Expectation Alignment Key to ‘Promise Management’

The art and science behind making commitments and managing expectations has always been a critical skill set for senior executives and entrepreneurs to master. In fact, understanding how to come out on the right-side of the expectation curve can often be the difference between average performers and corporate superstars. This is evidenced by the fact that the consulting industry has zeroed in on the importance of this issue such that it has evolved into an emerging discipline known as “Promise Management.” In today’s column I’ll discuss the value of promise management as a discipline. Nothing engenders confidence and creates a trust bond like delivering on promises made, and likewise few things erode confidence and credibility like commitments not kept. In previous columns I’ve discussed the importance of saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and doing what you say you’ll do. The science of promise management is about systematically connecting what is said with what is done. The art of promise management is about closing, or better yet, eliminating the expectation gap. Blend the art and science together and you have the framework for what is becoming the differentiating factor in performance based decisioning for the twenty-first century. Conflicts, disagreements, disputes, and litigation are often born out of expectation gaps. Expectations cut both ways…Keeping what you perceive as being your end of the bargain is only half of the equation, as what you think only matters if it is in alignment with the understanding of the other party. We have all found ourselves in the unenviable position of assigning work product only to end-up with the deliverable falling far short of expectations while having the producer of said work product thinking they exceeded all expectations. Can you say “expectation gap?” == Expectations exist throughout the entire value chain with every stakeholder needing and deserving to have their expectations managed and met. Whether it is managing customer expectations, shareholder or analyst expectations, or the inverse of employees having to deal with the expectations of executives, it is the ability to excel at decisioning based upon managing expectations that creates high performance organizations. Promises that are made based upon solid reasoning and underlying business logic that are consistently kept will help to create a solid brand attracting loyal customers and talented employees. The following three practices will help create an organization that delivers on its commitments: 1. Collaborate early and often: Decisioning in a vacuum or without all the facts will place you in a deficit from the beginning. It is at best extremely difficult to manage expectations and deliver on commitments made if you don’t have clear visibility as to what is wanted or needed. Before making promises or commitments collaborate with all concerned parties to insure that expectations are understood. 2. Resist making verbal commitments: Most misunderstandings occur as a result of improper interpretation of oral communications. Most broken commitments result from impulsive verbal promises made before all the details were sorted out. Once you have gained clarity as to the perceived need to be fulfilled, place your understanding of the deliverables in writing by outlining key business points and circulate the document for review and comments. Where possible resist formalizing agreements, proposals, or other commitments until you have alignment on key expectations and deliverables. 3. Manage promises like projects: Build a culture that breaks down all commitments made into deliverables, benchmarks and deadlines. Allocate resources, budget and staff while managing the commitment within a framework of measured accountability. Treating all commitments and promises as formal projects will help manage performance risk and will also create continuity of process and delivery. Performance focused decisioning based upon principles of promise management will lead to a certainty of execution that should translate into one of your company’s greatest competitive advantages.