I remember once, when my son was a little guy, he told me he would get his mother a card for Mother’s Day. Then, on the day, he came up empty. My wife wasn’t upset but I was. I told him that this was one special day for his mother and taking some time out to remember her wasn’t asking that much. His response went something like, “I meant to do it but I forgot. I had a game yesterday and had chores to do.” I told him that there was a big difference between meaning to do things and actually doing them.
This story illustrates an important principle, the difference between an intention and a promise. This difference, according to author and culture change expert, Carolyn Taylor, is the determining factor for accountability.
What does she mean?
When you intend to do things, it opens the door for all manner of reasons why something might or might not happen. It makes your level of accountability relatively low. I can hear echoes of my son. “I intended to get that done but a lot of things got in my way.”
On the other hand, when you make a promise, it ups the ante. A promise says, “I will get this done come hell or high water.” A promise drives accountability in a way that intentions simply cannot.
Remember when you were a kid and you did a “pinky swear.” It was the promise of all promises. It meant you would do what you said even if it meant getting grounded or expelled from school. You would do what you said for your friend no matter what might happen. This is what promises do, they connect us to others in a bond of trust. They set an expectation and hold us to our word.
I listened to a podcast where Taylor was the guest and she said that when it comes to making agreements or plans, we should ask everyone involved, “Is what each of us is agreeing to do an intention or a promise?” In other words, we should get clear that intentions are lukewarm “maybes” while promises are boiling hot “consider it dones.” Promises hold us accountable, they put everyone on the hook for getting their piece of the puzzle completed.
What does this mean for business?
Think about all those things you tell customers in your advertising and marketing, are they intentions or promises? When you say you guarantee quality and will take a product back no questions asked, is that just your intention or is it a promise?
I’ve seen too many businesses make statements that, when the rubber meets the road, are really just intentions with innumerable qualifications that hold them blameless.
How accountable is your business? Do you make promises that you will keep no matter what? Or are you really just meaning well but, when it gets inconvenient, not getting it done?
Intent versus promise. Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said.” I think that puts this principle so well. Does your business do it or does it just talk it?
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