Are the Trains in Your Organization Running On-Time?

One December I was working in London. A week into my project for Eurotunnel all the trains in the city were seriously late. British Rail blamed the delays on “the wrong kind of snow.”   The next month I was in Switzerland leading an engagement for SR Technics Group. I went to a railroad platform in Zurich and just as the minute hand hit the top of the hour my train arrived; it was precisely on time.

Are the trains in your organization running precisely on time like the Swiss or do you often face British-type delays? In today’s increasingly dynamic environments, we need the adaptability to reliably deliver even when things change. The structures of the past (think of Henry Ford’s River Rouge Factory) are typically too rigid for today’s environment.

The reliability of your trains and the level of your performance depend on the ability of your people to make and keep commitments. Every time someone makes a request of another there is an opportunity to drop the ball. The busier people are, and the more things change, the harder it is to deliver.  And the reliability of your trains matters today more than ever before because in our knowledge-based economy, your organization’s capabilities and ultimately your value depends on the quality of your relationships internally, with partners, and throughout your network.  Every time you make and keep a promise, trust is strengthened, and whenever you fail to deliver, trust and relationships suffer.

Performance disciplines in business are similar to plays in basketball – sequences of moves selected to maximize success based on the skills of the players and the situations they face.  Promise-Based Management is a performance discipline that improves the reliability of the many handoffs that must work for your trains to run on time.

Promise-Based Management requires that each “customer” and “doer” establish and agree to clear requirements and timing. The doer promises to deliver on the agreement and, if necessary, renegotiates requirements and/or timing. Customers and doers assess whether the promise was met, rate satisfaction, and learn from their experience. Once excellence at Promise-Based Management is your organization’s habit your trains, like the Swiss, will run precisely on time.

Taking Action: You can pilot Promise-Based Management with your leadership team or with an important project team.  Use your pilot to adapt Promise-Based Management to the specifics of your organization.  To learn more you can read about Promise-Based Management in the Harvard Business Review.

Posted by David Sherman

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