It’s a Thursday morning, I am in a weekly meeting with the general manager and his team of a restoration firm I started working with one month ago. The estimator is giving his first report on what he accomplished in the past week and for the month we just ended. He says he did $365,000 in estimates and sold $175,000 with $225,000 still in his pipeline not yet sold. The GM asks what he will sell in December, and the estimator takes a breath, looks at his report, and says “my guess is about 75% of my pipeline, maybe $150k?” I look at the GM and see his frustration. I know that’s not what he wants to hear. Work-in-progress (WIP) is falling below safe levels, and he doesn’t know how to coach his team in a way that drives in more sales.

Ten minutes later, a project manager is giving his report, he says he closed $110,000 at 37%, and still has $525,000 in WIP going into December. The GM asks him how much he will close in December; the PM says his best guess is maybe $80,000.

Again, I see frustration on the GM’s face. My cell dings, it’s a text from the GM…”37%?!?!?! $ 80k…. I need at least $140k!!!!!”

Does this sound familiar? It’s very familiar to me, as I see this same story in every company I start working with. The issue is a very large misunderstanding and therefore allowance of a lack of accountability in the management of commitments. Let’s just look at the facts: owners are completely committed. Owners are committed to payroll being paid on time, all overhead costs being paid on time, and all customer contracts being fulfilled on time.

In my 20 years of consulting in this industry, not once have I been witness to an owner missing a payroll. All the while, most employees are being managed by having goals for anything important, like closed work, sales, driving margin, etc. Owners give their word, make commitments, and keep those commitments, and employees make goals. There is a big different between the promises of a leader, and the goals of others on the team. It’s an unspoken agreement that owners and GM’s will do all the heavy lifting, be the only person who is completely accountable, and generously allow the teams to freely participate stress-free. Sure, they can make goals – but they can also miss the mark. Leaders don’t share that luxury.

This gap in responsibility between the promises and goals has to be met, and can’t go anywhere but right to the shoulders of the owner or GM.

Don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing wrong with having goals. Goals are good. But they’re goals, not commitments. The truth is we don’t relate to goals the same way we relate to commitments. Why do owners manage themselves by commitments and everyone else by goals? I don’t have a good answer for that, except to say, that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it’s been as long as I can remember.

Ask yourself, what would you rather have: a guess, a prediction, a hope, a try, or a commitment? Which manner of speaking is more likely to get work done?

We all have a clear commitment for anything in our life that’s really important, especially financially important. Our mortgage, our car payment, our credit card payments, etc. Each of those is important enough that the participating institution makes a request that you pay this amount on this date. Simple, clear. If you play that game with them, you earn more trust in the world, and more trust makes future financial deals possible.

Same thing happens with your customers, whether they are the homeowner, the adjuster, or anyone else with whom you interact. When you give your word and deliver, trust grows. Trust is the valuable byproduct of us performing in a professional manner with our customers, and with each other. We like it when someone gives and keeps their word with us; we consider that to be a professional standard. We just seem to have a clumsy way of coaching and training people to do it effectively. It is kind of like the belief that people either do it or they don’t, we get whatever we get, and there isn’t much we can do about that. Obviously, if owners can give and keep their word, so can anyone else.

I think this lack of accountability persists as a practice because owners and senior managers don’t feel they know how to ask others for commitments. Like it’s a really, really big deal to ask someone else for a commitment. Yet, it’s perfectly ok for an owner or GM to be completely committed everywhere, and completely normal that not one single other person in the company is equally committed.

So how do we get past this problematic double standard? Simple, just ask for a commitment. Like…can I have your word to have these three jobs closed out by Friday 6 p.m.? You say what you’re going to do and do what you say. Simple. I will pay you every two weeks. I will honor the terms of my contract. I will pay my Visa bill, my mortgage, and my car payment on time. Easy right? Not exactly. If it was really that easy, everyone would already be doing it. Go ahead and try it, you will get the oddest looks and responses.

Common responses I have heard:

  • I can’t make a commitment to something I have no control over.
  • I can’t make a commitment because it would be too stressful (yes, someone actually said that).
  • You want me to do what? You want me to give you a prediction for the future?

Not once have I have I ever heard an owner ever say, “I think I can pay you on time, I want to pay you on time, I hope to pay you on time. Or hmm, let’s see, if this, that, and the other things all line up, we have some good or bad weather, Mrs. Smith walks in her check,…well, check with me on Monday or Tuesday and I will try to have an answer for you.”

How many employees do you think you would retain if that was how you handled payroll?

What IS Commitment?

Maybe part of the confusion is that we don’t have a very good understanding of what a commitment really is. Let’s break it down.

A commitment is a structure for fulfilling something important, something that doesn’t exist yet, something we want. It’s the opportunity to give your word towards accomplishing something in the future, wherein the lack of a commitment for that action will likely or even possibly risk the needed result not getting sufficient attention. A commitment is a way for us to be responsible before the fact, rather than waiting till the end of the week or month to see how things turned out.

Don’t manage what people do; manage what they say they will do.

How do we manage, coach, and train this to become a regular, everyday practice? Simple: start asking for commitments. Then listen to what your people are saying. Are they hoping, trying, and wanting, or do they give their word? And when they do give their word, can you hear and feel their conviction, strength and power, or is it lip service? Are they making commitments that are easily doable, safe, with no risk, or are they willing to take some risk, and swing out for a real accomplishment?

Here are some helpful practical tips on coaching this into existence.

To have powerful actions, you must first have powerful, committed speaking.

Commitment is the backbone, strength, and driving force of achievement- the triumph of what can be done over resignation, apathy, and reasonableness.

Commitment is the opportunity for you to say how things will go, rather than allowing the reasons or circumstances telling you how it will be.

Commitment begins with your word, and is the bold power to create something new, altering what you or others may think was previously possible.

Commitment is the difference between watching from the sidelines, and getting on the court with real accountability.

Your word has real power…in fact, it’s the source of all the power you have.