In the previous post I talked about the first of my favorite three corporate values:
- Open and Honest Communication
- Making and Meeting Commitments
- Always Meeting or Exceeding the Customer’s Expectation for Quality
In this post I’d like to focus on the second value.
Making and Meeting Commitments
The behavioral pattern of making and then meeting commitments is the heart of a “social contract” essential to efficient, well-run companies. It is the pattern that enables effective delegation. More importantly it is a pattern of behavior that promotes trust among coworkers, customers, vendors, shareholders and other stakeholders.
Doing What You Say You’re Going to Do
This could almost be a restatement of the value but for the fact that it misses the exhortation to make commitments. Even so, it’s a useful way to think about this value. When you make and keep a commitment, you are making and keeping a promise.
How do you feel about people in your organization who always do what they say they are going to do? You trust them! And trust has many benefits:
- Camaraderie is built on trust.
- You can make plans based on trust.
- You have higher confidence in schedules when you trust the people behind those schedules.
- You have higher confidence in quality when you trust the people doing the work.
- You spend less time (or no time) “babysitting” the people you trust.
Learning to Make Wise Commitments
It would be easy, but not wise, to gloss over the making part of this value. It serves no purpose to make commitments that are unrealistic or beyond one’s ability to execute. Many employees (managers and non-managers alike) are not good at estimating the difficulty of a given task, the time it will take to accomplish the task and the schedule impact of other tasks running in parallel. And, we all know people who simply aren’t good at “pushing back” or saying “no”. Yet, pushing back and saying “no” are essential to the responsible “making” of commitments.
Recognizing these limitations, we should accept that making an effective commitment should be a two-way dialog. And let’s be clear: many people make commitments outside the simple manager-employee relationship. Companies make commitments to customers. Peers make commitments to each other. Family members make commitments to one-another.
So, it would be wiser to think of making commitments as a kind of two-way negotiation between the person making the commitment and the person for whom the commitment is being made. Rely on “open and honest communication” to talk through each prospective commitment before it is made. This extra, up-front communication will almost certainly help to reveal essential requirements and complications…leading to a more nuanced understanding and a higher-quality “commit”.
What Happens When You Can’t Keep a Commitment?
First of all, in a corporate culture that values making and meeting commitments, an individual isn’t going to allow a commitment to slip lightly. You made the commitment and there are consequences for failure. So, you are going to put in extra time or try to find other resources in an effort to recover. Even with those efforts, there are going to be times when commitments are going to be broken. So, what do you do?
This is a situation where my favorite corporate values work together. In the post on open and honest communication we saw the answer: speak up as soon as possible. If you have made a commitment, there are likely other employees, customers or vendors who are relying on that commitment. Your failure to keep the commitment may in turn cause them to fail to keep their commitments. You have an obligation in a value-driven culture to give others as much time as possible to adapt to the broken commitment.
While it’s never great to break commitments, the prompt, clear and transparent acknowledgment of the problem will generally go a long way towards minimizing the overall impact and will itself help to build trust.
In the next post we’ll talk about the final “top-3” value: meeting or exceeding customer expectations for quality.