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Promises, Promises: The Power of Keeping Our Word

By Sherri Petro (1183 words)
Posted in Management on November 16, 2013

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While Halloween is long gone, we still are graced with a scary word that is permeating corporate consciousness.  It’s four-----teen letters.  It has executives, middle management and front line  supervisors stumbling and bumbling around looking for answers.  The lack of it is often talked about as the reason for our business woes.  


Lack of passion?  Nope, that’s only 7 letters. Lack of engagement?  Still too short, but a great guess!  Need more hints?  


  • Hint 1: Sarbanes Oxley was intended to help with it.  

  • Hint 2: We’ve been talking about the need for more of it in our organizations for a decade plus. 

  • Hint 3: It’s the A in the R-A-C-I decision-making matrix. 


Okay, the suspense is over.  The word we are searching for is accountability. 


If we create accountability, we will have less corruption.  If we create accountability, we will have better corporate results. If we create accountability, we will have better relationships and communication because people would be less ticked off at each other for not doing what they say they would do.


How the heck do we create more accountability? Because even though we want and have been talking it to death for a while, we don’t have enough of it.  That’s even with the inclusion of performance metrics!  We still have dysfunctional work relationships, poor performing companies and corruption.  What to do?  What to do? 


Getting an Answer from Alex’s Dad, Not Stacey’s Mom 

After reading an excellent article by Gabbi Chee, assistant editor at Spirit, the excellent Southwest Airlines and Airtran magazine, I realized that Stacey’s mom is not the only one that had it going on.  Alex’s dad did too.  (Forgive me. I have “pop” references running around in my head!) 


Alex Sheen is the founder of a nonprofit named, Because I Said I Would. Upon the passing of his father in 2012, Alex realized his dad’s legacy. Al Sheen kept his promises.  Alex has the idea to print business cards with the words “because I said I would” on one side and room for a promise to be written on the other. The premise is simple. You write out a promise, give the card to someone else and then get it back when you fulfill your promise. That last part is your reward for doing the deed. 


The article got me thinking.  Making a promise is the first step to accountability. What would the work world look like if we lived up to our promises, aka held ourselves accountable? What would happen if we did everything in our power to live up to our corporate promises, aka organizational accountability?  


Let’s swap out our business-speak words like goals and objectives with promises.  


Well, Wasn’t That Simple?

We know it’s not as easy as that.  Promise is not a magic word that suddenly creates more accountability -- though it is a nice start. Certainly our words can become our actions, as the old adage says.  But altering our workplace communication by adding promises into it is not the only thing we need to do. That would be like bringing a squirt gun to a fire fight.  


We need to commit to other important words like honor and integrity -- values we often choose to represent how we want our organizations and the people in them to behave.  If we have honor, we accept and acknowledge personal responsibility for our actions. If we have integrity, we do what we say we will do.  Now we’re bringing a garden hose to the firefight. 


What will it take to bring a fire hose and make real impact?  Let’s try these five things. 


5 Things You & Your Team Can Do To Create An Accountable Culture

  1. If we believed in our mission as a corporate promise, would that do it?  


  2. Could we hold ourselves accountable because it is the right thing to do -- not because we have metrics tied to our actions?  


  3. Could we stop overpromising and under delivering? That means even for little things when we have the best of intentions and yet know in our hearts we aren’t going to accomplish what was asked. 


  4. Admit our errors. Say, “I screwed up” when you did! 


  5. With all due respect to Peter Drucker’s notable words “What gets measured, gets done,” what if we achieved our promise simply because our entire staff believed in because we said we would? It’s not the number of values or words that we use like promise, honor and integrity, it’s that WE believe in them together. We commit to living up to our word. 


If we did the things above, would we as a group condone corruption? I think not.  Would we have better corporate results if we were all in it together? I’d take that bet. Would we have better relationships and communication?  You need not look further than the bookshelves at Barnes and Nobles to know that answer. Unity breeds high performance. 


It’s Up to Us

I’m thinking it’s time to man-up and woman-up, people!  Let’s hold ourselves accountable. Let’s keep our word. Let’s fulfill our promises (personal and corporate) which in turn will enable us to fulfill our potential, the promise of our bright future together.


I promise I will.  What say you? 



{#/pub/images/SherriPetroUpdated.jpg}Written by Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor Sherri is a professor, accomplished strategist, organizational development professional and executive coach.  She consulted for 13 years in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors after a 16 year corporate career.  She teaches the Strategy Capstone as well as Leadership, Change Management and Business Ethics courses in CMU’s MBA program. Her current passion is educating organizations on how to increase organizational sustainability by leveraging the talents and skills of all in multi-generational workplaces. Sherri offers remedies to misunderstandings that result from different belief structures and lack of coherent communication by creating understanding and making connections at the belief level not only at the behavioral level.


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Comments (4)

Ilana posted on: November 20, 2013

I was really moved by this article. I identify with what you are saying. I think we all crave more accountability in the workplace. If we could stop overpromising and under delivering the world would be a much happier place and organizations would be more profitable.

Jennifer posted on: November 20, 2013

Wow, how correct you are. If we had more accountability across the board, what a happier world it would be! I personally feel that there is a great lack of accountability in many organizations today. I'm in my late 30s and have had the opportunity to work in larger corporations all the way down to very small companies. I have seen how larger companies struggle with keeping all of their people accountable. There tends to be many "outs" created in these larger environments. I really enjoyed your list of the "5 things to do to create an Accountable Culture." This list should be viewed by all organizations. For me, "owning it" has always been much more rewarding, even when I fall short! Thank you for the great insight.

Sherri Petro posted on: November 21, 2013

Thanks for the appreciation, Ilana and Jennifer. Creating an accountability culture can be tough especially since EVERYONE -- senior, middle and front-line management as well as staff -- has to be held accountable. I think ego, image and freedom may be culprits individually. What's holding us back as a collective? You may have just seeded the idea of my next article!

Thomas Samson posted on: November 25, 2013

Good article that mirrors our experiences over 25+ years of working with team leaders. Accountability is the key. We have learned that to hold someone accountable you must gain their commitment (promise) to do something. Writing that commitment down with a defined deliverable and due date makes the commitment "real" while promises that are not documented are often times "forgotten" or ignored.

We have also found that it is essential to have the person committing to an action involved in defining what the action will accomplish. Forcing a commitment without this level of engagement will lead to broken promises and a lack of accountability.

Follow-up is critical to insuring the accountable person does in fact complete their commitment. Including progress reporting dates in the commitment sets the expectation that issues that get in the way of the completion of the commitment surface on a timely basis.

It should be expected that in any group there will be issues that arise as barriers to fulfilling commitments. A critical element in creating a culture of personal accountability is an openness that encourages individuals to openly admit when they are having difficulty completing their commitments. Leaders who foster this openness and develop processes to engage team members in helping each other address these barriers can create powerful dynamic that insures that each team member is engaged and delivers on their commitments.

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