By Carole Wehn
You’re on the phone with a customer service representative, inquiring about a discrepancy on your bill. The rep tells you she needs to do further research and will call you with an update on Wednesday. But Wednesday comes and goes without a callback. Thursday passes. Friday. What is your impression of that service provider after this experience?
You may think, “Well, they’re probably busy, so the rep got distracted with other callers and forgot to follow through.” But most likely, you’re frustrated and unhappy with the service provider, and you’re thinking about taking your business elsewhere.
This simple example shows the ramifications of what happens when you make commitments and don’t honor them. How can you ensure your employees honor their commitments to customers and colleagues? The answer lies in your company culture.
What Is a Commitment?
A commitment is doing what you said you’d do when you said you would do it. It should indicate specific actions done at a particular time. Saying “I’ll look into it when I get a moment” is not a commitment. Conversely, “I’ll call you Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. to give you an update on your order status” constitutes a commitment.
Honoring vs. Fulfilling Commitments
It’s possible to honor commitments even when we can’t fulfill them. For example, suppose we see that we cannot satisfy an obligation as promised. In that case, we can still honor it by letting the other party know as soon as we realize that fulfillment of the original commitment is in jeopardy. Giving notice provides an opportunity for them to decide if the agreement needs to be modified or canceled or if a later due date will suffice.
Commitments Made to Yourself
You can make commitments to yourself as well as to others. It could be a pledge to hit the gym every morning. Or cut out that mid-afternoon cup of coffee. If you’re trying to get better about honoring commitments, start with keeping the promises you make to yourself. If you can honor those, it will be much easier to keep your word to others.
But start small. A minor change in your behavior can convince you that you are capable of making bigger changes. If you learn to achieve the pledges you make to yourself, you will improve your ability to honor the commitments you make to your friends, family, and business associates as well.
“As we make and keep commitments, even small commitments, we begin to establish an inner integrity that gives us the awareness of self-control and the courage and strength to accept more of the responsibility for our own lives. By making and keeping promises to ourselves and others, little by little, our honor becomes greater than our moods.”
Commitments Made to Others
Honoring less than 100% of the commitments you make to others is the same as honoring none of them since people won’t know whether they can rely on you or not.
“There’s a world of difference between usually honoring commitments and always honoring commitments.
If I usually honor my commitments, and I promise something to you by Tuesday, you don’t know for sure whether you can count on it being done. Is this one of the 80% of commitments that I meet, or is this one of the 20% where I fall short?
Only if I always honor my commitments can you truly rely on me.”
As with commitments made to yourself, start small. Being on time for appointments and phone calls is a small but meaningful way to show you keep your word and respect the other party’s time. If you are known for keeping your promises in this way, you will develop a reputation for trustworthiness.
Consider making some promises to others that you know will be easy to keep. For example, make an appointment to go to a customer’s office to discuss an issue in person. Be prompt and prepared.
Honoring commitments like this can be particularly helpful in relationships with a new customer or colleague to build a reputation that you are a person of your word.
Covey suggests the best way to build trust in a new relationship is to repeat this cycle: Make-Keep-Repeat until you have established a reputation as a person who keeps commitments.
Why We Don’t Fulfill Commitments
When we don’t meet our obligations, we tell ourselves and others that our word doesn’t mean much, and we can’t be trusted. Covey said, “If we can’t make and keep commitments to ourselves as well as to others, our commitments become meaningless.”
People almost always intend to meet their commitments. Sometimes we forget; we’re juggling many tasks, and something falls through the cracks. Some promises involve relying on a third party who may be unable to meet their obligations.
But sometimes we say “yes” too quickly and commit to things we never should have said we’d do in the first place. We might be afraid of letting someone down or fear conflict and repercussions over saying “no” to someone. We may be looking to be known as the superstar at work who can handle anything.
How can you get better at honoring commitments?
