The Perils of Over Promise

One of the fastest routes to failure is to over promise and then to under deliver.

It does’t matter how good a job you did, if you don’t achieve your promise then you have failed.

Not only have you failed, but you have failed to meet an expectation that you have set.

If we get to set our own expectations then we need to be aggressive but we need to set a level that we have a chance of exceeding rather than just meeting, even if we exceed a moderate goal then we have been successful. Although we do need to set the goal at a reasonable level.

If anyone challenges our goal level setting we can answer that by stating ‘that success breeds success’, and the early goals we achieve now are what we are going to use to help us achieve bigger goals in the longer term.

Shooting for the stars from day one just sets us up for failure, and when we fail this is demoralising not only for us but also for our teams.

Whereas when we have success, even small success, it motivates us to continue and move onwards to bigger things. We need to build confidence in our teams and our teams confidence increase with success.

Ideally I like to set a goal which I believe the team can achieve, but which is still a stretch target, this has the double benefit of not only motivating because of the success, but also inspiring them because the team achieved something that they didn’t think was possible.

I remember with one group I was leading, in one year we delivered a service level of 80%, and for the next year I set the target at 90%.  The team were a bit concerned that we were going to jump 10% in a year, but accepted that.

What they didn’t know, but what I already knew, was that although we achieved 80% overall in the year, in the second half we were actually averaging 85%, and in the last quarter we were actually averaging 88%.

So by setting the target at 90% we were only looking for a 2% increase on our current performance, which I felt was definitely more than achievable.

When I sold this to the team, I let them know that this was going to be a great result if we could achieve it, but that it was going tough and it would require a really big effort from us.

The team responded positively, and by the end of the first quarter the next year we were actually averaging 93%. Which is something I shared with the team.

You can imagine the motivating impact this had on the team, not only had they met our goal, but they had exceeded it and by the end of the year we actually achieved 97% service level.

If I had set the target at 95% the team would probably not believed that the goal was achievable, they would have possibly felt that we had over promised, and would consequently under achieve.

But by under promising, although still setting a good target, we were not only able to meet it, we were able to significantly exceed it and we had a highly motivated and inspired team.

Gordon Tredgold

#Leadership Principles