Commitments Change Over Time

by Guy Ralfe on February 17, 2010

Making and fulfilling commitments is the only way by which we can accumulate power and produce an identity in the marketplace which to a large part determines our value in the marketplace. Commitments (promises) are such a cornerstone to our lives yet we often pay little attention to how we manage them.

Business is about people making promises and accepting commitments, through conversations of action in their lives. Yes there are loads of conversations that take place around the water cooler, but until they turn into something you care about, those conversations will not be contributing to building your identity and power, most of these are just expressive.

Managing and keeping our commitments is fundamental to our personal business success, first we start by trying to memorize our commitments. But the more complex our requests become we need to seek out tools to help us manage such as calendars, notebooks, software. With even more complexity and number we outgrow our tools and hire PA’s /Assistants to help us. When this is not enough we hire more people to make more commitments on our behalf which then becomes the enterprise organization – the business, our power.

Thankfully the map of a conversation for action was mapped out by Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores back in 1986 in their book Understanding Computers and Cognition.

There are only a set number of possibilities at each stage of a conversation, which would lead you to believe this would be easy. However for a conversation to have been successful it needs to have been fulfilled and produced an assessment of satisfaction for the requester after completion.

This is where I witness the challenge coming into business. Time as always is the culprit, and we as humans living in a world of our own stories, see the world as a reflection of our moods and circumstances at any point in time. No matter how well a request is made and accepted between a requester and supplier, over time both will be in different situations from which to assess the commitment and this can lead to many breakdowns.

It is a bit like taking my child to the toy store and asking him which toy would he chose if he could have one choice. In the aisle that we are in he will find the best toy he can see based on his current criteria and space. With the toy locked under his arm we then move off and walk into the next isle, suddenly the toy will be dropped and a new one snapped up – as his circumstances change.

The point here is that just because you have made a request and received a promise or commitment to fulfill, you have to maintain the story for both parties or commitments will fail. Another point to watch out is that we talk of conversations for ACTION – Actions is what produces satisfactory outcomes, lookout for inconsistencies in actions. Such an example would be a client requesting a tightly managed project however they will not commit to signing a scope document…

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