If you are a reader of this blog, you know that we here at 4 Spires (www.4spires.com) are promoting a new way of managing workflow through the enhanced dialog between a requester and a performer that improves accountability by making and tracking explicit commitments. After a short period of reflection, most people inevitably come to the following question: Do I, or other people, really want to be held to our promises and/or commitments? So let’s address this concern head-on.
There are several levels of response. First of all, let’s grant that some people do and some do not want to be held to their promises (they also do not like or embrace stretch goals). If queried, however, many people would report that working hard to deliver on a commitment was one of their proudest accomplishments. There is no getting around the fact that making a promise to deliver creates a more compelling bond by the performer than most are used to. From early childhood, we are taught that promises are special. Nobody wants to make and then have to break a promise. The truth is that this level of commitment is quite rare in today’s work world. What is being advocated is uncomfortable because it is new and inserts an added “energy” into the conversation. It is this “energy” that makes the difference and improves the likelihood of an on-time delivery.
But this discussion is not only about keeping agreements. Sometimes there are very good reasons for not being able to keep agreements and these have nothing to do with the project or request itself. The key is that having made a clear up front agreement, the performer will be more forthcoming about having to change it should the need arise. This is so much different than the more common behavior we have all experienced where the performer provides a sort of “universal compliance” to all requests that are thrown at him, and then uses a form of “selective pocket veto” to drop some and deliver others.
Making explicit commitments and being “held” to them is new behavior for most of us. Any new behavior creates resistance, even if we agree with its value to stretch people and get more done. Moreover, whether anyone wants to be “held to my promise” actually has more to do with HOW the request is made versus WHAT the performer is being asked to complete and under what timetable.
Let’s extend the point and explore not just the mechanics of making and keeping promises, but also the sociological and interpersonal aspects.
There are always two people involved in a task related conversation – a requester and a performer. Requesters (think internal or external customers or managers) are interested in “extracting” promises from performers (think staff) they have requested a delivery from. So even if the performer does not want to be held to their promises or commitments, in a sense, the requester can force the issue. You could say the requester is enforcing a commitment to deliver, and one could reasonably expect some resistance, either overt or covert, from the performer.
While there are some managers who operate in a demand request mode, this is not the type of heavy-handed, top-down behavior that is being advocated here. On the contrary, this misses the point entirely. The point is to prompt a sincere, two-way dialog between the two parties during which an agreement is mutually forged. The requester grants the performer “room” to make counter-offers or even to decline a request. The dialog results in the performer willingly making an explicit promise they are fully committed to deliver.
Lastly, there is the issue of tracking, following-up and managing the outcome of the promise. Here again, the key is NOT about “holding people to their promises” or about following up with the question “did you do it?” but about changing the quality of the dialog between the two parties. Just because a performer has made a promise does not mean that the delivery will happen exactly as planned. Issues and problems still arise. BUT, having made an explicit promise in the first place, the performer will be more motivated to notify the requester and renegotiate the delivery.
The real goal is not to “HOLD performers to their promises”, but rather to raise the conversation to an explicit level.
The 4 Spires team believes that one of the most important systemic benefits of the Managed Commitment approach will be that performers will find and report concerns and breakdowns earlier when adjustments to plans and resolutions are easier to accommodate. Imagine for a moment how your projects would progress if the whole process of identifying and resolving breakdowns were accelerated.
Being “held to a promise” is not the point. The point is to be having the right conversation in the first place.