Does our own time window make us less productive?


Our on time windowSome fascinating new research reveals that part of what determines our propensity to be on time is an unconscious frame called an On Time Window (OTW.).

Here is the article I wrote for the Gleaner on this topic and how it applies to us here in the Caribbean.

Does our on time window make us less productive?

Why does a Jamaican employee struggle with being on time? Is “laziness” the right answer? Or is it due to something else we can actually transform?

In a Gleaner column on May 25, 2013, I made the point that people who live next door are often the last to arrive at work in the morning. I suggested why this is true: as it turns out, I was a bit wrong.

I stand corrected by an article in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. Apparently, all adult human beings operate with an invisible “On Time Window” (OTW). To explain, let’s imagine that you have an event at 1:00 PM. What’s the earliest and latest you can arrive without causing a fuss? The answer, consisting of two separate times, defines your OTW.

According to Dr. Lawrence White from Beloit College and his team, your OTW is influenced by three factors.

Factor 1 – Social vs. Business Events

Once when I lived in New Jersey, I invited some colleagues from the office to a BBQ, telling them that it started at 2:00 PM. When my doorbell rang at 1:55 PM I was shocked (and unbathed). Clearly, their OTW for a casual party was different than mine, and more like the OTW we shared at work.

White’s research shows, in general, that we have different OTW’s for work and leisure. For example, in American, Estonian and Moroccan cultures, it’s OK to arrive 40 minutes late for lunch with a friend, but only 12 minutes late for a business meeting. Problems occur when people aren’t aware of the difference.

Factor 2 – Cultural Differences

People often remark that Jamaicans who migrate to the US learn to be on-time in a hurry… or else. Based on the study, it’s clear that they are adopting the OTW of a different culture.

Furthermore, they are often learning to be more precise. A book by Robert Levine entitled “A Geography of Time” is sub-titled “How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently.” It shows that Americans keep track of time in 5-minute increments. However, Arabs tracks time in 15-minute increments. For example, Americans are more likely to say they are running 5 to 10 minutes late while an Arab might report they are a quarter to half-hour late.

Lawrence wonders out aloud: Is lateness measured by psychological units, rather than by the clock? In other words, is an American who is late by 10 minutes psychologically equivalent to an Arab who is late by half an hour? After all, each is late by exactly two units.

What does that say about Jamaicans? In my mind, a BBQ that is slated to start at 2:00 PM (even if it’s in the USA) indicates that no-one should even think of arriving before 2:30 PM. Does this mean that in our culture we think in 30-minute increments? Is a business meeting in Kingston that starts an hour late the equivalent of starting a New York meeting ten minutes late? Do we automatically give each other half-hour blighs? I don’t have exact answers, but my anecdotal experience tells me that this might be so.

Factor 3 – Status

Disturbingly, a different 1980 study asked professors and students how long they would wait for a student or professor who was late for an appointment. All 248 respondents were clear: they would wait longer for the higher-status professor.

White and his colleagues conducted more detailed experiments showing that a person of higher status was allowed, on average, to be 14 minutes late. Others were permitted to be late by only 10.7 minutes. This finding was true across all three cultures mentioned earlier.

Former President Bill Clinton was famous for running late, but this finding may show why it amounted to little more than an afterthought. His status as leader of the free world allowed him an out-sized measure of automatic forgiveness.

Why is this disturbing? I have worked with a number of CEO’s who fail to realize the impact their lateness has on others. They don’t see that their workers watch them for clues to their success. It’s therefore not hard for a single, habitually late leader to create a legion of followers who aspire to the kind of casual lateness that provokes no complaints.

A casual relationship to lateness has consequences, however. A company which announces an 8:30 AM opening time but takes no issue with employees sauntering in at 8:35, insults the customer. In fact, it’s common for those who arrive just a bit earlier than the advertised opening time to see the place locked up, showing “no sign of life” whatsoever.

