Why don’t we do what we say we will? I’ll give you the answer right up front – because it’s hard and it’s not what we are used to doing. We could have a much longer conversation about integrity in general, but let’s keep this matter simple.

While it’s true that many people do actually do what they say they will, why do so many of us renege so often?

Breaking this into two categories, we see that there are the regular, usual things we say we will do and, secondly, the declarations we make.

The usual things we say we will do are generally saying out loud what others are accustomed to us doing:

    • Sure, I’ll get that monthly report to you by the 31st
    • Yes, I’ll be here by 8a tomorrow
    • I’ll bring it up in our weekly meeting
    • I can stay late to get that done

The declarative kinds of things are unusual. These are the kinds of things that we may not know how to do exactly, or we may not have ever done before, or for which we aren’t always reliable to deliver:

    • I’ll bring this project in 10% under budget, on time, and safely
    • All of my vacation time will be used (and used for vacationing) this year
    • Within two years, 15% of my staff will have been promoted
    • We will test and prove 5 new, viable product ideas by year end

Most people don’t say unusual things intending not to do them (although this does happen – and with some people it happens regularly – however, deliberately promising something with no intention to deliver is a different problem than what we’re addressing here), they intend, want, and believe they will do what they said.

Why don’t we deliver then? We don’t deliver because most of us do not think through the strategy and actions needed to deliver what we said.

I’m not suggesting one should always think through strategy and action before committing. There are times when we are inspired and in our passion, we commit to something beyond our current knowledge or expertise. Committing in those circumstances are my favorite kinds of commitments – those passionate declarations that call for our creativity and innovation and our persistence to have our performance line up with our words. There is something magnetic and perhaps even noble in those kinds of commitments. Partnering with passionate clients working at delivering the unknown – that is where life gets altered.

What usually happens once you and your team make a declaration is that everything that could get in the way starts doing just that. All the obstacles start revealing themselves. Once the obstacles start to occur as intractable, we begin listing the reasons we aren’t going to be able to deliver what we said.

  • The Philippine peso dropped against the dollar, so it’s impossible to make our margins
  • Our team got poached by the marketing department, so we don’t have enough staff
  • The new CEO doesn’t want to hear what’s really going on
  • Our budgets were cut

And, this is the way is usually goes. Real obstacles get in the way and we begin to believe it’s over (even if we’re still pretending to the boss or client that we can get it done).

However, there is an antidote for not doing what you said you would. That antidote consists of four areas:

  1. Create a structure to support you/your team to deliver
  2. Create a high level strategy for what and how you will deliver
  3. Create milestone deliverables against which to measure progress
  4. Create actions and practices that are likely to produce the outcomes to which you’ve committed

In our next post we’ll go into detail on each of these areas.

In the meantime, where have you made a declaration to deliver something that’s unusual? How are you doing? If you aren’t where you want to be, what obstacles are revealing themselves? What is your orientation to those obstacles?