The Reason We Should Under Promise and Over Deliver

by Sharlyn Lauby on May 7, 2013

One of the most frustrating things I deal with are people (and companies) who promise a specific deliverable on a certain date or time – and it just doesn’t happen. They either miss the deadline or forget the information. Or both.

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It makes me appreciate when someone under promises and over delivers. Yes, it’s an old saying but I find the words valuable.

Case in point: The hard drive on my computer died. I was doing data back-ups, but they weren’t scheduled daily. When the CPU crashed, I had some work that hadn’t yet been backed up. My computer guy was honest with me. He didn’t know whether or not he could recover all my files. He said he would try. I couldn’t really ask for more since I wasn’t backing up the data daily.

Couple days later, he called and said it wasn’t looking good and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. A few days after that, I got the call that he had recovered everything.  Something about putting my hard drive in the freezer (seriously). I was thrilled!

This is a classic example of under promise (i.e. “don’t get your hopes up”) and over deliver (aka “recovered everything”). If he had said, no worries…I can get the data restored and then didn’t; I would have been incredibly disappointed. Because he got my hopes up. And, it might have effected whether or not I believe his judgment in the future.

Another business example is the well-known “sandbagging” the budget. I must admit that I’ve on many occasions understated revenue in the budget and overstated expenses. Why?  Because it’s easier to tell people the team made more or spent less than what was expected. The expectation is to meet the budget. If you don’t, there might come a moment when you have to explain to people that you didn’t meet the revenue goal or properly manage expenses.

Some folks might call sandbagging the budget a game, but the reality is it happens. A lot. Because none of us like saying negative things like “Bob didn’t sell enough.” or “Mary spent too much on food at the meeting.”

Even when we try our best to manage expectations, this doesn’t mean that everything always turns out perfectly. We all have moments where something in our lives goes kablooey and we can’t meet a deadline. Or we’re thrown a curve ball and need to get additional information before sending in our report. But when we make a commitment to do something, the expectation is we will deliver. And if we can’t, then the proper thing to do is let someone know. Communicate and renegotiate the deliverable.

Customers and employees are delighted when you set realistic expectations, communicate regularly and create opportunities to exceed your promises. Not to mention, it will make your life a whole lot easier.

P.S.  While this post is about exceeding expectations, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of backing up computer data regularly. Listen to me. Do it. You don’t want to recreate all of the stuff you have on your computer. Facing the prospect of having to possibly recreate even a few days’ worth of work convinced me.

Image courtesy of HR Bartender

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Phil May 9, 2013 at 10:57 pm

You should always save on the network drive!
That wasn’t the main point of the article? Oh, you should under promise/over deliver too. =)

Sharlyn Lauby May 11, 2013 at 9:06 am

:-) Thanks for the comment Phil!

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