Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

Understanding Commitments

04 Feb 2013

The concept of taking commitments seriously is a great way to accelerate the pace of business.  Planning and executing all aspects of our deliverables with detailed commitments focuses and reinforces our bias to action in decision making and achieves results.

At its heart, it is as simple as “Say what you’ll do, then do what you said you’ll do” – but there are a few rules we can add around this concept to make it much more usable in everyday situations.

Commitments are not meant to help us find a blame point – done right, they unite teams around common goals, and mutual support.

To help you to understand commitments at a deeper level, I’ve broken the concept up into five different elements, namely:

  1. Defining a commitment
  2. Your responsibilities if you request or accept a commitment
  3. Renegotiating a request
  4. Refusing a commitment
  5. Handling a broken commitment

1. Defining a commitment:

A commitment is not something to take lightly. It doesn’t map to “I’ll do my best”. It maps, rather, to “I will do this”. To ensure you can fulfill your commitment, though, there are some things to keep in mind.

  • Ensure the “Measures Of Success” are clear – Details, Date, & Quality
  • Details: Has the goal been clearly communicated to you?
    • Be explicit about what the deliverable is and how you will deliver on the commitment
    • Be explicit about the due date, down to the hour if necessary and appropriate (especially the difference between “end of day” and “end of normal work day”)
    • Work to avoid implicit commitments, make them explicitly specific and detailed instead
    • Date: Has a due date been set?
      • If the date was given:
        • Consider other commitments you have already made, and determine if you can meet the requested date and still meet the other commitments you have made
        • If you cannot meet both commitments, try to to re-negotiate the request being made of you
  • If a due date wasn’t specified, and you are receiving the request, suggest and commit to a date that you feel is reasonable for both parties
  • Quality:
    • Are you clear on the level of quality you need to deliver?
      • If data is being sought, is a WAG sufficient? Or auditable results? Or somewhere in between?
      • What is the presentation quality that is required? Bullet point notes, an Excel spreadsheet, Powerpoint slides, Powerpoint slides suitable for presenting to the Board of Directors?

2a. Your responsibilities if you request or accept a commitment:

  • Turn implied commitments into explicit ones (if no date is specified, set one; ask questions about the formatting of the output!)
  • Remember that a commitment cannot be forced, it has to be accepted.
  • An open discussion inclusive of non-work conflicts can / should be part of the negotiation process
    • However, to build a long-lasting relationship, neither work nor home can always “win”
    • Ensure both parties are aware of the impact of the request being accepted (“If I do <Item 2>  for you, I won’t be able to do <Item 1>  for <Person> as currently committed”).
    • Help keep awareness of a commitment alive (by asking / giving interim status reports, reminders, etc).
    • Completed requests deserve acknowledgement (“The report is available on the network, as requested”, or “Fred, thanks, I pulled down the report from the network. Thanks for making it happen!”)

2b. Your responsibilities if you accept a commitment

  • Do not accept a request until you have given it sufficient thought; consider all of your current commitments and discuss conflicting priorities with your manager as needed
  • If you cannot do that live, make a commitment about when you can accept or refuse the commitment; if possible, provide the reason why you need the time. (“I’ll get back to you before 5pm tomorrow as to whether or not we can meet your timelines; I don’t know the area, and I need to check with <Joe / Sue> to understand how it will impact other commitments we’ve already made”).

2c. If you request a commitment of someone else

  • Help other people help you! Put reminders and status checks in your own calendar to help make them successful (“Remind <Joe / Sue> that I need the reports in 2 days – ask them if they are still on track to deliver.”)
  • Provide details, date and quality requested

3. Renegotiating a request:

  • Reminder: It is far better for both parties to accept a re-negotiated request before it is past due than be surprised by a broken commitment
  • Renegotiation can happen at any time, usually as a result of new information becoming available (especially as a result of other requests coming in that were of a higher priority)
  • 4. Refusing to make a commitment:

    • Request for commitments can and should be refused, if they will not be able to be met!
    • The intent is that we do not let others down by setting expectations that will not be met
    • However, it is important to note that the right to not take a commitment is not a “Get out of Jail Free” card
      • it is a recognition that reality is a factor in some instances
      • If on the receiving end of a refused commitment, keep in mind that the person refusing the request is helping you by letting you know now that they can’t be successful; finding that out on the day the request was to be delivered is far worse! In specific situations, it is better to agree to disagree.

