They Did What They Said but Not When They Said They Would


New Mexico license plates advertise the state as The Land of Enchantment because of its many natural wonders. Locals call it The Land of Mañana because it’s a wonder anything gets finished.

We lived in Albuquerque for several years. New Mexico is a beautiful and enchanting place. God displayed enormous imagination in the high desert, the unique people groups, and the addicting power of green chile, which improves even cinnamon rolls. We love the place.

We did not love the land of mañana part. Oh, we laughed when moving in a townhouse and neighbors told us to expect things to be done more slowly. We shrugged it off when the cable guy took a week longer than expected—it’s the cable guy, right? Then we built our house.

Waiting on someone to do something who promised he’d be there Monday and now it’s Wednesday, and he just told you he will get to your job tomorrow for sure ranks high on the list of not fun ways to spend the week. All of us can relate, can we not? Everyone’s put up with the person who did what they said they’d do, but not when they said they’d do it.

Doing what one says he or she will do is the essence of integrity and half the sum. Doing it when you say you’ll do it is the latter half of the equation. This seems pretty easy—evidently, it’s not.

One of the most common ethical pain points we hear from our clients sounds like, “How do I get people to just do what they said they’d do?” And right behind that, “…when they said they’d do it.” We aren’t talking about circumstances beyond one’s control like weather delays. The complaints we hear involve willful promises of timely work that don’t happen and carry no reasonable explanation.

Circumstances may prevent performance within the promised time frame. In that case, make a phone call! Let me know what happened and how to revise my expectations. Let me decide how I want to proceed. What I hear from clients is that people don’t show up and don’t call.

It’s not only contractors, vendors, suppliers, or government agencies. It’s employees, managers, and professional companies too. It’s telling people everything is fine, then canceling a contract or laying off employees three weeks later—how could they not know? It’s projecting increased earnings this quarter but delivering them a year later. It’s saying the check’s in the mail when it’s not because before we pay you we need a form filled out that we forgot to send you.

We can’t tell if people overpromise or just can’t say no, and really, we don’t care. We care that people in your organization do the right thing next time and the time after that, and we want to make it easier to do the right thing.

One productive solution involves explaining expectations whenever possible (this is a great place to overcommunicate). Tell people what you expect—do what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it—during hiring, onboarding, training, feedback sessions, and periodic reviews.

Start with clarity on the measurement. The only ethically sound practice involves doing what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it. Anything less than both halves of the equation misses the mark.