Doing Business With Americans: Time consciousness

If You Want To Do Business With Americans, Pay Attention To The Clock And The Calendar
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

If you come from a society that’s nonchalant about deadlines and appointments, you will need to leave that kind of baggage at home.  There is no time zone in American business called “Island time.”  If you waste other people’s time and miss deadlines, Americans may tolerate you, but they will look for alternatives.

In a TV interview I did with Stanley Marcus, the legendary retailer and long-time CEO of Neiman-Marcus. Marcus told me, “If someone wastes my time, I will find a way not to do business with him.”

Contracts, as you know, typically include deadlines with actionable penalties. If you bid on a contract, there generally will be a very real cut-off date and time. If your proposal comes in after the deadline, your organization might have been an early favorite, but you will probably be out of luck.

Here are questions that you can ask:
“What time frame are we talking about?”
“We intend to meet your expectations, but there is always the possibility of an accident, an act of God, something unforeseen; so is there a penalty in the contract for missing the due date?”
“Would you consider writing in a bonus if we come in ahead of schedule? That would be a win for everybody.”

Time consciousness is particularly important in sales. There is one rule that must not be violated. The seller never keeps the buyer waiting. The buyer may keep the seller waiting, and sometimes will, just to show who’s boss, but it is not an option for the seller.

Nowhere is timeliness more important than in accounts payable.  If your company gets a reputation for paying bills late, the credit agencies will find out. That will affect not just your reputation but the cost of borrowing money.

Some American companies make it a practice to pay bills as soon as they receive them instead of using the normal 25-30-day float.  Joe Rogers, CEO of the highly successful Waffle House chain has done it for years. Rogers explained to me that this gave his company special benefits with vendors, including service in emergencies. One Fortune 500 company that practices early-pay uses it to negotiate for special pricing.

Time-consciousness is important in American partly because it’s embedded in the national character, and reinforced by centuries of habit. Americans have understood for a long time that time is money.  Moreover, as the American economy has become more advanced and sophisticated, Americans have adopted an engineering cast of mind which recognizes that complementary activities must mesh and synchronize–whether it’s a sub-contractor building an office building or soldiers on maneuvers.

Most important, time-consciousness is at the heart of the American hurry-up approach to life in general.  Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s described it this way: “A man who has set his heart on nothing but the good things of this world is always in a hurry, for he has only a limited time in which to find them and get them. Remembrance of the shortness of life continually goads him on.”

–Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and consultant. His video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions all over the world. To learn more about his services, contact us at 404-256-5927 or [email protected] Learn more about Gene Griessman at and at

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Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His book “TheWords Lincoln Lived By” is in its 23rd printing and “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” is in its 43rd printing. His training video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions and annual meetings all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, call 404-435-2225. Learn more at Atlanta Speakers Bureau or at his website. His latest book “Lincoln and Obama” has just been released by Audible.
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