“We promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears.” ~Francois duc de la Rochefoucauld
We are quickly approaching that time of year where we make resolutions about the year to come. A resolution is essentially a promise we make to ourselves. How easy is it to make such promises? Far too easy. We make promises continually to ourselves and others. Sometimes they take the form of solemn oaths (“I do”) and other times they take the form of appointments and deliverables. We easily assure our business partners we will “be right back with you” and then let far too much time slip away. Suddenly our promise has gone stale and we are working not to hit our deadline, but to not be terribly late in our performance. While we are sharpening our tool set during our travel hiatus, let’s think a bit about promises.
We sometimes tell ourselves we work best under pressure. The truth is, however, we don’t. We may work most often under pressure but our work product suffers as a result. The planning isn’t there, the necessary degree of proofing and testing isn’t there, and, worse of all, we damage our integrity with our partners when we fail to deliver on our promises.
Clients depend on you. They turn over thousands of their hard-earned dollars and put their vacation plans in your hands. That is a remarkable act of faith in a society with a large segment of the population convinced that anyone with a keyboard and a monitor is a travel agent. When you promise to have their travel itinerary to them on Monday, much is lost when you miss the deadline. When you promise to be at their office at 10:00 and you show at 10:15, the perceivable damage may be small, but it’s a dent in your relationship. Over time, the damage is cumulative, the relationship bent out of repair.
The Greek playwright Aeschylus said, “It’s not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man who makes us believe the oath.” It’s all about integrity. On occasion, however, all of us over-promise and under-deliver. But there are a few things we can do to regain the confidence of our clients and business partners when we fail to deliver.
- Only make promises you can keep – If you have any hesitation about the promise you are about to make, stop for a moment and recalibrate your thinking.
- Cover possible obstacles – Explain any possible problems you can foresee in keeping the promise and cover them up-front with the client. Build in a margin for yourself.
- Be clear – Half of the promises broken were never meant to be made! Be deliberate in the way you speak. Clarify what you are promising. If you are not making a promise, then make it clear you are not promising.
- Give it a priority – Once you have made a promise, give it a priority. Watch yourself for any tendency to sabotage your integrity by putting off your performance. Calendar the promise, track your progress, deliver on time.
- Make good – If you see your promise going off track – get in touch with your client at once. Tell them you are running behind, tell them why and re-connect with the promise in a form you can keep. You have only very few credits to spend here, so do so wisely.
Interestingly, I am writing this article during a period where I have missed quite a few deadlines. I have some broken promises on my desk. Time to repair a few things.
Many of the aphorisms we learn early in life are about promises. Both our social and our business life are built on promises, our own and those of others. Your clients have a right to believe you when you make a promise. Do so carefully, keep the ones you make, and make good on the ones you miss.