‘We’re sorry – we know that you had a 5:30 pm dinner reservation but earlier patrons are not leaving their tables. So we can’t seat you at this time.’ These weren’t the words that I wanted to hear when taking my family out to celebrate my son’s birthday. I had specifically selected this restaurant due to its upscale environment and menu – and we had arrived a little early to beat the dinner rush. This could have led to a really awful evening for my family – turning a celebration into a long, hungry wait with a restaurant staff who stood by and watched us, along with 10 other hungry diners, in the lobby. I waited to see what would happen next. How would the restaurant staff respond to this missed commitment?
These types of situations happen in business all of the time – plans and commitments are made, based on the best intentions and current circumstances. Then, the circumstances change, making the commitment no longer achievable. Really it is a question of when, vs. if, a commitment will be missed. But, the more important question is – how will the missed commitment be handled? Especially in a management situation, if someone misses a work commitment, what happens? Who is supposed to follow-up?
I have always believed that the person who made the commitment has the responsibility for communication on the commitment – for progress reports, for results reporting, and for re-negotiation if the commitment and/or timing cannot be achieved. Few things are more frustrating on a project, than to have someone promise a result delivery, but then not not communicate if there is an issue making the commitment. If I receive no communication, then I have to begin chasing the person – hoping to get enough information so that there is time to work a contingency plan. Many times, the bigger challenge is the lack of response and/or lack of time to plan a contingency vs. the actual missed commitment itself.
There are several things that can be done to proactively work out the missed commitment. First of all – tell the truth – it may not be liked, but it will be appreciated. How often, when a flight is delayed, would you prefer to have the airline just say, ‘the truth is – we think we’ll be an hour late, but we don’t really know.’ – vs. saying ‘we will be 10 minutes delayed’, 6 different times over the next hour?
Secondly, don’t make-up the reason why the commitment was missed. No excuses – if you made a mistake, admit it, apologize, and promise to not do it again. Then, re-make the commitment – making sure the new commitment is realistic. If you consciously commit to something you know that you cannot do – it is misleading at best and lying at worst.
Lastly, if there is something that you can do to make-up for the missed commitment – do it! At a minimum, there is the inconvenience that others have to do in re-evaluating and/or re-working their commitments. After all – their promises were based on you delivering on time. By asking if there is anything you can do to make-up, you are demonstrating that you respect and value their time as well as yours. You are showing that you hold yourself accountable, and that you acknowledge causing them an inconvenience.
So – how did the restaurant respond for my son’s birthday celebration? About 10 minutes after telling us that they couldn’t seat us due to guests not leaving, the hostess came by and apologized again. She then had flatbread appetizers and champagne flutes brought out for everyone who was waiting to be seated. She said, ‘If you think we are trying to bribe you – you are right! We don’t want you to be waiting AND hungry. We want you to think well of us – even when things don’t go exactly according to plan.’
Well said! Things are going to happen and commitments will be missed – how you respond makes all the difference. Communicate early, be honest, give a realistic new commitment, and do something to balance the scales. You’ll build relationship and trust – and you’ll be remembered! Not for the miss, but for the professional, proactive way in which you responded.