handshakeAnything significant is a commitment before it is actually done.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Why is it true? Because we make progress by deciding to do something first.

Perhaps it’s a commitment to yourself: I’m going to clean up the yard. I’m going to have that conversation I’ve been avoiding. I’m going to get that job done this afternoon.

Or it’s a commitment to another person: Yes, I’ll get that report to you by the end of the day. I’m going to lead the team to define that new project. I’ll get you a sandwich while I’m getting one for myself.

Why is this important? Because, in my experience, we’re pretty lousy at communicating commitments.

“Will you grab me a sandwich too?” “Sure!”

“I’ll do this when I have time.”

“I need to have that conversation …”

You know as well as I that each of these situations often end up with a dissatisfactory result. Stuff doesn’t get done. Or the wrong thing gets done. Or at the wrong time.

Here’s the structure of what makes for a powerful commitment:

  1. We know exactly who is delivering what to whom. “Somebody should wash the dishes” just doesn’t cut it.
  2. We know what will satisfy the recipient. Who? Where? How much?
  3. We know when it needs to be done. Many of us avoid fulfilling our commitments because it moves into “someday.”
  4. We share a context where we know what is obvious and assumed. If I’ve gotten lots of sandwiches for you, I know what you prefer. Otherwise, we shouldn’t assume.

This is not rocket science. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation. But without these four critical elements, stuff doesn’t get done. It just keeps sliding around.

By the way, this will also help you to avoid making commitments that you really don’t have an intention to keep.  We need to develop our skill of saying no, and meaning it when we say yes.

Does your team struggle with fulfilling its promises and working smoothly together? You might be interested in my new self-assessment at www.smallfish.us/mission. It’ll take just a few minutes, but you’ll get some solid feedback on where and how you can improve your leadership. There’s no cost or obligation.

This article was first published in InnovatioNews.