Opinion: Why commitment pays off

Commitments – how we make them, how we keep them – are the foundation of our performance, both as individuals and as organizations. 

By David Constant

If we don’t make realistic commitments that we fully understand or don’t manage to keep our commitments, we lose the trust of our clients, customers and partners. 

Individuals and organizations will no longer want to engage with us, ask us to help them in their projects or support us in ours. We wouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt when difficulties arise, making it harder to negotiate a satisfactory outcome.

Still, we can’t always keep our commitments, often due to unexpected circumstances. But we can still “honour” them by mitigating the impact on others when we can’t meet them. This is crucial to building powerful, ongoing relationships as well as a good reputation.

Yet many organizations fail miserably when it comes to commitment management. 

Many of my clients talk a lot about “project management,” but get lost in the details of techniques and lose sight of the underlying goal: making and managing realistic commitments. When they can’t deliver what they promised, they’re not good at restoring the relationship with the client.

And very often, they address commitment management only with organizational processes and procedures rather than by changing individual attitudes. This hurts the performance of both individuals and the organization.

So why is commitment management the foundation of performance? 

First, good commitment management reduces time wasted on correcting mistakes and redoing work that should have been done right in the first place. Misunderstanding requirements or rushing because plans were inadequate always leads to very expensive do-overs.

Second, executives whose organizations practise good commitment management spend less time second-guessing themselves or their organization. 

For example, one of my clients built IT systems for McDonald’s. After I worked with them to develop their commitment management processes, they won industry-wide recognition for their development process. 

When I asked the partner-in-charge how his job had changed along the way, he said:

“Before, when my people created a proposal for new work, I had to grill them on the numbers, the requirements, the plan, et cetera. I couldn’t trust them to make a trustworthy proposal. Now, we have processes that produce a believable plan. I simply ask our quality assurance guy, ‘Did they follow our commitment process?’ If he says yes, I just look at the numbers and make a business decision. I can trust what my people give me now.”

Third, “cleaning up the mess” when an organization misses its commitment provides incentives to make improvements. 

Cleaning up involves mitigating the impact on the client of your failure to deliver as promised. For example: “We know you scheduled testers for March, who will now be idle until May, when they’re scheduled elsewhere. Can we loan you our testers for May?” 

Mitigating the impact lets the client know you’re interested in their outcomes, not just your own. It also motivates you to not repeat the same mistake in the future.

Over time, organizational commitment management increases the capacity to perform by building trust, self-calibration and improvement.