A friend recently asked me, “How do you deal with flaky people when you’re in start-up mode?”
My answer: Don’t.
When you’re just starting up a new business, the people you choose will be absolutely critical to your long-term success. These are the seed people, the grandparents of your business, the ones who will set the pace for generations to come.
A start-up requires an incredible amount of work. It’s not for the faint of heart. A flaky person is not someone with a strong heart—at least, not for your business. Why would you want someone who only cares half-heartedly about success?
There are exceptions, of course. Perhaps that person’s skills are extremely rare. Or that person is already loaded with prior commitments. What do you do then?
Then it becomes a matter of motivation and task management. I’ve already written about motivation. Here are some tips on managing the tasks of a flaky person.
(In this definition, a “flaky” person is one who is unreliable, may not complete tasks on time, and may even forget some of those tasks.)
- Be clear and direct about expectations. Put them in writing (an email is fine).
- Get that person’s buy-in on tasks. Have that person agree (verbally or in writing) to the tasks.
- Set clear timelines and deadlines. Make this schedule visible to the person.
- Communicate often, even to the point of over-communicating. Repeat the tasks and deadlines.
- Hold regular, predictable, and frequent checkpoints. The checkpoints can be short and succinct.
- Give feedback immediately to the person, especially if performance is an issue.
- Have a back-up plan for an alternate resource.
In my opinion, working with a flaky person in a new business is very, very risky. Personally, I wouldn’t do it. But if you have no choice, hopefully these guidelines can help. Good luck!