due. Make yourself available to discuss the assignment, keep an open-door policy and don’t hover.

If you make sure your employees are prepared ahead of time, and make it clear you’re there to support them if they need it, you’re less likely to end up with a delayed timeline, missed deadlines or a failed project because of a misunderstanding. If needed, arrange a weekly or bi-weekly 15-minute stand-up team session. Let everyone give a quick status update or ask any questions they need to review, and then let them get right back to it.

Clarify Employee Game Plans

After you’ve communicated the expectations, it’s important to know your employees are prepared to execute. Your team members will take more ownership of the task and the deadline if they have a voice in how they get to the finish line. Have your employee plan and explain their game plan to you.

If your employee can walk you through the steps to complete a task or project and the time associated with each step, you’ll be able to assess if the person has the right tools and skills to get the job done. If you need to support them or help fill gaps in some areas, you’ll know early on. There’s no time for surprise excuses once a deadline has been set. You and your employee must know what the plan is so you can know if you’re on track.

Have Conversations When Things Go Wrong

In addition to the deadline and the assignment, your conversation might include what success would look like as well as what failure would look like. Talk openly about what the benefits are to the individual, team and organization and how not completing the assignment well and on time could have negative impacts. If there are no consequences to missing deadlines, what’s the point of even having them?

If an employee does miss a deadline, that’s when the conversation part comes in. You probably don’t want to fire the employee, but the alternative of doing or saying nothing to address what happened isn’t the proper way to handle it either.

Ask questions and stay emotionally composed. Being angry, hostile or accusatory won’t help your cause — and that type of leadership approach will certainly demotivate your employee. Be human and sympathetic, especially if it was a personal issue that prevented your employee from doing their best. Once you review what happened, ask how they’ll move forward and prevent the same thing from happening again. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them achieve their goals.

Your employees will understand it’s not okay to drop a project, but you’ll also make it clear that you want to support them and set them up for success.

Celebrate Successes

Whether they are small wins or large accomplishments, recognizing the efforts and contributions of the people on your team will go a long way. Recognition is an effective way of motivating workers. Positive reinforcement increases morale, enthusiasm and engagement. Engaged employees are more likely to continue to meet and exceed expectations, including meeting their project deadlines.

If a team member is working on a complex project or one that will be completed over a lengthy period, pause to recognize milestones along the way. Don’t wait until the project is complete to acknowledge hard work. Employees who know what they’re doing right will be encouraged to continue down that path to achieve more success in the future.

Trust Your Employees

Finally, as you’ve taken the steps to set expectations, plan ahead and celebrate your employees, trust that you have competent, professional people around you who will not neglect their responsibilities. The most engaged employees are those whose leaders have confidence in them and trust that they can always be depended to deliver when called upon. Believe in the people your company has hired to be a part of the company’s success.

There are many actions managers can take to get the results they want without pestering their employees. Save yourself from reactively managing a series of excuses and missed deadlines. Be a valuable resource to your employees. Empower your employees to bring their A-game and set them up for success.