When I was nine, I asked my Dad if he would he play Monopoly with me when he came home from work. He promised he would and off he went to the office. Unfortunately he didn't come home (let's just say he was 'fond of the gargle'). It''s amazing how - 35 years later - that memory has stayed with me.
I don't think it's damaged me so irreparably that I have need of a psychiatrist's couch :-), but it's amazing how powerful a promise can be. Even with my own kids, as much as we're all begged to "please promise, pleasssssse", I really think about not agreeing to a promise unless I'm confident I can keep it (and no, I don't always get it right).
Keeping promises is central to building trust with teams.
I was talking to the lads about this very subject in the pub the other week and it got me thinking that that's no different in work - promises are made and broken all the time and no-one really gives it much thought.
But promises are powerful things. In fact trust and integrity, two of main foundations of creating engaging cultures and teams, are based on people - particularly leaders - keeping their promises.
Yes, we're expected to do more at work, with less, in a shorter time frame and deliver bigger results . And yes, people are busy and things get forgotten. You say you'll do something, life continues and things get forgotten about - it happens! I saw it nicely described summed up in an article recently as 'commitment drift' - we just get so busy that we start dropping balls and the more we drop the less of an impact we think it has.
What can leaders do to avoid commitment drift?
Make bigger commitments and fewer of them - Think about what you commit to, focus on a few big things, not lots of little things.
Keep a list - It sounds ridiculous but it's very simple - just keep a list of the things you've agreed to do and by when. It doesn't need to be elaborate - just a list in notes or Reminders on your phone.
Get support from others - Perhaps it isn't always about YOU committing to doing something. Think about those around you, your peers and members of your team - how can they help? Think about how, in asking them to help, does that drive the type of commitment and culture you want in your team.
Watch what you inherit - Often, as we move into new roles, we inherit the things that our predecessors had agreed to. Yes, they may be the right things. Or maybe they were the right things for them, and not you? Either way, you need to ensure that you're aware of those commitments so you can make an informed decision about what you will do and what you won't.
A promise is a promise.
In summary, be careful when promising. Even if you don’t use the word ‘promise’, a commitment is still a commitment and something you should do and follow up on. And if you can't deliver on that promise, ensuring you explain why, is critical - the worst thing you can do is nothing.
So ask yourself - are you the Dad (or colleague) who says he will and then doesn't? Or are you that other person, who does what he says he will every time?
And if you're the former, what will you commit to doing differently?
NOTE - For those who know me, I'm plainly not referring to my stepdad Mike in this story - he's ace! :-)