Honor promise dates, not deadlines

A great deal of our professional reputation is built or lost in our execution of projects. We get involved in a task and either meet or miss a deadline. Some people have great time management skills, others have “eyes too big for their stomach.” At the end of the day, if you are dinged as a non-executor, you will get picked last for the corporate-dodgeball-wowproject team at work (and in life).

What I have learned is that your business reputation relates more to the promises you make and keep than what is required of you by others. If all you think about is the deadline (they issue it to you), then you are entirely reaction and must rely on motivation to honor it. If you are the deadline chooser, then the promises flow from that. There are good deadlines (well calibrated) and bad deadlines (random acts of business.) Many deadlines are arbitrary, plucked out of the sky for you. Some are soft deadlines, others are hard. Some deadlines are dotted, which means they come from on high. The point is that your promise is your promise. In a project, manage your promises like executions. If a deadline is doable, promise the output on time. If the project has a deadline that can’t or shouldn’t be in place, counter with a promise that is aligned with reality. Turn the dialogue from subjective deadlines into projects needs and practical reality.

When you follow up after a meeting, send an email that recaps the promises that you made. Schedule those promises into your calendar. If you come up to a promise in your calendar you cannot keep, immediately reset external expectations. Try to align the promise with their deadline, but don’t let bad deadlines impact your reputation — push back.

This is a new form of leadership that can drive accountability into an organization. In a post mortem of a blown project/product, it is far too easy for us to sit back and say, “that deadline was impossible, not my fault”. On the other side they are saying that you don’t keep your promises.

Make your promise your professional brand. Own it and defend its integrity. You already know that your brand is the experience that you promise, now make the promise the key instrument in your business life. Let deadlines be deadlines, but just be your promise.

Recommended: Send a recap email after your next meeting that lists the promises that you made and when you will fulfill them. Schedule such deliverables in your calendar. Share this tip with a friend (click on permalink to get a URL to just this post).

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