How many times do organisations make statements, commitments or promises and then fail to deliver?

How many times do we make statements, commitments or promises, on behalf of ourselves or an organisation and then fail to deliver?

For organisations, or even for us as individuals, there may be hundreds of reasons why we fail to deliver and it can often be a bit of a surprise when promises are met.

Last week, we as Holos went to Stockholm to explore this question with our collaborators at Time to Performance, we met to discuss the challenge with a number of Swedish businesses and thinkers.

The first question is who are we making these promises to?

Often with personal challenges like weight loss, diet, exercise etc the promise is mainly to ourselves, but at a personal level we may also make such statements to family and others close to us.  For organisations the commitments are to employees, shareholders, customers, regulators and other stakeholders.

The second question is what kind of statement is it really?

Some statements are just information – “the next train will be ten minutes late”  (although if it is now 15 minutes late, would be passengers may see that as a broken promise).

Others are promises – “we promise 99% of our trains will not be more than 10 minutes late.”

Some are aspirations – “Our aim is for 99% of trains to be on time.”

It is important that the communication of these statements is not ambiguous, it is very easy to be caught out by an aspiration being taken as a promise.  We are all frequently guilty of wording that construes an aspiration as a promise.

Thirdly we need deep self knowledge or organisational awareness to be able to know which aspirations or promises are realistic and which are not.

The reason we fail on our promises and aspiration is a mixture of over ambition, under commitment and very occasionally force majure.

If organisations are to gain a reputation for reliability those who might make statements to stakeholders first have to know the organisation well, they also have to be very aware of the kind of statement they are making, they have to be deeply personally committed to making it happen and they have to be willing to configure the organisation around making it happen.

If we take our railway example above, what would it take to deliver on any sort of reliability promise?

  • If we didn’t have control of key variables, such as the track, we would need to have highly trusting relationships with those partners to minimise those risks.
  • We would need to be confident in the quality of our own equipment, such as computer systems and rolling stock.
  • We would need to have good relationships with our own employees and build a real culture of trust and punctuality to be able to rely on them to deliver.
  • We would need the commitment to the promise to be deeply shared by all executives and leaders and for them to continually reinforce it.
  • We would need to organise things, like rewards, recognition and culture so that meeting the promise matters to all of those with a role in delivering it – emotionally, physically, rationally and spiritually.
  • We would need to not have too many such promises so that people could stay focussed.

Between us at Time to Performance and Holos we are developing a toolset called Corporate Reliability that helps organisations to understand the statements they have already made.  We then work with the leadership to help configure the organisation around delivering the promises and being in a position to deliver on the aspirations.

We are enthusiastically collecting promises made by businesses and studying wether and how they are delivered or not.  If you have some examples (especially with photos) please send them to me.

Holos believes that “Change is Easy” or at least it can be when it is done well. Holos has the resources and the skill to help organisations of any size to flourish in the future.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business



About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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