Promises, Promises

Promises, PromisesApril 16, 2018

Leadership / Organisational Culture

Here’s a story of two new starters on the same day – an intern at a tech start-up and a new CEO for a medium-sized listed tech company, both in the City of London.  I was interested to hear reports of their first day and the promises they made or were made to them.

At the internal company briefing the new CEO promises his staff “small” things that make a big difference like listening and asking questions and plenty of big things, like a new corporate culture and strategic direction. He has already worked out, by talking to people in advance of his arrival, what the company needs, which is outlined in his strategic focus on building a customer-centric organisation with greater staff empowerment and pride.  This comes with responsibility and he will hold people accountable.  He envisages better customer relationships and higher growth. His tone is confident and his manner is one of optimism and high engagement.  After all, this final move in his long international career means that his lasting reputation is at stake.

The student intern is delighted by his first day.  The welcome was warm, the daily company breakfast “awesome”, he reports of stories and stand-ups (nothing to do with comedy, this is all agile language), of a lack of hierarchy, approachable, enthusiastic employees, and the sense that he is of value (since a senior programmer spent a whole hour of “boxes and lines” meeting with him) and people invested their time in making him feel a part of the team from the start.  Like every other employee, he is promised an hour of self-development investment time at the end of every day, to do what he likes.  This he thinks shows commitment to independent thought and creativity as well as displaying trust in people to make best use of this time.  He has started his new job with a high degree of motivation and this is even before he knows what he will be doing there … that will transpire as specific project needs arise.

In both cases first impressions were very positive and only time will tell whether the promises made will be delivered upon.  We think it is really important to be clear about the promises we make to our stakeholders, both internal and external, not least because we need to deliver on them to be successful. We don’t need to look far to see examples of the massive fallout when organisations over-promise and under-deliver.  (Carillion in the UK is a most recent one).  Are the promises we make consistent to our different stakeholder groups? Have we taken time to consider how our brand (the sum of our external promises) is perceived and how this matches what our customers and employees are experiencing at first hand? What do we “promise” without being consciously aware that we are doing so?

What happens when promises are broken, or expectations of delivery don’t match what we actually get? We can take charge of our promises and our stakeholder relationships by asking these questions and answering them truthfully (from the perspectives of multiple stakeholders). This helps us to measure consistency and take action to address any gaps. Keeping these promises will create and sustain the inspirational, successful climate promised by the CEO and experienced by the intern.

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