Why We Don’t Do What We Say We Will, And What To Do About It

PASS Senior Advisor Andrea Bednar is a consultant & Master Coach, who designs and delivers programs to executives which facilitate effective action through practice. As founder and CEO of PoP Associates, she’s at the forefront of developing and transforming individuals and teams to perform with optimum business impact. Hear her advice on how to keep promises and improve your follow through to manage expectations, and ultimately, work best as a team.

PASS Senior Advisor Andrea Bednar

Why don’t we do what we say we will? I’ll give you the answer right up front—because it’s hard and it’s not what we are used to doing. We could have a much longer conversation about integrity in general, but let’s keep this simple. While it’s true that many people do actually do what they say they will, why do so many of us renege so often? Breaking this into two categories, we see that there are the regular, usual things we say we will do and, secondly, the declarations we make.

The usual things we say we will do are generally fall into actions that others are accustomed to us doing:

  • Sure, I’ll get that monthly report to you by the 31st.
  • Yes, I’ll be here by 8 am tomorrow.
  • I’ll bring it up in our weekly meeting.
  • I can stay late to get that done.

The declarative kinds of speaking are unusual. These are the kinds of things that, when we say them, we may not know how to do exactly, or we may not have ever done before, or for which we aren’t always reliable to deliver:

  • I’ll bring this project in 10% under budget, on time, and safely.
  • All of my vacation time will be used (and used for vacationing) this year.
  • Within two years, 15% of my staff will have been promoted.
  • We will test and prove 5 new, viable product ideas by year end.

Most people don’t say unusual things intending not to do them—although this does happen and with some people it happens regularly, deliberately promising something with no intention to deliver is a different problem than what we’re addressing here—they intend, want, and believe they will do what they said.

Why don’t we deliver then? We don’t deliver because most of us do not think through and plan the strategy and actions needed to deliver what we said.

I’m not suggesting one should always think through strategy and action before committing. There are times when we are inspired and in our passion, we commit to something beyond our current knowledge or expertise. Committing in those circumstances are my favorite kinds of commitments—those passionate declarations that call for our creativity and innovation and our persistence to have our performance line up with our words. There is something magnetic and perhaps even noble in those kinds of commitments. Partnering with passionate clients working at delivering the unknown—that is where life gets transformed.

What frequently happens once you and your team make a declaration? Everything that could get in the way starts doing just that. All the obstacles start revealing themselves. Once the obstacles start to occur as intractable, we begin listing the reasons we aren’t going to be able to deliver what we said.

  • The Philippine peso dropped against the dollar, so it’s impossible to make our margins.
  • Our team got poached by the marketing department, so we don’t have enough staff.
  • The new CEO doesn’t want to hear what’s really going on.
  • Our budgets were cut.

And, this is the way it usually goes. Real obstacles get in the way and we begin to believe it’s over—even if we’re still pretending to the boss or client that we can get it done.

However, there is an antidote for not doing what you said you would. That antidote consists of four areas:

  1. Create a structure to support you/your team to deliver.
  2. Create a high-level strategy for what and how you will deliver.
  3. Create milestone deliverables against which to measure progress.
  4. Create actions and practices that are likely to produce the outcomes to which you’ve committed.

You’ll note that each of those steps have the word “create” in front of them. Here’s Google’s definition of create: bring (something) into existence. Synonyms: produce, generate, bring into being, make, fabricate, fashion, build, and construct. This means that these things don’t exist until you and your team bring them into being. With each unusual declaration—those commitments that you don’t already know how to do or what to do, but you’re inspired to go for them anyway, you and your team will need to generate a new pathway forward to have a chance at doing what you said you would do.

Before we start any of the steps, you must have the following in place and crystal clear:
Define very specifically what you said you would deliver, by when you will deliver and to whom you will deliver the result. This is critical. If you aren’t specific and you don’t have a firm delivery date, everything else you do will suffer from the same lack of clarity. Once this is clear and the team is aligned on the specific result and the date by when you have committed to deliver it, create a structure.

Create a Structure

Structures are the organizing components of how you’ll work together. Without a structure, you have people doing things, but cohesion is missing. This makes it hard to prototype and move forward from failure or to the next success. Without a structure, the odds are high that you’ll be unable to do what you said you would do.

There is always a structure to how we work and in the absence of designing a structure, a default structure will assert itself—this is the structure that is already there. Your default structure may be there because you’ve worked together before, or your group is always organized like that, or you’ve succeeded before using this structure—but it isn’t thought out for the new deliverable. The default structure hasn’t been examined for fit against this new unusual commitment.

The structure you create needs to answer the following questions:

  • Who’s accountable for the overall result in this endeavor?
  • What are the interim results that need to be produced? Who is accountable for each of those?
  • How will we work together? (Weekly status meetings? Quarterly presentations? Does everyone work out of a “war room”?)
  • Which status (or other) reports are important to us? How will those get delivered and when?
  • How are each of the team members held to account? Or, how do they demonstrate they are holding themselves to account?
  • What is our process for handling any unexpected problems or obstacles that show up?
  • Does this outcome need us to divide into any subgroups?
  • What regular practices are required for and from each team member so that they are supported in their accountabilities and able to execute with extraordinary quality?

To do what you said you would do requires being conscious of your commitments, thinking them through, being crystal clear about outcomes and creating structures to support fulfilling your promises. People who do what they say they will do these as regular practices.

Andrea Bednar is Founder & CEO of PoP Associates LLC. PoP stands for the Practice of Practicing and our passion is the expansion of Conscious Business Leadership. Practices are designed from that commitment.

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