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No Fine for Coming Late to the Standup

I was asked the other day how to change a culture of showing up late for meetings.  It is very difficult to change that cultural norm.  I'm not sure how to change it but I know one standard technique that will not help.  Do not set up a system of fines for people that come late to your meetings.  It will not work.

A common "solution" is to fine people a dollar if they are late to a standard set meeting (like a Scrum Standup meeting).  The dollar amount will vary - but this is just negotiating on price, it doesn't have any bearing on the problem.

Reminds me of the old joke.

Man at bar:  "Will you sleep with me for a million dollars?"
Woman:  "Well, yes, for a million dollars."
Man:  "OK, how about for $50?"
Woman:  "No!  What do you think I am?"
Man:  "We've established that - now we're negotiating price."

The problem is the group norm of coming late to meetings is an accepted practice.  The solution to correct the practice is to stop accepting the behavior.  To point out that the group has decided to change it's norms and that the behavior is no longer acceptable.

I've had no problem starting meetings on time in companies with this typical group norm.  The secret is to not give in the first time, or the second time.  Start the meeting and let the late comers know they are late by not stopping to allow them to interrupt the meeting on their schedule.  Take control, keep control, keep the meeting on topic and on the agenda.  Then perhaps, politely tell the person how they can catch themselves up to the group.

Dan Pink gives the experimental evidence of why punishment will not work in these situations in his book Drive on page 52.  In brief the story is of a child care facility that was a study case in 2000 for two economists in Israel.   Studying the before and after behavior for 20 weeks of parents picking up children late after the center closed.  The event being studied was the posting of a sign announcing a fine for coming late.  The results of applying a fine to the parents for picking up children late:  more tardiness!  "The rate finally settled, at a level that was higher, and almost twice as large as the initial one."

Do not trade the moral obligation to be prompt for a meeting, for a transactional (I can buy my tardiness) no obligation except to pay a small fee.

Now perhaps if the fee were very high and enforcible by law....  No probably not - we all speed in our cars - don't we.

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