A while ago, during a marketing meeting at Constant Contact, our VPs shared their best business advice. Catherine Kniker, Chief Channel Officer and Vice President, International (an Irish expatriate who always has something fun up her sleeve), stepped up to podium and said, “Mine is going to come from someone with a sixth-grade education: my dad.”
The room perked up. Then she clicked the presentation slide and the words: “Just do the thing you said you were gonna do,” appeared on the screen.
Catherine explained that her dad would always know when he lent out a tool who would return it when they said they would. “See Jim over there,” he would say, “He’ll have that tool back, in the box, on our doorstep by tomorrow night. But John, I’ll have to chase him for two weeks.”
She said that, in business, it’s the best advice she could give. Just do what you said you were going to do and everything will be just fine. Something about this advice resonated with me. It’s so simple, yet profound.
The world moves incredibly fast. We have high expectations — of ourselves, our colleagues, our peers and so on. Sometimes it’s just easier to commit to what people want.
It feels good to be able to say “I will solve your problem,” and tell them what they want to hear without really thinking it through. In doing so, it’s easy to get sidetracked and prioritize something that isn’t that important; at the expense of something that is a priority. Before you know it, you’re letting people down.
Remember: there is an opportunity cost to everything. If we wish to be the type of people who can say our word is our bond, we need to think long and hard about what we commit to and the expectations we set.
I put my life into three buckets (in no particular order): professional development, raising my child and accomplishing things that make me happy.
When an opportunity presents itself or a request comes my way, I make sure it tracks to one of those overarching buckets. This helps me to avoid any superfluous details or tasks creeping into my life. If we know ourselves and our capacity, we can easily decide which requests matter the most and which things can be put on hold to favor other opportunities in other buckets.
At Constant Contact we use “validation boards” as a way to test before we commit a lot of time and energy to a project. They include a hypothesis, a set of assumptions, a method for testing and a clearly defined success criteria.
Creating a validation board saves a lot of cycles, money and headaches. It allows us to focus on projects with the best chances for success. In other words, we know we will be able to do the thing we said we were going to do because we have thoughtfully tested our way into it.
There’s something to be said for paying attention to the little things. They often make the biggest difference.
If you’ve set an expectation and something changes, are you communicating with the right people? Are you closing the loop? Sometimes letting a peer, customer, or investor know where you are in the process goes a long way.
It can be as simple as taking the time to walk over to someone’s desk to give them an update so they feel valued. In your personal life, it can be expressed by doing little things for someone special to remind them you care.
Little things — not necessarily moving mountains — make a big difference in a person’s perception of your ability to deliver. It will also make them much more forgiving if something changes.
So thanks, Catherine.
Thanks for sharing the wisdom of your father and reminding us that sometimes there is a simplicity to life (and business) at the core of our very complicated and fast-moving existence. Sometimes, it really is as basic as doing the thing you said you were going to do.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Tammy Leigh Kahn is a technology entrepreneur in Boston, MA. Tammy writes frequently on social media, small business, technology and entrepreneurship and shares her knowledge and advice with thousands via radio, Web seminars and live presentations. Tammy is currently Sr. Manager of Market Development at Constant Contact. Connect with @tammylkahn on Twitter.
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