leadership

What it takes to keep a promise

Michel Hogan /

The keeping of a promise is in the making. But even knowing that, it’s easy to be cavalier about making promises, I know I’m guilty of it from time-to-time.

Take the seemingly simple promise of “I’ll meet you at 9.00am for a coffee in the city” – which, judging by the number of times people are late for appointments, is not so simple at all.

And that’s because I’ve got to consider what else is on my plate and that I have time to take the appointment. Then I need to make sure I get up in the morning in time to do what I need to before I leave. I’ve got to make sure my alarm is set and that I get to bed when I need to the night before. I’ve got to think about where I’m meeting and will it be better to drive or catch public transportation and allow time for delayed trains or bad traffic on the way. I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the number with me so if I do get delayed for reasons outside my control I can call. If I’m driving, does my car have petrol in the tank and air in my tyres or do I need extra time to do that? Etc, etc.

So if it takes all of those points to be considered and aligned for me to make my 9.00am coffee appointment, just imagine what it takes to keep some of the much bigger promises made by organisations.

So let’s imagine.

Taking one of my favourite examples, l thought I’d take a look at Patagonia’s promise to “do as little harm as possible”, which is part of their mission statement.

Starting with the promise itself. They take pains to note that harm is inevitable in what they do (make outdoor apparel). So by saying “as little harm as possible” their promise is practical and acknowledges the environment they are in from the outset.

Too many times hype or desire overcomes good sense and the promise is unkeepable (which would be the case if Patagonia had said “do no harm”).

They manufacture goods and transport them. Both activities that inevitably cause harm. Careful selection and monitoring of both location and conditions of manufacturing is another consideration in keeping the promise. The Footprint Chronicles is one way they work to be transparent about how they’re doing and where and how their products are made and why they make the decisions they do.

Just because the delivery of your promise is complex and involves third parties and/or distance doesn’t let you off the hook for keeping it. Take these things into consideration when you’re making the promise in the first place.

Reusing, recycling and repairing are principles that the company embraces in more than their products. It’s another way they ‘do as little harm as possible’. And taking it a step further, the locations of their stores are (mostly) in refurbished older buildings.

The bigger the promise, the more aspects of your operations it will need to be woven into in order to keep it.

As a product company, one of the key ways they will keep their promise or not is in what they choose to make. And in the spirit of ‘do as little harm as possible’ Patagonia specifically only makes products for man-powered outdoor endeavours. Surfing, climbing, paddling, skiing, running… you get the idea.

The most powerful way a company keeps their promises is found in their products or services. What they are, how they work, how they are used. It’s where the promise rubber meets the road. What you don’t do can be as important to keeping your promise as what you do.

Plenty of promises get made (and broken) in marketing. Patagonia goes to some lengths to demonstrate that they stand behind their promise. A recent example being their Worn Wear campaign which highlights people who have owned and used their Patagonia apparel – for sometimes decades.

You’ll have a better chance of keeping your promise if your marketing supports it rather than being the one making it. Work from the inside out when thinking about your promises. What can you do. What do you want to do. Not just what do others want you to do.

Weaving together the necessary fabric to keep your promises is a complex, conscious and deliberate act. It will never occur through happenstance. I’ve used Patagonia as an example and only barely scratched the surface of all the things they look at and consider so they keep their promise of ‘do as little harm as possible’.

I could just as easily have chosen any number of other companies that also keep their promises. What they all have in common is the understanding that the keeping of a promise is in the making and in the making there are a myriad of considerations to think through BEFORE the promise is even made.

Make yours deliberately. Think about them fully. The resulting brand will be one that people care about and come back to over and over again.

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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