The Key to Delivery: The Implied Promise

When as a manager you make a request of someone and that person accepts, he takes on the responsibility to produce some product, report or service. As the person making the request, you also have a responsibility. As a requester, your implied promise is: I will support you in fulfilling your commitment to me and will not undermine your attempts to deliver. Support includes resources such as people, technology, money, and needed information. In addition, your implied promise typically includes collaboration and the coordination of actions necessary to help the performer.

Let’s look at some examples.

The Unseeing CEO
Steve, a customer service manager in a 5 year old start-up, complained that while the CEO expected service agreements and documentation to accompany the release of the hardware the company produced, the engineering department refused to keep Steve’s department updated as to the nature and dates of each new release. Steve found himself attempting to provide documents based on previous releases and making guesses about the features of a new release based on rumor.

The CEO, a competent technical person, worked closely with his team of engineers but unwittingly failed to keep his implied promise to support the people he asked to produce text based deliverables. While this is a blatant example, variations of this situation occur in most large companies and many smaller ones.

Another case is that of the passive-aggressive undermining CEO. Larry, an energetic, successful VP of Operations for a Fortune 500 company, took a position as COO with a fast-growth company and was charged with doubling revenue each year. He willingly accepted the challenge but found over time that not only was he not supported, he was actively undermined in his attempts to deliver and blocked and thwarted in many ways.

Simple requisitions for computers for new hires for new hires were ignored by the CEO, who insisted in maintaining control of all spending and who repeatedly failed to notify Larry that he had not authorized a purchase request. You can imagine the ensuing chaos. The CEO never confronted Larry regarding any of the purchases; instead he passively said yes and then failed to deliver without ever notifying Larry.

With coaching from a consultant, Larry attempted to rectify the situation and confront the CEO but the pattern repeated. The CEO agreed with Larry and proceeded to undermine him as soon as he left the CEO’s office. Ultimately, Larry quit this company, which lost and outstanding performer, one who feels certain he could have tripled sales while maintaining the desired profit margins.

The Management Factor
For some managers, making a request is simple. These managers are good at delegating, as they should be if they are responsible for multiple organizations or are charged with leading complex projects. Some natural delegators are fully supportive of those to whom they assign work. Yet when asked why they are so supportive, they typically are unable to explain their motives. They don’t say, “Well when I make a request, I realize that there is an implied promise to support my people in delivering what I have asked for.”

These managers seem to have a built in understanding that work is accomplished in a system of requests and promises with mutual support. Maybe they learned it from their peers or mentor. The good news is that they are exemplary at supporting and thinking with their reports. The bad news is that they often do not know how to train less competent managers to be more supportive and achieve the same results.

When managers and individual contributors learn how to be good internal customers, including understanding the implied promise to provide support, they are able to take steps to increase the reality that people will deliver in a satisfactory manner. These are skills that can be learned if management gets on board.

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