The lost art of honoring commitments, or why you have to lower the boom

Toni Bowers is wondering why some people you work with treat the word "commitment" as just a suggestion.

A few years ago, I was sitting on the deck at my house and felt a golf ball whiz past my head. It seems that a couple of guys across the road from us were practicing their swings. Unfortunately, neither of them was aware that golf balls don't just disappear into the horizon. Newton's Law and plain ole common sense tell you that every action has a reaction.

When my husband drove up to their house to explain this ground-breaking bit of wisdom to them, they were surprised. We gave them the benefit of the doubt because they were teenagers.

Today, I find myself facing the action/reaction conundrum all over again. But this time I'm dealing with working adults. I am consistently surprised by the inability of some people in the working world to see how their actions (or the case I'm about to describe, inaction) can affect others down the line.

Let me say first that I believe the ability to follow up on what is promised is one of the most important qualities you can ask for in a person. To me, it is perhaps the most important mechanism behind a successful working team.

I don't know if the ability to honor one's commitments is a personality trait or an active choice. Either way, if you don't have it, you're going to have a short shelf life on my team.

I think it's arrogant to not consider or care about how inaction on your part is going to put more of a burden on others down the line. You delay your part in a project? That time has to be made up somewhere, usually on the back of someone who can be depended on to take up your slack.

I understand that sometimes things come up. But if you are consistently inconsistent, then your problem is not the unexpected constantly rearing its ugly head. The problem is that you have poor organizational skills and an inability to gauge your own bandwidth. And it's time for you to go. If you promise, deliver. If you can't deliver, don't promise. It's that simple.

I am very fortunate to be blessed with an internal staff of people who always follow through on what they promise. And this is often done while they deal with consistently erratic schedules brought on by some of their writers who miss their deadlines, leaving them to scramble around to fill in the holes.

I don't understand how a person cannot realize that an act of negligence like this eventually trickles down to someone else's shoulders. More often than not, the editor isn't even given the courtesy of an apology.

I also don't understand how someone who has gone to the trouble of securing work can be so blasé about actually doing it.

Anyone else feel as strongly as I do about honoring commitments? Or are empty promises just a necessary business evil? Is accountability a thing of the past?

By Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.