commitmentWE GENERALLY STINK at making commitments.  OK, maybe you’re fantastic, but I know that I stumble with this all the time.

And I’m not talking about flaking out on your New Year’s Resolutions.   I’m referring to how we rely on others around us to create a successful business.

I’ve been in a class this week called The Foundations of Generative Leadership.  Don’t be thrown off if the phrase sounds a little weird or even New-Agey.  This stuff is incredibly practical.

So let me unpack this concept of “commitment” in the business context.

To make your business successful, you have to rely on your employees and partners.  They need to rely on you, as do your customers.

That’s based on significant trust.  If you’re trying to beat compliance into your employees, they’re not going to stick around for long.

But how do you grow trust?  We need it, but we tend to get really fuzzy about how it works.  So here’s the answer.

I trust you when you make a commitment, and fulfill that commitment to my satisfaction.  Over time, as you develop a track record.

But we are really, really vague about how commitments work.  Boss: “I need that TPS report by Friday.”  “Will do, chief!”

If you look at it, there’s a lot of potential sources for problems here.  There may be ambiguity about exactly what’s in that TPS report.  We may not know what time the report is to be delivered.  Or to whom.  The employee may not have the information needed for the report, or feel embarrassed about not knowing how to produce it.

And that, presumably, is a pretty clear case because this whole “TPS report” thing is standard and has been created before.  What happens when I ask an employee, “Could you give me your recommendation on which programs to cut?”

That’s a true recipe for disaster.  There’s a million ways that the employee could deliver the wrong thing, at the wrong time, and actually make my job harder.

It’s a lousy request, but one that the employee may not feel they have much choice to decline.  Or even question.

So here’s the way to make the request so that a commitment is meaningful in response.

  • We have to know who is making the request, and who is receiving it.  “Somebody should clean this mess up” does not direct it in a useful direction.
  • It must be clear what it’s going to take to satisfy the requester.  And, by the way, that person is making that commitment that they indeed will be satisfied when the other person completes their part to the stated level.
  • We need to have a particular timing set out.  Yes, this is one of the list of “satisfaction criteria” mentioned in the previous bullet.  But it’s such a common problem that we’ll call it out separately.
  • And we need a common background to work from.  You can’t ask me for a TPS report when I’ve never heard of it.  You can’t want me to recommend programs to cut when I don’t know what they are.

This might sound incredibly obvious.  But we blow it.  ALL.  THE.  TIME.

So when you’re making a request of an employee, if you want to set them up for success and trust them in the future, make sure that these four elements are clear.  You’ll probably have a conversation to ensure that you’re both on the same page, especially since what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to them.

And, by the way, this will help your employee to learn to trust you as well!