Archive for February, 2011

When commitment isn’t enough…

24 Feb 2011

I just coached one of the managers under me through a situation where, despite the best of intentions, he & his team let another team down. There was a crisis going on, and the team neglected to let another team know an interim release of a product was delayed.

Not a usual occurence for the team, but the net result was the same – an upset customer. The promise by the manager was to “try harder” – but it was clear the team was already trying hard. The approach I suggested for him was introduced to me a group called “Legacy Transformational Consulting” – I’m not sure where it originated.  Legacy called it “Structure for Fulfillment”, but I’ve always found it a struggle to introduce the concept using their terms. I find it easier to talk to others about it in terms of “Systemizing our Commitment”. When we are truly committed to doing something, but we are still failing at it, we need to create a system that help us to meet our commitments.

Here’s a very simple example:  I need my phone for work every day. However, I used to find that every now and then, I’d end up leaving my phone at home. I’d feel bad (and somewhat stupid) on the days when I left my phone at home – until the day that I moved my phone charger from my home office to the font hallway – and I don’t  think I’ve forgotten the phone since I made that change. Low tech solution, but effective!

The problem the manager I mentioned earlier faced was that the team was very good about remembering to notify other teams about changes to the schedule, but they would forget about doing so in times of crisis. Unfortunately, this is the worst time to do so – it usually ended up making us look twice as bad in front of our customers. 

Here’s the list of suggestions I gave him – along with an invite to brainstorm with his team for other systems to support his commitments.

  • Low tech: Put up a whiteboard in a location near you / the team that can be used to track all the commitments to other teams. Make checking the board part of the daily routine.
  • Low tech: set up a buddy system so that two people are managing each task.
  • Keep the same sort of list, and make it a routine part of the team’s daily “sync up” meeting.
  • Keep the list in Sharepoint, and refer to it each day. Use a sharepoint task manager that marks overdue tasks in red.
  • Get an old PC, and put the display in a place near your team. Set it up so the list of deliverables refreshes automatically.
  • Ask the team to donate a dollar every time another team member catches them forgetting to update the list for more than 4 hours. At the end of the year (or quarter), donate the collected funds to a charity, or buy a treat for the team.
  • Make the “due date” for all tasks four hours earlier than they are actually due, so they become “critical” sooner

I’m sure when the team brainstorms, they’ll find 14 other ways of supporting their commitments that are better than any of the ways I’ve suggested – but the key is to create a system that works for the situation, and doesn’t get dropped when we get busy, or sick, or have a team member leave.

A couple of other thoughts:

  • If the commitment we are making is critical, as this one was, put in place not just a single system to help support us – put in several, parallel systems. Usually, with some creative thinking, you can find something that works without adding too much overhead.
  • Put in place a system that helps you to remember the technique.  For me, the biggest thing I do that helps me to use this technique is to tell others about it – and every now and then, I get a message saying “Hey, that really worked”.  It triggers me to go back and look at places where I’ve let people down, and put in place a system to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

If this works for you, let me know – and help me meet my commitments!