Honoring Commitments

In this blog post, I’d like to provide some further insight into one of the Fundamentals that appears in every single one of our clients.  In fact, it’s one that’s so foundational to success that we practically insist that it be included.  We call it:  Honor commitments.

The foundation for trust

The first part of this Fundamental is the most important, and perhaps the most obvious.  Simply doing what you said you’d do, when you said you’d do it, is the basis for all successful business relationships.  It’s what allows us to function effectively – knowing that we can count on each other to do what we said we’d do.  It’s also the basis for building trust.  Of course, honoring commitments is a lot less common than we’d like to think.

How many times do people promise things to you, internally and externally, and they simply don’t get done?  How much time and effort do we waste following up on things that were supposed to have been done, but weren’t.  How much more effective would our organizations be if we knew, with absolute certainty, that what was promised would be done?

All or nothing

I often say that if you honor 90% of your commitments, it’s as good as zero.  Why do I say this?  Because if you don’t honor every commitment, I simply don’t know whether or not I can count on you.  This might be one of those that falls in the 10% category that you won’t honor.  So either I can count on your or I can’t.  “Usually” isn’t good enough.

Of course, one of the things that makes commitments so challenging is that there are very few commitments we enter into over which we have total control.  Most of the time, we’re depending on many other people (suppliers, delivery people, co-workers, e.g.) in order to deliver upon the commitment.  This is where the second part of the Fundamental description becomes important.

Honoring vs fulfilling

While we may not have total control over “fulfilling” every commitment, we do have control over “honoring” it.  “Honoring” a commitment means that we’re doing everything we can do to make it happen, and, at the earliest possible point we realize something may get in the way, we engage with the other party and explore what options we have, and then agree upon a new commitment to be honored.  Communication is the key here.


In my observation, the single biggest reason we fail to honor commitments is that we make commitments we shouldn’t have made!  I think there are two primary causes of this.  Sometimes, we fail to accurately assess what it will take to honor the commitment.  We’re poor estimators of time or fail to consider all the other things that are on our plate or are likely to be put on our plate.

Often, however, it feels easier to say “yes” to people than it does to have a more honest conversation about what can or cannot be done.  We want to please, and we want to avoid conflict, so we say “yes.”  And if our attitude about commitments is that we’ll just “do our best” and the others will understand, we don’t have to be any more rigorous about the commitments we make.  However, if we’re going to be serious about honoring every commitment, then we have to be much more careful about the commitments we enter into.

Imagine what your organization would be like if everyone honored every commitment.

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