Once upon a time, while leading the team developing a range of digital platforms for a large organization, I repeatedly promised the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) that we would deliver the project within the agreed timeline. It was a 6 months project and I had the luxury of hand picking my team. Every resource I asked for was speedily provided. Such was the significance of our assignment.
This project involved a cross functional team of consultants and full time employees.
As the months passed, the CEO would ask me if we were on track. I would boldly reel off quantitative and qualitative details of how well the project was progressing.
2 weeks before the go live date, I reassured the CEO that all was set for the launch of these new digital channels. The die was cast.
Then it happened – a key member of my technical team walked away from the project a week to the go live date. He was quite a temperamental and strong willed young man. All attempts to get him to stay for the final one week failed. I threatened, pleaded and cajoled him to change his mind all to no avail. With the benefit of hindsight, I could have better managed the situation.
We got a replacement for that role 2 days later. Needless to say, we missed our timeline and went live 2 weeks later. Those were 2 frenetic weeks with the team working at least 16-18 straight hours even on weekends. What can go wrong really went wrong!
Here are a few lessons I learnt from what happened:
Under Promise, But Over Deliver
I would never forget the remarks the CEO made to me after we missed the timeline…”it is always good to under promise and over deliver”.
That is the greatest lesson I have learnt in performance management!
Suddenly I realized that I had made too many assumptions about factors I was not fully in control of. The signs were obvious – I just did not see them. There were quite a number of dependencies that I had to overcome. I let my unbridled sense of optimism run riot. I neither anticipated the final challenge nor created an effective fall back plan.
Don’t leave anything to chance – clarify everything and anything. Clarify what is expected, when it is expected, roles and responsibilities, dependencies, risks and escalation procedures, etc. Communicate clearly what you can and will deliver and under what circumstances you may not be able to do so. Document everything and as much as you can ensure that you get a written confirmation of what was agreed.
Good Intentions Are Not Enough
Don’t commit to unrealistic goals or targets under pressure. If you must, give a tentative assurance but come back within a short while to negotiate a mutually beneficial position. Actions and reactions are not necessarily equal and opposite. Don’t assume how someone would react to something. Don’t claim you understand because more often than not you may not. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”….
Be careful when you use words like, “memorable”, “outstanding”, “unbelievable”, “incredible”, “fast”, “efficient”, “great”, “amazing”, etc. “Talk is cheap” and “talk does not cook rice” so goes some Chinese proverbs. There is a difference between aspiration and ability. If your brand is aspiring to offer memorable service, you should be able to define what kind of memories you intend to leave your customers with – pleasant or unpleasant. You must also be
able to determine how you would measure their levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. How you handle the feedback loop at every stage of an engagement is as important as the outcome. Be real with those who would be impacted by your actions. Negotiate everything and after you have negotiated if you find a need to, then renegotiate again. I have learnt the hard way.
Credibility is in short demand – “we are tall on words but sometimes short on actions”. Recently I had cause to take up the order fulfillment process of an organization. As a prospective customer I visited the organization’s digital channels (website, facebook page and twitter handle). These channels contained enough helpful information to make me consider the product/service. I called its contact centre and was given an overview of the different products/services
and the payment options. I had verbal and written assurances that I would be able to enjoy the service within 24 hours of payment. I paid online – a seamless process – but that’s where trouble started brewing. Prior to payment, the telesales team of the organization had called me severally until I made payment. However, once they had received the money, it took several calls and emails from me over a 48-hour period before the Customer Service Manager got involved.
The team blamed everyone else (including the dispatch rider) but themselves for the delay in delivering the product to me. If delivery might be a challenge, why tell your customers that delivery is free and would be done within 24 hours of payment. Why was I not given the chance to pick up the product (which I would have gladly done). Rather I was made to believe that the brand was an epitome of speed and convenience. I now know better.
Today is a New Day
I was not wise enough to recognize the limitations of my office. There are some things you can bully your way through. There are people you can order around. However, there are some personal, institutional or environmental factors that may hinder your ability to meet your promises no matter how well intentioned they are.
Don’t stop promising…just match your words with actions.
As for me, I have since taken to heart the words of this ancient Japanese saying, “Yes I may fall seven times, but I will rise up eight times”.
This post also appeared in the Punch Newspapers. Click Here.