Failure to make and keep commitments both at work is a curse of our age. We forget to attend meetings, miss deadlines, go over budget and often only deliver half of what we initially promised. Managing our commitments makes us better able to execute projects in the workplace, and drastically improve our productivity. Here's how;
Why We Fail to Meet Our Commitments
Our modern workplaces expose us to information overload. It's not unusual for us to have several communication channels open at the same time. More and more work meetings and team discussions take place remotely, rather than face-to-face. And while we still have a very real need for collaboration, we’re unclear about who is responsible for what.
Of course, going back to the old hierarchical way of management just won’t work. What we need are processes that foster greater personal accountability. One such process is the aptly named Commitment-Based Management.
What is CBM?
As a concept, commitment-based management began to take shape in the 80s. The basic idea is that two parties agree to deliver a specified outcome by a specific date. CBM starts with everyone involved having an open conversation about what needs to be done, how to do it, and setting a timeframe for delivery.
CBM promotes an environment of accountability that is often lacking in today’s workplace. The core idea is that if everyone on the workforce strives to make and keep their workplace commitments, overall productivity will improve exponentially.
Unfortunately, many of our usual work practices get in the way of CBM. Management or Team Leaders make vague requests and fail to specify who is responsible for the task. Delivery dates are agreed but not officially confirmed. Team planning will often change, or come completely unhinged, without much being said. Feedback on the quality of delivery is often missing. All of this leads to a failure to achieve a satisfactory project outcome.
One of the main stumbling blocks for CBM is a breakdown in interpersonal communication. Team members will often prefer not to articulate their misgivings about a project. A lack of incentives means that employee engagement is almost nonexistent. The result is that everyone tends to work on the tasks they enjoy first, and procrastinate over the rest. Plus, a low expectation that deadlines will be met creates a need for frequent monitoring by management.
This kind of dysfunctional arrangement has become the norm in many of today's workplaces, and it's the reason why a lot of people think its time we rebuilt our work ethic from the ground up.
Say What You Do, Do What You Say
If we can negotiate a commitment at the beginning of a project instead of being handed instructions about what to do and when to do it, we are more likely to remain accountable. That’s because we played an active role in creating that commitment in the first place. This transparency of expectations helps cement the trust between everyone involved, and a real bond is formed when we give our word that we can, and will, deliver.
How to Implement CBM
Introducing commitment-based management techniques into your workplace isn't as difficult or as complex as it might sound. Quite often, all it takes is a simple set of easily repeated actions:
1. Request Rather Than Assign
Requests should be formulated clearly and take the form of a question and a date. For example, “Karen, will you be able to get that report to me by May 30th?” Karen must respond, ensuring she is clear about the details and the expectations surrounding the request.
Perhaps Karen feels she is unable to deliver by May 30th. She can then respond by saying, “Mike, the end of May is a little soon for me. Would June 10th work for you? I will do it by then.”
This puts Mike in a position of confidence because, “Karen said that a May 30th delivery was too soon for her, but she has committed to giving it to me by June 10th.”
This is better than with the old system where Mike would have been left merely hoping. “I told Karen to do it by May 30th, and I hope she’ll get it to me by then.”
If a team member knows they will not be able to deliver by a set date, then they should say so as soon as possible. For a lot of us, this may seem quite a radical concept as it's not every day that a team member will feel confident enough to refuse a management request. For management too, the process is not without risk. But in a culture where team members are never allowed to say, “No,” they are usually unable to offer a fully committed “Yes.” The fruit of the exercise is distinct accountability.
It’s essential throughout the delivery stage to keep open lines of communication. Once someone has promised to deliver, they are now under obligation to notify the other party if anything puts the delivery date in question. This gives them ample opportunity to issue an early warning of any potential problems with meeting the deadline.
On the agreed date, the team member presents the deliverable and clearly declares, “Here’s what I said I’d give you,” or “Here’s why I couldn’t deliver on time.”
The original requester needs to acknowledge receipt of the deliverable. They also need to assess it honestly. Does the outcome match the original expectations? Are they satisfied? Answering these questions ensures closure. It acknowledges the person’s effort and the fact that they’ve honoured the agreement. Open feedback fuels future performance and builds trust in the relationship. Rather than outdated year-end performance reviews, this style of continuous performance feedback can be far more immediate and meaningful.