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The Difference Between Promise and Performance

As we start 2014 focusing on execution, it’s good to remember that great execution means the difference between “promise” and “performance.” The world is filled with promises from politicians, business leaders, teachers, even religious leaders. But when it comes to actual performance – as the TV commercials say,“results my vary.” So how do we close the gap? How do we make sure we deliver on our promises? Here’s a few important keys to make it happen for you:

1. Always under-promise and over-deliver. That’s an old saying, but it’s more difficult to keep than we think. In the heat of negotiating a deal, interviewing for a new job, or pitching a project, we tend to over-promise. Our goal is to just get the gig. But over-promising always bites us later. It’s far better to impress your client, boss, or customer at the end of the transaction than at the beginning.

2. Align your expectations. Wrong or inaccurate expectations are the most difficult part of any relationship. I’ve written about expectations here.  Ask questions, check your progress, and make sure your client, boss or customer is happy – and do it often.

3. Spend as much time developing your skills as your ideas. You want to be a film director? It’s not enough to just think of movie ideas or write screenplays. You also need to spend time working with actors, understand camera lenses, editing, and more. You can’t execute well if you don’t know the process, and master the steps of the process. You don’t have to be an expert at everything, but you need to know enough to speak the language, know the potential, and deliver the project.

4. Talk – a lot. This isn’t a time to be a lone hero. Talk to members of your team regularly. Talk to outside vendors. Talk to the client, boss, or customer. As we discovered during the disastrous Obamacare roll-out, a disengaged leader opens the door to inaccurate promises, mistakes, and botched delivery.

5. Finally, create a process you can replicate. With creative jobs, that’s difficult because each project has unique direction, vision, and challenges. But as much as possible, create a process so you don’t start from scratch every time. We’re doing that right now at our media production company Cooke Pictures. Each client and idea might be different, but the process of making those ideas into films, video presentations, or TV programs is remarkably similar from project to project. So we’re outlining each step of the process, writing it into a manual, and teaching everyone how to do it. This way, we’ll consolidate our efforts, get rid of duplication, streamline the process, and be able to spend our time on what really matters – creating an original and compelling project.

There’s a huge difference between promise and performance, and not enough leaders understand it. Let me know from your experience how you’ve made sure that whatever you promise is what you deliver.