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Gambling on False Commitments

Flying to Las Vegas to present to the Promotional Products Association International at The PPAI Expo 2005, I met a business owner who shared a recurring scenario. A client asks her to provide suggestions for a companywide incentive campaign. She spends days researching fresh and exciting promotional products and even pays for samples imprinted with the customer's logo. The client loves her ideas and promises a quick purchasing decision. When following up, she learns that the customer bid her ideas to a competitor who eagerly undercut her prices and won the business. The owner is losing faith, no longer trusting clients to honor their implied . I recounted this conversation during my presentation and heads began nodding in collective empathy.

Perhaps you've experienced other broken commitments at work: you assign an employee the task of preparing a report; before you know it, three weeks elapse and you're still waiting for the information. Or maybe you've asked your boss to consider you for a promotion; now it's been two months since any mention of an upgrade. Living by the values you profess means honoring the commitments you make. But how do you ensure that others--your employees, bosses, and customers--honor their commitments to you?

We associate false commitments with someone failing to make good on a pledge. But a broken promise is only the culmination of a false commitment. In fact, the carelessness in making commitments causes most commitment problems.

Make sure all parties understand the commitment. Do you need a report prepared, or do you need a report prepared in time for next Monday's 1:00 p.m. staff meeting? Do you want the boss to decide whether to promote you right now, or do you want her to consider you for promotion when the next opportunity arises? Are you happy to design an incentive campaign only if the client buys the products from you? Wondering ensues when commitments are unclear. I wonder what happened to that report I requested. I wonder if this report takes priority over my other duties. I wonder why my customer took advantage of me. Clarifying expectations ensures a two-sided commitment.

Also, watch out for hallow commitments. Some people are uncomfortable saying no, so they postpone it by offering halfhearted assurances. Let me think about your proposal. I'll discuss the idea with my boss. Others are afraid to appear incompetent, so they over commit. Sure, I'll have that report ready by Monday. If challenged, they attribute their broken pledges to memory lapses, unavoidable delays, or a boss's interference. I planned to grant your raise, but my boss put a freeze on all increases. But because they have little intention of keeping their promises, they're breaking their commitments the moment they make them.

Finally, the commitments people make to you are only as trustworthy as the commitments you make to them. Unfortunately, managers and sales professionals must overcome trust-sapping stereotypes that portray business leaders as unethical and salespeople as pushy. Be honest: do you trust most CEOs and used-car salespeople? When you consider your own commitments carefully, the trust you generate eliminates wonder and frees people to honor their commitments to you.
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