    5a. Your responsibilities if a commitment is broken – no matter your role!

    • Acknowledge the broken commitment as soon as you are aware
    • Negotiate a new commitment that accommodates “current reality”
    • Examine the situation to see what you could have done differently that would have helped to prevent the commitment from being broken
      • set a reminder for yourself / set a reminder for the other party
      • having been more aware of a changing situation

    5b. Your responsibilities if you break a commitment

    • Accept responsibility, and inform all those to whom the commitment was made; if possible, also inform others who may have dependencies on your commitment.
    • “Own” the broken commitment (do not try to justify it, or make excuses).

    5c. Your responsibilities if someone breaks a commitment to you

    • When acknowledging the broken commitment, stick to facts (what was promised by when);
    • Stick to statements that bring value to the acknowledgement process and will help leading to the renegotiation process. In those situations less said often means more focus on what matters.
    • Keeping the focus on achieving the vision, the renegotiation process coming next.
    • Avoid judgements of the other party’s ability or intent; judgements are seldom accurate, and usually more negative than reality.

    Closing Thoughts:

    The focus for the discussion above is around individual commitments – but the same concept applies for team-to-team commitments, and commitments from our department as a whole to the rest of the company!

    From time to time, your leaders at all levels will take commitments on behalf of the team, using the best information they can gather to make the decision to commit – then we may all be called upon to help meet those commitments, or suggest as early as possible that a renegotiation needs to occur.

    I believe commitments will help us balance “Bias to Action” with “Quality” (of decision), and help make it easier for us to deliver a World Class Customer Experience. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!


    The original basis for these thoughts was relayed to me at Corel by a group called “Legacy Transformational Consultants”, but discussed as “making requests” or “making promises” – but I have always felt the language they used stood in the way of adoption in general business situations.  However, credit goes to them or wherever they got their inspiration – I’ll take blame for anything that doesn’t work with this!

    Klout & Narcissus…

    12 Jun 2012
    A friend recently signed up for Klout, and when he did so, I tagged him as an “Influencer” on the iPhone, and on Design, and I let him know I’d done so.
    It prompted this reply from him: “Thanks Graham!  Yeah, I registered, but haven’t really played with it much.  Is it worth investigating?”
    My view in a nutshell is “Yes, but for the right reasons” – here’s the reply I sent him:
    Yes, definitely – but not for the sake of being registered on the site.
    There are reports of some corp comm / social media job hires requiring a certain Klout score – and some circles are starting to look at Klout score as a gauge of “relevance”.
    Think of Klout as SEO for “individual branding”.  They view your importance based on how much your tweets / FB posts drive action.  You can drive your “Klout” up by a significant amount by posting “Tell me your funniest joke – I’m in a challenge with a friend”. However, the result is a bit like “gaming” Google SEO  – your ranking improves, but you aren’t necessarily any more popular.
    On Google, this can have a positive real-world impact – on Klout, it doesn’t, unless you are jockeying for a social media job!
    If you are trying to attract legit followers, it is probably a good tool to capture “what type of blog / FB / twitter action drove response”, and use it to tailor future content – but I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive the score for its own sake.  Doing that is likely to end up with you suffering the same fate Narcissus suffered…spending too much time looking in a mirror, admiring your own greatness!
    If you get too caught up in trying to drive the score, remember that Klout is one of the few venues in the world that considers Justin Bieber (who owns the benchmark Klout Score of a perfect 100) exponentially more powerful than the Prez of the U.S.A. (Klout Score 94).
    My view on Klout is like my view on life in general – do the right things, for the right reasons, and the rewards will follow. Life, and Klout score, eventually catch up with reality!