Five Qualities of a Good Promise
If you haven’t heard of promise-based management before, it’s a simple concept to explain. Just as people make commitments to their friends, families and spouses, we also make them in the workplace, but we don’t often give work commitments the same weight we do personal ones.
August 20, 2018

If you haven’t heard of promise-based management before, it’s a simple concept to explain. Just as people make commitments to their friends, families and spouses, we also make them in the workplace, but we don’t often give work commitments the same weight we do personal ones.

Promise-based management takes the power of promises we use in everyday life and incorporates them into the workplace to increase accountability to goals and tasks. However, it only works if organisations and team members know how to make a good promise.

Read on to learn more about the five pillars of effective promises that can drive positive business results.

1. Promises Must Be Public

If you want employees to be trustworthy and follow through on their commitments, public, transparent promises are mandatory. When promises are documented in a public space, everyone knows who is responsible for what, so there’s no hiding from commitments or the ability to pass blame.

It’s critical to make sure promises are public from beginning to end to properly track adherence and address poor performance. This also fosters a culture of transparency and openness.

What happens when promises are made in a public space for everyone to see? Rather than promises made in private, public promises have been proven more effective by psychologists.

The end result? Work expectations become crystal clear and team members across every level of the company are more motivated to honor their commitments.

2. Good Promises Are Active

In many organisations, leaders send demanding orders to their direct reports, ordering them to complete a task or project. Often, no completion date is given, the instructions are vague and the end desired result is unclear.

The direct report isn’t even asked if they have the capacity to fulfill the commitment in the given time frame or if they have the resources or skills needed to do it well. What happens to ‘promises’ like these? They often get ignored, produce poor work and create tension between colleagues.

Effective promises are developed with intention and have meaning. Commitments should be thoughtfully negotiated and the person making the promise should feel confident they can deliver on the promise.

Active promises depict who will do what, by when to remove any disagreement surrounding time schedules and misunderstanding. An active promise is dynamic and can change according to organisational priorities and scheduling conflicts.

3. Effective Promises Are Voluntary

Imagine a parent talking to a child and forcing them to make a promise they either don’t understand or don’t want to do. How would the same tactic work for romantic partners? Visualise the same scenario with two colleagues of the same rank. Finally, think about a manager employing the same strategy with a direct report.

All of these scenarios have one thing in common. They won’t be effective, and there is little chance the person being told what commitment they must deliver on will follow through. Furthermore, communication becomes closed when it should be a two-way street.

When people are pressured to make promises, they lack autonomy and control over fulfilling them. Team members should be given the ability to confidently say they cannot make a promise and willingly provide an alternate solution. When people develop promises voluntarily, they are instinctively encouraged to take responsibility for completing them.

4. Make Promises Explicit

Gather the commitments your team has developed and ask for a group consensus regarding what they mean. If you aren’t getting the same general answer from everyone, the promises aren’t explicit. There should be no room for confusion or differing interpretations about each promise.

For example, an ineffective promise might look like this:

‘The business development team will increase new lead generation with innovative methods by the end of the quarter.’

Who exactly is in charge of this commitment? When is the end of the quarter? What do the ‘innovative methods’ entail?

Compare the example above to this thoughtfully-crafted promise:

‘John (the business development manager) will increase new lead generation by 25 percent by June 30 by ensuring each sales development representative sends 30 more emails and phone calls per week to strengthen the pipeline.’

Progress towards goals should also be documented on a regular basis so the team can assess how quickly they are moving towards the goal. This way, leaders can determine if any changes are needed and report out to board members and investors.  

5. Promises Should Be Mission-Based

Good promises are aligned to the mission of the organisation. Leaders and promise makers should be able to describe the reasoning behind each goal. Everyone should know how achieving them helps the company fulfill their vision and core values.

For promises to be effective, people have to understand why they matter. Invest time and energy making sure every team member fully understands the mission and vision of the organisation. This should be done not only at the time of hiring and training, but continually incorporated into the daily culture of your work environment.  

Individuals and teams will be more persistent in fulfilling their promises and overcoming obstacles rather than simply following meaningless orders. As a result, the promises and commitments they create will more naturally align to the overall mission.

Make Promises Comes to Life With Easy-to-Use Software

Once a company’s individual team members fully understand the power of a good promise and how to make them, documenting and organizing them in a streamlined fashion is key. Smart organisations leverage technology to make keeping track of commitments simple.

Samewave is social performance management software that gives teams the ability to instantly communicate about promises and track progress towards them in one place. This software helps companies measure and discuss their commitments in real time, so teams can spend less time in meetings giving status updates and focus on achieving important goals.

Are you ready to start incorporating effective promises into your organisational workflow? Samewave is free, so sign up today to begin increasing transparency and accountability towards your most critical objectives with a software program that works.

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