I’m not a New Year’s Resolution kinda gal. I live a day at a time and prefer to make a daily resolution. However, I have a couple resolutions I’ll share over the next few days.

My first one is “Honor Your Commitments.”

When you commit to doing something, or showing up somewhere, it’s not just a calendar item in your Outlook, or an entry in your lists that you can press “snooze” or ignore.

You have committed to another person to meet somewhere, return a call, submit a document, etc.

In many cases, the other person, or persons, cannot move forward until your piece of the pie is completed.

It’s a relay race of sorts.

By not honoring your commitment, you are, at the very least, inconveniencing another person. At the most, you are putting other people, or projects, at risk.

Think about all those HORRIBLE presentations you sit through at a conference. I assure you, someone on the “team” did not honor their commitments. They didn’t turn their handouts in on time. They did not prepare in advance, and threw the slides together at the last moment. They missed the conference calls where the panel would run through the materials.

I can give example after example of how lawyers fail on this one, especially when it comes to committing to their marketing departments.

  • There’s a reason why marketing departments hire outside consultants and coaches for attorneys. For some reason, attorneys are more likely to honor their commitment to an outside consultant than to inside colleague at the firm. We marketing directors and administrators jokingly refer to this as paying someone $5,000 to do what we can do (or say what we can say) for free.
  • What about that RFP that is sitting on your desk, or in your in-box, that you forget to hand over to the marketing director until just days before its due?
  • What about the emails asking for key information to complete a project that just seem to go into that black hole of nothingness? Sometimes you really are the only person who can answer that question.

This behavior is not exclusive to lawyers. My eleven-year old — going on 22 — did it to me today.

She really wanted to come with me to the office. I woke her up at 7:00, told her we were leaving at 8:30, and instructed her to get up and get ready.

At 8:15 she still wasn’t ready. In fact, she hadn’t even started getting dressed. Her room was in such a disarray that she couldn’t find anything to wear. Lots of excuses. But, really, the TV and Nintendo just distracted her. She thought she had more time.

A normal mom would just yell or walk out the door. I, however, chose to explain to her (again) that by not getting ready she was inconveniencing ME. In fact, she wasn’t just inconvenicing me, but a whole group of people down the line:

  • Her sister was ready, so she was forcing her to sit around and wait.
  • There was no time now for breakfast at home, so we’d have to eat downtown, which is costing me money.
  • I will now be late to work. Sure, I’m exempt, but she doesn’t know what that means yet, and it would ruin the lesson.
  • The project I was hoping to have completed by 9:30 wasn’t ready until 10:00, pushing my service manager’s projects back, which pushes the other projects back, and so on.

I not only made her feel guilty, I even made her cry a little.

Some might say I was harsh, but I hope she remembers that conversation the next time I say “Be ready by 8:30,” or her professor says “Final term papers are due at 12:00 p.m., sharp,” or her boss says, “I need that presentation by 3:00 p.m.”

Yes, there are always emergencies, but skiing in Vermont when an RFP-follow up is due on January 4 is not an emergency (True story, different firm).

Sure, you can pretend to not get my faxes (Really?? No WiFi at the lodge). And wasn’t it convenient that you happened to forget your Blackberry at home that week.

But what it came down to is that there was a job to get done. I was committed to it, but the partner of record was not.

Never mind that the firm was incredibly vested in us winning that new line of business. I just wanted to scream “We pulled a team together between Christmas and New Year’s to make YOU look good, and you keep dodging my phone calls!! Why??”

If the work turned out to be sub-par, and you didn’t win the beauty contest, accept responsibility for your actions. Don’t turn around and blame the marketing department. But, hey, thanks for throwing us under the bus nonetheless.

What it comes down to is that every time you commit to someone you form a team. If you cannot honor your commitment, then get it covered, or redefine the time commitments to which everyone can agree, and adhere to them.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s about your reputation. It’s about the work product. It’s about the relationships.

What it comes down to is that no matter how bright and gifted my kid is, if she can’t get herself dressed and out the door on time by the time she graduates high school, she’s going to have problems in college, which will boil over into her career.

In a society where bad reputations can be spread like a viral YouTube video, this is something I do find to be of concern.

But don’t blame me. I tried.

Photo via computerworlduk.com

  • Ahhh…thank you for this!

    Most marketers – especially ones in small, lean & mean departments – have to rely on other people to get a job done. And, if that link in the chain can’t get the job done, then the job can’t be completed. As a person who lives & dies by deadlines (and a not-so-closet perfectionist), this is beyond disappointing and frustrating.

    Even if you pass-the-buck, I can all but guarantee the general counsel who gave the RFP to you is going to know it was (a) done at the last second and (b) done at the last second by your marketing department. Exactly: “But, hey, thanks for throwing us under the bus nonetheless.”

    It’s OK to say no, to not do something, to not respond to an RFP…people are busy, and we have priorities. But remember, as always, actions speak louder than words.

  • Good post Heather…and an important lesson for ALL of us to remember. Happy New Year to one of my favorite people.