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Enhancing Organizational Performance

I Promise

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I don’t know about you but I am getting tired of listening to sales pitches or promises that are just substantially not true, contain misdirection or are purposely vague. For instance a certain cable company has been calling me two sometimes three times per week trying to get me to sign up for their internet based telephone service or VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).  The opening line of the sales person who calls is that he/she is there to offer me a lower monthly cable bill. He/she then goes on to say all I have to do to get this lower rate is to sign up for their telephone service. So by signing up for additional services I can lower my monthly bill. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, if it sounds too good to be true it typically is. When I asked for how long this lower rate would stay in effect before the rates rise I first get evasion. When I repeat the question for the third time the sales person finally tells me that after 12 months the rates will rise, without telling me what they will rise to, but what the sales person will say is that I can cancel at any time. (That process is called objection handling among sales people). By the time I get to some truth in the conversation, (usually earlier but I decided to play it out with the last sales person to have some material for this blog), I simply say not interested and hang up the phone.

My mom who just turned 85 (don’t tell her I told you), gets calls just about daily from people trying to tell her that they can help out with the mortgage problems they know she is having, telling her that they can help save her house from foreclosure which would force her to live on the street. Only thing is the mortgage was paid off 30 years ago. To an 85 year old this is a very frightening thing and she will often now answer the phone without saying “hello” just picking up the receiver and listening. Thank you to all the */?-@@**?s out there who feel that it is ok to prey on an 85 year old woman. Just about as bad are the sales persons who call up virtually daily to see if she is interested in a cemetery plot, taking care of the problems with her credit, or some insurance product or another. The national “do not call list” and legislation that was set up about 5 or 6 years ago seems to have had no effect.

I remember bidding on a research project for a nuclear power company that I lost. They wanted normative data for nuclear power plants and organizations undergoing transitions to be included in their final report. I told them that I had enough data for utilities but I did not have enough clients who had nuclear power plants to provide norms for nuclear power plants. And I indicated that while virtually all companies at the time were undergoing transitions of one sort or another, my company did not track “transitions” as a variable so the data could not be provided that way. My competition for that work indicated that they had enough data on nuclear power plants in transition to provide normative data specifically on nuclear power plants undergoing transitions. Being from New York, my response to that was “is that nuclear power plants undergoing transitions from the north side of town or the south side of town?” If you have been in this business for any length of time you will immediately understand how ludicrous the notion is of having norms for nuclear power plants in transitions, yet a supposedly sophisticated company bit on that promise. Promise now, figure it out later was the notion I think my competitor was using.

Why are we susceptible to these forms of misdirection? If we weren’t they would stop happening. There must be enough 85 year olds out there who respond positively to the sales pitches for those companies to keep that activity going. In a previous blog posting called “Is grandpa going to be ok”, I describe research on wishful or magical thinking that sheds light on how the human minds has a tendency to want to believe. Another aspect that can cause misinterpretation of what is said is the differing levels of saliency that a message has to the speaker and the listener of the message or to different listeners, a topic I discuss in “My jeans are irregulars”.

Human beings all of sorts, including some managers of organizations, have raised the ability to make promises that do not have to be delivered upon to an art form. In her book “Fearless Leadership”, Loretta Molandro has developed a classification scheme for promises that people within organizations make to one another or to customers/potential customers. First she describes casual promises, then half promises, vague promises then finally authentic commitments. Here is an overview of her descriptions:

  • Casual Promises – These are promises that the promiser has actually no intention to deliver upon. “Sure, no problem”, kind of statements.
  • Half Promises – These are promises that come with built-in excuses and escape hatches. When a half-promise is not delivered upon the response here is along the lines of “I must have misunderstood what you wanted. If I had actually understood you, and it is of course your fault that I did not, I would have been able to deliver upon what I promised.”
  • Vague Promises – These are promises with nothing specific attached to it, no dates or deadlines. Here the promiser is saying “I will get to it if something more important to me doesn’t come along”.
  • Finally you have Authentic Commitments – These are clear and explicit statements that can be easily understood by all those involved. People who make authentic commitments will say “no” often, but when they say “yes” they deliver.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 4, 2009 at 7:07 pm

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