Imagine you have a note taking robot at your disposal. The robot records every new promise made by people in your company — explicit or implicit, emotional or functional or social, aspirational or realistic. Everything! Gifted with an unlimited power supply (and storage), it moves on to survey for existing promises, expectations, and commitments. The robot does this every day.
How long is the list? How many items get added every day? How many things get ignored? Who has dashed hopes? Maybe no one cares? Maybe they do.
During a day at work recently, I tried to be that robot. I recorded every hint of a promise made during the three hours of meetings that day. The list was massive, and only a tiny percentage of the promises were captured somewhere (outside of my list). Most of the officially recognized promises lacked real clarity, next steps, and shared understanding. The implicit ones were all over the place… who knows how people interpreted them. Even when there seemed to be agreement, I couldn’t really tell.
A CEO once told me that he expected “motivated” people to “load themselves up with too much to do, and routinely drop balls, but don’t screw up the important tasks.” According to their view of work (and life), unless someone is maxed out, they aren’t trying hard enough. Now multiply this across the organization. What happened? Predictably, people struggled with debilitating stress. But they were also hurt because other teammates (including leaders) had broken their promises to them, often unintentionally. The situation slowly spiraled out of control.