‘They’ may be lurking at your institution

Christy Baker

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. “Why won’t they just finish the project?” 

I am sure “they,” those awful nameless faceless creatures, are lurking at your institution as well. How do we flush them out? How did they infiltrate our institution in the first place? 

First, let’s find out who in the world “they” are. I am going to go out on a limb here and assume “they” are humans.

Consider Tracy, who is working on a project and gets to the point where she is waiting on one department (we’ll pick on IT) to load new software. If she is getting frustrated with IT, Tracy may come to you with, “Why won’t they just do what I ask them to do? It’s not rocket science!” 

Your first goal should be to get past “they,” to “who?” The intent in asking “who” is not to point fingers but to ensure you are able to effectively assess the situation. Once you know who “they” are, drill down to the human level so Tracy understands you are discussing people and not faceless groups.

The follow up question might be: “Did you provide IT with a timeline of when you needed that software loaded and did Joe (our theoretical IT expert) acknowledge that timeline was attainable?”

If Tracy says she didn’t share her expected timeline, or she did but was “expecting completion sooner,” it sounds like she needs to take ownership. 

What happens when you receive a request from someone without a deadline? Right to the bottom of the pile. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. 

Let’s say Joe didn’t receive a deadline from Tracy and they never communicated about the project. Poor Joe is sitting in his office with a note to Load Tracy’s Software scratched on his handy little notepad; he’s completely oblivious to her frustration.

Maybe Tracy gave Joe one week to load the software because she had other projects in the hopper and wasn’t going to need it right away. But then her priorities changed and she wants to work on her project two days before the deadline she provided to Joe. She logs in assuming Joe, who is normally all over these types of projects, has finished the job. But he hasn’t and now she is frustrated. 

Does she have a right to be frustrated? Is it reasonable to expect Joe has read Tracy’s mind and loaded the software a full two days before it was due? Probably not.

But that might not keep Tracy from talking about IT with everyone she crosses paths with, dropping seeds of discontent wherever she goes: “Well, they dropped the ball again,” or “What do they do down there all day?” 

What happens if instead Tracy communicates her requested deadline to Joe and he acknowledges her needs? Maybe she even gives him a few extra days because she knows how busy Joe has been. When we provide clear expectations and receive acknowledgement from the person we are asking to help that our expectations are reasonable, we proceed with the belief that our project will be handled. 

That doesn’t mean every deadline will be achieved. But, if Tracy is the right person for her role, she may go to Joe’s cubicle and simply talk to him about the missed deadline and how it is impacting her ability to move forward with the project.

To prevent pronoun dropping and finger pointing, a best practice is to provide reasonable timelines up front. Do not expect the deliverable before the requested deadline but do follow up after the deadline. The real magic happens when teams deal with each other on a human level. There is no “they,” only we!


Christy Baker is chief operations officer with TS Banking Group, Treynor, Iowa. She can be reached at [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TS Banking Group.