As the person doing the task:
The best approach is a sincere face to face conversation or a phone call. As a last option you can use email but don't use it as your go-to option just because it feels more comfortable for you. Email can be difficult to express emotion and it is easy to be misinterpreted in stressful situations. Whilst you might think you're going to get a horrible response, most people will be accepting of mistakes when handled in a responsible way.
Your conversation with the task owner should include the following key points:
- Take responsibility by apologising and stating your recognition of the impact you will have on the task owner
- Raise the issue as soon as you know the task is or might be late
- Talk about the steps that led up to things going wrong and what you can do differently next time
- Offer up suggestions of how you might be able to get things back on track or rectified
As a leader:
Whilst it can be frustrating when deadlines are not met and the natural reaction is to immediately think of the impact it means for you, try to diffuse those natural feelings by thanking your teammate for bringing it to your attention. This gives you a moment to collect your thoughts and it also creates a safe foundation for a productive conversation.
Quickly move on to discuss pro-active ways to get the task or project back on track such as:
- Removing lower priority tasks from the workload
- Bringing extra help to task at hand
- Extending the completion deadline
This style of conversation carries a much stronger underlying message than the actual topic of the task. It sends a message you are there to support and develop your team through the difficult situations where you could have easily taken an opportunity to cut them down. This fosters a deep level of respect and a desire to avoid the same issue in the future.
Naturally it's a different, performance based conversation if tasks are habitually delivered late with a repetition of similar issues.
Please add thoughts below to create collective advice for others or to make it more relevant for specific situations you may have experienced - thank you :-)