Learning & Development

Employee Training: Providing Clarity on Deadlines

The topic of this post may seem so fundamental and obvious that it needs no explanation. But unfortunately, for many organizations, communication is often sorely lacking, including communication on something as seemingly basic as deadlines.


Here, we take a look at why even when projects don’t necessarily have hard, intrinsic deadlines, establishing them for an employee or a team tasked with the work can still have value.

Avoid Miscommunication

One of the reasons managers often fail to set a clear deadline is simply because the deadline seems obvious. They may think, “That type of task should take about a week to complete,” or, “This is usually needed within a business day.”

But this kind of thinking assumes everyone—including those assigning and being assigned the tasks—has the same understanding of those inherent timelines. Verbalizing these expectations and making them explicit can avoid any misunderstanding.

Avoid Surprises

Unspoken deadlines run the very serious risk of not being met, leading to disruption. Imagine a manager who tasks a team member with putting together a research report that represents roughly 2 full days of work.

If the manager checks with the team member the day that report is needed and the team member assumed he or she had another 2 or 3 weeks to complete the work, there’s simply not enough time to get the work done.

Tasks Without Deadlines Often Don’t Get Done

Even if there is no hard deadline for a project, it makes sense to create one simply to ensure the work remains a priority and actually gets done. Staff are busy. If they have multiple competing priorities, they’ll often focus on the one with the most imminent—or explicit—deadline. In this case, the task without the deadline will almost always get pushed back.

Similarly, with no deadline, there’s a tendency for employees to try to make the final deliverable perfect. But in business, when time is money, good enough is often better than perfect. Unnecessary business costs might be incurred when employees spend extra effort to polish a deliverable that’s already sufficient to achieve its objective.

Certain tasks emerge from time to time that are important but not time-sensitive. Others are both important and time-sensitive, but staff may be on different pages about just how time-sensitive.

In either situation, and in general, setting deadlines is a simple but key element of assigning tasks that often gets overlooked.