Is a $20 late fee too generous?

If you are late, do not arrive without a fresh $20 bill. 

Your Most Precious Asset? Is it your children? Your money? Your home? Your secret invention?

What about time? We all have limited amounts of time (at least in this lifetime!). The entire notion of work-life balance is really a question of time. It is called the TIME value of money for a reason.

Take the example of Jim Collins, author of well-known books such as Good to Great and Built to Last, who reportedly carries three stop watches in his pocket. By diligently timing his life, he is able to account for whether he is spending his time on 1) creative, 2) family, and 3) his hobbies. Quite clearly, Jim knows how he wants to spend his time, and makes sure where he puts his effort is aligned with his priorities.

In the finest tradition of R&D (rob and duplicate) I have adopted an idea from Time Leadership (a book by my friend Jim Estill) of doing a regular time audit. Essentially, it is a week-long exercise, much like a food diary where you track your activity in 15-minute increments.

What I have learnt from doing this exercise regularly is that I generally lack the ability to accurately estimate the amount of time I spend on activities. Not surprising, as my friends have nicknamed me ‘the ADHD Kid’. I bet I am not alone in lacking this skill.

So how do we set about placing a value on our time? If I ever choose to write a book, this could be an entire stand-alone chapter. In the absence of spending time on writing, I think a good start is ensuring that everyone understands that time is valuable - more valuable than whether a meeting is productive.

At Ronin8, in order to continually emphasize the importance of starting on time (such a time waster if not done correctly), we have some informal rules around our meetings. These informal rules apply to all meetings, whether in the form of conference calls, face-to-face management meetings, or lunch arrangements.

So how do we set about placing a value on our time? 

Rule #1 – If you are late, do not arrive without a fresh $20 bill. You are already late, so if you don't have a fresh $20 on hand, make sure you find an ATM so that you don't arrive expecting us to accept an IOU. When you arrive (after you have apologized), place your $20 penance on the table. At the end of the year, all the monies collected are applied to our favourite charity. Remember the mantra, If you are 5 minutes early, you are on time; if you are on time, you are late; and if you are late, you are unacceptable.

Rule #2 – Meetings always start at XX:57. For instance, our typical Monday morning planning session starts at 8:57am. This little trick keeps us focused on the fact that every minute counts. It also prevents the common internal heuristic ‘its only five minutes’ from rearing its ugly head.

Rule #3 – Being late means you are on the hook for a bottle of wine at our quarterly staff and family gatherings. Not only does this keep our gatherings fun, it also ensures that you can express your remorse in the quality of wine you bring!

The effect of these rules is incredibly positive. The joking, teasing and kidding that accompanies a late arrival is sufficient to almost eliminate tardiness. The cultural divide becomes clear for those who will thrive at Ronin8 and those who are not a good fit. Even our external partners and stakeholders are getting on board with the idea! In general, meetings have become much shorter and late-coming is almost non-existent.

Personally, I value my time at more than $20 per hour, and when there is a group meeting, I feel that it should be $20 for each person at the meeting - but I must say that I am secretly happy we all agreed on a flat $20 when I arrived last week, late to a team meeting and had to pull out my first $20 of the year and sheepishly apologize.

Article Written by Peter Holgate
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