Businessman and television personality Marcus Lemonis offers five tips to help honor commitments:
- Confirm what the other person heard to ensure you’re on the same page. Get clear on expectations. Sometimes commitments aren’t fulfilled because one party expected something different to happen. Consider putting agreements in writing.
- Mark commitments on your calendar. Lemonis recommends writing down on paper the task and its due date since many experts agree that writing has more staying power than electronic methods. But use the calendaring system that works best for you. Visualizing your list of promises helps in assessing whether you can take on other commitments.
- Before you commit to anything, ask yourself if it aligns with your priorities. Learn to say no. If you say yes to everything, you will be unable to respond to the more important requests. Lemonis notes that if you make fewer, more meaningful promises, you’ll be more able to keep them.
Where possible, avoid responding to requests immediately. Instead, ask if you can consider the appeal and give an answer later after you’ve been able to think it through carefully.
- For a new role or task, find out what the commitments are before you agree to it. If you agree to serve on that task force, find out the expectations and deliverables before saying yes. Don’t be caught short by pre-existing commitments which you are unable to fulfill. Remember that your integrity and trustworthiness are at stake.
- Don’t make promises based on circumstances that are out of your control. This past year has been a great example of this. Who expected supply chains would get so backlogged? Many people have a story of purchasing exercise equipment or contracting for a home improvement project that fell short of delivery expectations due to COVID-related supply chain issues.
When third-party performance affects your ability to deliver on your word, closely monitor their progress. Again, your reputation is on the line if the commitment can’t be fulfilled. Remember that you can still honor the commitment if you keep everyone involved informed and negotiate revised terms if necessary.
Honoring Commitments Benefits Company Culture
In strong company cultures, employees know they can count on one another. Honoring even small commitments like returning a phone call when you said you would, being on time for meetings, or always filing expense reports on a timely basis helps build an atmosphere of trust. People want to work with others whom they know they can trust.
When the team can rely on one another for the little things, they know they can depend on them when problems arise.
Strong Culture Drives Strong Company Performance
This culture of supporting one another spills over into customer service. If fulfilling promises is your standard operating procedure for working with teammates, it will be the way you work with third parties as well.
Employees will make commitments to customers that they know they can keep. If it looks like they can’t fill a commitment, they will honor it by contacting the customer at the earliest possible moment to provide an update and make a new agreement if needed.
Customers will learn that your company will come through as promised and that communication will be open and timely about any problems that may affect the ability to deliver on promises. These satisfied customers translate to repeat business and referrals.
Likewise, commitments to vendors and partners will be honored. Employees will communicate with suppliers before committing to customers and avoid promising something they can’t deliver.
Honoring Commitments at CultureWise
At CultureWise, one of our company Fundamentals, the list of 30 behaviors that define our company culture, is Honor Commitments. We describe it this way:
Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. This includes being on time for all phone calls, appointments, and meetings. If a commitment can’t be fulfilled, notify others early and agree on a new deliverable to be honored.
In our company culture, it’s understood that sometimes we can’t fulfill commitments for various reasons. When that happens, we strive to honor them by letting the affected party know as soon as possible so that options can be discussed and agreed upon.
While every organization has a culture, it may not be one that the leadership has intentionally crafted and shaped to include things like honoring commitments. You don’t leave your company’s products and services to chance, and you shouldn’t let your culture just happen either.
The first step in creating your culture is to define the employee behaviors that make your company successful. Those behaviors then need to be taught and reinforced. As CultureWise CEO Friedman notes in his book Culture by Design,
“I often say that driving a culture throughout an organization is mostly a teaching function. It’s not simply posting the vision and mission. It’s about what you and your leadership team are teaching your people day after day after day.
And if you don’t know what you’re teaching, because you’ve never defined it clearly enough, you’re not likely to be able to do it very effectively and certainly not very consistently.”
The process of choosing behaviors and implementing culture is outlined in Culture by Design. A free 2-chapter download is currently available. You can also learn more about the CultureWise system by checking out our website.
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