I see it all the time. At some point during the project discussion, someone will overpromise. It happens because someone responsible for delivering work thinks that it will make the receiving party happy to hear that they will get more than they expected. There are often two problems with over-promising:
- When you can’t deliver on your over-promise, you have broken a promise, and you have broken trust. (People are less likely to believe you next time.)
- Most of the time, no-one is asking you to over-promise.
Here is my example from today. I went to have my snow tires put on at a reputable dealership. I’m happy to work in the waiting area because I have wifi and my phone and whether I work there or at my desk I am just as productive. I have a two-hour window before my next meeting in the office, so I’m in no rush.
The tire change took a little longer than expected, but I don’t notice it because I’m immersed in my work. Then the service manager stops by to say that they are just washing my vehicle, and it will be done in a moment. I’m pretty thrilled to have a clean car, and I shut my computer down and follow the manager to the counter to pay. Thirty minutes later, after the manager had to check to see where my vehicle was three times, I was finally on my way.
There was no need for the manager to promise that my vehicle was almost done. I was happy as a clam sitting and working. But because he made a promise, and then promptly broke it, I felt like he stole half an hour from me.
Before you over-promise, ask what the expectation is. “When do you want this done by?” “What level of quality do you want to see?” “Would you like to pay now, or once your vehicle is completely washed?”
Most of the time, what you promise might not be as important to people as you think. It’s much better to listen to what they need, agree to meet their requirements, and then exceed expectations.
Exceeding expectations beats over-promising and under-delivering every day of the week.