How keeping your promises will help you get things done

Sam did not know people thought he was slippery. He often promised his clients what they wanted to hear, but later let them down when he missed deadlines. He tried his best to keep his promises, but higher priority work came from another client, or a project went off the rails and interrupted his schedule. What else could he do in those circumstances, he asked himself. He did his best and assumed everyone understood his world. It mystified him when his clients gave him the feedback about being hard to pin down. Sam’s group developed the core technology the business offered. If he did not deliver, the business felt the impact in the marketplace of not meeting their forecasts. The CEO’s patience was wearing thin with him. It shocked Sam that he faced getting the bullet if nothing changed.

It tempted him to go into denial mode, pointing out how much work he carried on his plate. But he took on the challenge of turning himself into the leader he always wanted to be. He committed to turn around his clients’ perceptions, which translated to delivering on his promises. He abandoned promising everyone what they wanted, as though he faced a popularity contest. Now, when a client proposed an impossible deadline, Sam made a counteroffer to deliver it on a date that considered his team’s workload. His clients took a while to get used to his fresh approach, but they soon respected him for delivering on his firm promises.

Sam also needed to train his team into meeting their commitments. No surprise they were drinking his Kool-Aid. But from that point forward, every email, stand up meeting or video conference on their work program concluded with a list of actions and dates to complete them. Sam and his team turned around their clients’ perceptions into a group they counted on to keep their promises. The CEO found a new confidence in providing updates to his board and investors because they delivered on their market forecasts.

Research published by Donald Sull and Charles Spinosa in the HBR article, Promise-Based Management: The Essence of Execution, supports Sam’s experience about the impact of keeping his promises.

The authors found work stalls in organisations when people fail to make or deliver on promises. They say, “Most of the vexing challenges leaders face—improperly executed strategy, lack of organizational agility, disengaged employees, and so on—stem from broken or poorly crafted commitments. Executives can overcome some of their thorniest problems in the short term and foster productive, reliable workforces for the long term by practicing what we call “promise-based management”: cultivating and coordinating commitments in a systematic way.”

🙋‍♀️ What is your experience of ‘promise-based management’? 🙋‍♂️

Best regards, Brian