Manage Promises, Not Activities

Manage Promises, Not Activities // generateleadership.com

We live in a culture that thinks about actions in concrete frameworks. That means people tend to think in terms of activities, tasks, the stuff you can see that gets produced. What is missing is that every professional action is intended to satisfy someone and that someone wants to be assured that they will be satisfied. That someone is a customer for not only the outcome of the actions but for being satisfied.

Customers want a trustworthy promise and a satisfying outcome, not just hard work, good intentions, or excuses. Successful professionals know you have to satisfy your customers and have their eye on satisfaction, not just the activities involved.

As a culture, we tend to be blind to action as promises and so we don’t manage promises well, which means we don’t manage our outcomes and our customer’s satisfaction well. But we work hard and find ourselves with frustration, blame, and excuses instead of satisfied customers.

Friends of mine recently had their kitchen remodeled. The contractor made a “promise” saying the work would be done by December 15th (eyes roll). Here we are in mid-March and it’s still not done.

Ever work on a project like that?

What was missing?

Trustworthy promises.

Here are some key focus points for managing promises.

  1. Get the outcome crystal clear – what does it look like when it’s done? Any measures?
  2. Who is the customer? Who is it that we are going to satisfy – or not? Are we listening to them?
  3. Are the agreements that are made trustworthy promises or just good ideas or hope? Making this assessment is a key skill.
  4. What’s the protocol when there are problems or changes that affect the eventual outcome, such as the date, cost, quality, etc.? Can we have the honest conversation?
  5. Where’s the help when it’s needed? Is it dangerous to get help in your organization? How do we make it a respected move to ask for help?

A trustworthy promise by a team requires a promise that everyone signs up for and owns. That means we have a plan made out of promises of the team members that we can trust. Then, we are set up to manage promises, outcomes, and our customer’s satisfaction. Then, the team can navigate through the inevitable breakdowns with honesty and support for each other.

We have found that all of these key points are often missing in teams and organizations that are organized around activities and tasks. What constitutes the team’s success and its teamwork is its conversations to make shared promises and manage them together.


If you are ready for your professional impact as a leader, manager, professional, or coach in organizations to surpass previous results, we invite you to a conversation with our Director of Client Engagement, Chris Beauchamp.

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