In our work, our firm relies heavily upon clients and colleagues to contribute to achieving successful outcomes. Ideally, these contributions will meet agreed qualitative standards and be delivered on time. Unfortunately, there are more instances of unfulfilled promises than ones that are kept. Ironically, the ones in the greatest and most frequent deficits are service providers.
The promise “debtors” are often persons of high integrity who are fully capable of what is required. Certainly, when I am a “promise debtor”, I am filled with remorse and apologies. Nevertheless, the damage is done, especially when I become a bottleneck in the delivery of our famed “Supreme Service”. I know full well that reliability and responsiveness rank highest on the customer’s definition of quality but there are times that I miss.
In the “old days” of time and motion study, workers did mundane, repetitive work so it was easy to define productivity. Then, a good worker was someone who came to work every day, on time and responded promptly to the factory whistle that signalled times to start and finish. The assembly line kept moving. When I see awards given today for good attendance and long service, it represents a bygone era.
With the ratios of work becoming increasingly focused on the application of knowledge, there are more unpredictable elements in today’s work. Even tasks we might have performed frequently have nuances brought on by new information, which can delay our response times. Is it realistic to expect every promise to be kept? Where is the line drawn when we become unreliable and non-responsive?
We don’t expect perfect performance from professional athletes, doctors, politicians or any other group that earns our respect. We do get concerned if there is a high margin of error for pilots, surgeons, architects and others where public safety is involved and back this up with requirements for additional safeguards. Personal resilience, flexibility and a commitment to continuous learning have now become our assurance of authenticity.
How much of the decline in public trust can be attributed to an erosion of our commitment to bring our best game every time? I have seen many instances where the least productive employees provide orientation to new employees. They say them “Here’s how we do things around here; if you want to get along, you will work at the pace we set”. This always results in a de facto performance standard that is lower than that for organizational success.
What if we are now entering a period where there are no more employees and everyone was a freelancer? In truth, the demands of the marketplace are causing more functions to be outsourced and contracts are more specific about what is to be delivered and for how much. With this trend, what does your “best game” entail?
Somehow the word “professional” comes to mind. Typically, we associate this term with fields that have prescribed educational and ethical criteria such as medicine, law etc. but it also serves to differentiate from amateurs.
Therefore, I submit that all of us should promise to be professionals in whatever we do. This means that we will strive to be reliable, responsive in our efforts to achieve goals that are mutually beneficial. We will recognize “stumbles” as learning opportunities for self-improvement and actively seek to improve.