In my prior article, I argued that arriving at work on time is a skill that must be taught. Now, these studies show that
an employee’s OTW is a powerful influence. Companies can help employees at every level see that their OTW’s must be re-shaped if the company is to thrive.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary of each of his past articles, send email to

To read the original article online, click here –


The Problem with Values


convert corporate valuesI have worked with many companies whose value statements all look alike, and do little to guide people’s actions.

Here’s a column I wrote that describes one way to ensure that the effort to define values isn’t wasted.

Converting Abstract Corporate Values into Profitable Action

You are sitting in your CEO’s office and she wants to know why the list of company values isn’t working. After all, she complains, “We spent two days at last year’s retreat coming up with it. Everyone was involved, so buy-in was never an issue. Why then has nothing changed?”

As a manager or executive, you are caught off-guard. You see the values plastered on walls all around the office. Each person carries a little laminated card in his/her purse or wallet. Why are they not working?

What you may fail to realize is that engaging employees is only a small (but necessary) start. To go further, you need to shed a particular mental model that is limiting your company’s success.

It all starts with a mistaken assumption. In companies, people assume that when it comes to understanding corporate values, everyone is on the same page.

The facts say otherwise. When leaders speak about values they often use them as “valence issues”: non-controversial topics that cannot be argued with, such as “Integrity” and “Respect.” They are a favorite tool of politicians who rely on the technique to get all heads nodding: even those of their opponents.

However, a deeper dive reveals the truth. Executives have a habit of turning values into valence issues, causing them to fall flat.

The best way to convert abstract values into profitable action is to translate them into norms – a step most companies don’t take. For example, one employee may interpret the value “We Put People First” as a suggestion to say “Hello” to each person they pass every morning. Another might see the act of greeting people they don’t know (or like) as one of insincerity and disrespect.

In other words, both employees might believe that they are being true to the value, while acting in opposing ways.

The chances are high that in your company, the values that you promote so stridently are causing opposite effects. They end up creating discord, burning up energy and wasting motion that distracts from the bottom line. What can your executives do to make sure that your investment in the retreat isn’t frittered away?

1. Learn the Video-Tape Test
To solve the problem of poor coordination, focus on defining behaviours that can only be observed with the naked eye, and be recorded on video. That is, they need to be the kind of actions anyone can see. For example, the act of “prioritizing” fails the test. By contrast, “writing up a prioritized list of potential tasks” passes. When this distinction is clear, new behaviours become easy to learn and understand because they can be passed on by the average worker.

2. De-construct Values into Behaviours
With the video-tape test in mind, you can break down any corporate value into its component behaviours. Just set up an executive brainstorming session, explain the distinction, and ask for examples of behaviours. Keep going until you have a list that meets the criteria.

As you take this step, go for extra credit: craft new behaviours that represent an evolution of your company culture. Start with what people do today, and then improve it by several steps. Also, don’t be generic… instead, look for fresh language that shouts: “Here is something you don’t already know.” This helps you avoid valence issues.

3. Convert Each Behaviour into a Performance Matrix
It’s tempting (and a mistake) to believe that someone is either demonstrating a particular behaviour in full, or not at all. A better alternative is to think in terms of a continuum of performance ranging from “novice” to “expert”.

For example, if the chosen behaviour happens to be “Greet colleagues each morning,” a novice, who is new to the company, might struggle to remember to enact the practice. However, an “expert” who has been around for some time would already have converted the behaviour into an automatic habit that never fails.

With such a matrix of behaviours, it’s much easier to evaluate oneself, a boss, direct reports and one’s peers. Now, you have an objective baseline that serves as a starting point. Build on it by creating a personal improvement plan that helps guide you through simple new practices, a few at a time. Ensure that you aren’t trying to change too many things at the same time, and build a support system just in case your willpower flags.

Before long, the entire organization will be moving in the direction of the retreat’s values because there will be an alignment of key behaviours. Your company will be far more likely to see an all-important impact on the bottom-line.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary of each of his past articles, send email to