Friday, July 14, 2017

making and keeping promises

I recently read the text The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt, written in 1958.  This wonderful philosophical text reflects on vocation and the calling each person exemplifies in specific types of work.  For me, it has become one of the more significant texts I have read over time as it allows me to better understand why people behave and perform the way they do...and how the type of work in which they are involved shapes that behavior (or perhaps, that type of behavior shapes how they do their work).  As the author comes towards the end of the text, she notes that one of the hallmarks of "good work" among those whose calling has them in relationship with others is the ability to make and keep promises and, that without this standard among people, the work of the community will fall apart.

That may sound very mundane...or perhaps is one those "no-duh" ideas that I tend to write about from time to time.  Leaders are asked to make and keep promises all the time, and are watched very closely by the followers to see whether or not the leader will deliver on that promise (this is true for people in both official and unofficial leadership roles).  However, the same is true across the organization...EVERYONE has to be able to make and keep promises for the organization to function well and, when those promises are not kept, multiple consequences can follow.  This morning has me thinking about how leaders might react when promises are not kept and how one can create a culture where the norm becomes keeping promises.  Here are a few thoughts:
  • face-to-face interaction: when promises are not kept, leaders should go to that person and ask why they failed to deliver on the promise.  Understanding the reason behind the broken promise might reveal issues about the person and/or the organization
  • restate the promise made: reminding someone about the promise they made can be powerful for them and for their supervisor.  A re-setting of the understanding might lead to better results
  • clear expectations: in Chris McChesney's The Four Disciplines of Execution, the author teaches the mantra "from X to Y by when."  Setting very clear directives not only determines whether or not the goal is accomplished; it also sets up boundaries to help people keep their promises
  • take partial responsibility: if the expectations were not clear, or the requested promise sounded more like a suggestion rather than a hard deadline, then perhaps the broken promise is more of a result of the leader's actions
  • express disappointment: it is okay to be upset and express frustration when those with whom one works disappoints them.  Because relationships are important to people (and are the mechanisms by which work get accomplished), expressed disappointment may move one to keep their promises on a more regular and timely manner
  • determine consequences: when promises are consistently broken, the leader must determine a consequence for the person whose behavior is hurting the organization.  This is often difficult, especially when compensation is not directly tied to performance.  Consequences should be meaningful and be administered in a way that upholds the dignity of all involved
  • make the hard decision: a regular pattern of someone unable to keep their promises exposes a problem that is not only hurting the organization; there is something wrong with the individual and/or the role they are attempting to fill.  Making the hard decision to terminate someone is difficult for many leaders and/or their organizations....and it may be the best decision they make for both the organization and the individual
Ms. Arendt notes that for communities and organizations to make and keep promises among each other, the leader of that community or organization must be able to make and keep promises to herself or himself.  Take a quick inventory today to see how you are doing at that aspect of your life...and consider how that might be impacting the work of those around you.

1 comment:

Jim Blanchard said...

This is the basis of most character TRUST. IF one does not keep promises, trust goes and a team becomes a working group, not a team. A key message is the CLARITY with which the promise is understood. People who have a less assertive communication style, often appear to be suggesting when they are really telling. Restating the promise, or writing it down as an expected outcome is a great suggestion.