Every day, as a leader, you are involved in communications and processes with various clients, employees or community members that are all trying to get your attention. The pace is always hectic, with everyone in the community involved in doing what they do best – providing or soliciting high-quality delivery of the services you provide.
Your pace, as the leader, is hectic as well, trying to ensure that all requests by your ‘clients’ are being met with excellent results in a timely fashion, while also attempting to ensure that all of your people are fully engaged in tasks that meet or stretch their capabilities without being overwhelmed.
Whew! That is heavy duty! Now, here is a story that often occurs in business:
You try to stay on top of things by surveying your ‘clients’ to identify what’s likely to be coming so that you can plan accordingly and identify who will be doing what when. Everyone in your group is feeling somewhat stressed, but manageably so, and is, in general, feeling good about their ability to satisfy the demands placed upon them. You and your team feel balanced at this time.
Now, that all changes when you get a request for a commitment from someone outside of your normal ‘community’. This person has a request seeking help from you and your group. It seems, she made promises to one of her external clients to deliver something requiring you or your team’s services in an extremely short (and in your opinion unreasonable) timeframe.
You cannot find anyone who remembers having a discussion about the possible need. Then you find out she didn’t check with anyone about the reasonableness of the delivery, but just assumed it could be done in the time-frame she promised.
As a good corporate citizen, you’re more than willing to help, within reason but you still need to deliver on your prior commitments. This person isn’t interested in your prior commitments. Her problem is ‘far more important’ than anyone else’s, and she expects you to drop everything else and, if necessary, make everyone in your group available to help address her problem.
What you want to say to this person is, “Your urgency is not necessarily my priority!”, or, to say a bit more pointedly, “A failure to plan on your part should not constitute an emergency on my part.”
You then want to follow this with an explanation of some of the realities of life. Just as it takes a finite amount of time to assemble and bake a cake, it takes a finite amount of time for you or your group to deliver their services. It’s simply not possible to wave a magic wand and make the time it takes to do things compress to zero!
But this person doesn’t really care. She simply wants her promises met regardless of the impact or even whether it’s possible. (Little side note: It’s interesting that no job is ever too hard to accomplish if you are not the person having to complete it.)
She simply does not want to be confused with the facts. Her promise is her word and her problem must necessarily become your emergency!
Now in this story, you are part of a company, so you first talk with your boss to explain the situation, and he tells you that this has become a critical situation, made worse by this person’s unreasonable promises, but that now her promises actually are your emergency, like it or not. You can also be backed into this corner as a solopreneur dealing with unreasonable requests from clients.
Now after a lot of gerrymandering, you are able to deliver on her unreasonable commitment but there is good news and bad news. The good news is that you were able to deliver on an ‘impossible’ commitment, thanks to the ‘above and beyond’ efforts of your team.
The bad news, however, is that, unless something changes, such ‘impossible’ commitment requests may become normal expectations. You need to create an environment where you can prevent that from happening or life for you and your team may become a living hell.
The key is setting reasonable expectations for the commitment and feedback requests you request or receive from others. You need to strive wherever possible to eliminate or at least minimize ‘impossible’ requests?
The PE-ER Commitment Tracking platform, being released this fall, can help you in tracking and providing feedback on all valued commitments you request or those you accept or commit to do.
Here are some simple guidelines to use in adopting this type of commitment tracking, automated or manual:
First, clarify and simplify your communications about your services and the team’s abilities:
Internally, negotiate an agreement with your boss and his boss that such extreme behavior will be viewed as unacceptable in the future. However, when a critical need arises, it should come through the proper process, and not be thrust upon your group by an out of control person with little to no knowledge of the processes or prior commitments of you or your team.
Secondly, identify & clarify expectations:
If you are going to request a commitment from someone, make sure you have communicated a clear understanding of what your expectations are before you initialize the commitment. Ask for any clarification of their expectations and make sure there is an agreement between the parties. Don’t hide any expectations.
If you are looking to accept a commitment request from someone, make sure you have a clear understanding of their expectations but also ask for clarification on any you don’t understand or agree with. At the same time communicate your expectations in terms of submission, delivery, and completion of feedback. Don’t accept the commitment where there are any perceived hidden expectations.
Lastly, the requester and the maker(replier) of the commitment need to ask themselves the following questions:
Set the stage, put yourself in the each other’s position. What would your reaction be if someone attempted to get a commitment from you?
- Am I making or agreeing to commitments or promises without checking on what can or can’t be done? Were the expectations with clients or team’s set after you verified what can be done beforehand?
- Am I making or agreeing to commitments or promises that neither you or I can keep on our own?
- Am I making or agreeing to commitments or promises on things or people where neither you or I have influence with or control?
- What are the agreed to response times for all communications? Were our discussions respectful and authentic or was I or anyone else unreasonable?
- Did I really think before I spoke?
- Did I really think before I committed or promised?
- Were my expectations reasonable?
Generally, most people in a company or business relationship want to do the right things for their company, themselves, and others. Everyone in a relationship should try to make sure their commitments are solid and backed by agreements by all parties who will be involved.
But sometimes, the pressure of the moment leads people to make commitments without recognizing the impact on others. Before making any such commitments, you need to take some time to think things through, and to remember that their urgency may not necessarily have to become your priority!
Would love to talk with you about building commitments within your organization regardless of size and location. Check out my website at TLGCoach.com or call me at 630-+454-4821.