Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

(Originally written in September 2004 for Business Reform)

As I sat at lunch with the young insurance executive, he raised a question. He had an exclusive contract with an insurance company to sell only their products, but his agents wanted to sell a competitive product as well. My friend wanted to know if it would be morally right to do this through another company in which he had a vested interest. I reminded him that he had made a covenant, a promise. His word or reputation was the most valuable possession he had. Short-term gain would lead to long term broken promises and pain if he pursued this course. I asked him to consider the intent of the contract, not just the letter of the law.

Business is about relationships and relationships are built on long-term commitments and established trust. Most of us violate promises every day on the job. We commit to be at meeting, or to get a report completed by a certain time, or to deliver a new product, or to ship by a certain date, or to pay within terms. Most inefficiency in business is caused by broken promises and lack of meeting deadlines. For example, the customers may not give a shipping order when promised. The custom goods sit on the dock awaiting shipment. Everyone makes little promises that are not kept. They meant to give the purchase order, or ship the part on time, or make the service call promptly, but intention was not fulfilled. What would happen if we did not “over promise” to get the business or “under deliver” after we got the job or the order?

Broken contracts, unpaid bills, strained relationships, overtime hours, late shipments, missed deadlines, and delayed orders seem to be the norm in business today. In a day of “just in time” inventory, some companies seldom deliver as promised. In two businesses in which I am involved, key customers and suppliers have a track record of broken promises. These must be confronted and dealt with or the business will not survive. Let me share some specifics:

Bill is the CEO of a manufacturing firm that produces certain products. His firm is just now starting to recover from three years of recession in capital expenditures by their industry. A key customer is constantly pressuring for rapid fulfillment but seldom delivers the purchase order on time. Bill must encourage his customers to keep their commitments or his firm is not efficient and not profitable.

Joe runs a distribution firm in which their exclusive supplier is constantly raising prices due to lack of communication, poor marketing research, and little long term planning. Due to these poor business operational practices by his key supplier, Joe cannot keep his customers accurately informed. These broken promises lead to millions of dollars of lost profits for Joe, his supplier, and his customer. In each of these cases, Bill and Joe need to show their customers and suppliers that when business partners keep their promises, the results are trusting relationships, smooth running operations, and long-term profits.

In a day in which these types of situations are expected, we as believers in business must be the exception. First of all, we should not make rash promises to get the account or the order. We must instruct our sales team to under promise, not over promise. They should over deliver, not under deliver. God takes promises very seriously. In the Bible promises are called vows, pledges, covenants, or commitments. God warns us to not enter into agreements that we cannot keep. In Old Testament times, a handshake or a given word was the contract. Regardless, whether you have a written contract or not, you must keep every promise that you or your staff makes. The Bible tells us that we must keep that promise even if it hurts (Psalm 15:4) or if it was a mistake (Joshua 9:21).

God made many promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and to us. He keeps every promise (Joshua 23:14). He keeps His word for a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9). Will we keep ours for a month or a year? We need to be very careful about the vows that we make to God (Deuteronomy 23:21; Ecclesiastes 5:4). It is better not to vow than to not keep that vow. We need to be careful about the people with which we make agreements. They may become a snare to us (Exodus 23:22).

So, today, ask yourself what promises you have made that are not being kept? Are they with your customers, vendors, employees, banker, or spouse? How can we seek to impact a world when we do not keep our word? When Christian business leaders become “promise keepers” then we will begin to impact and transform our cities and our society. Make it your goal this month to “under promise” and “over deliver”.


About kenthumphreys
Kent Humphreys has been a business leader for over forty years. He also served as CEO of FCCI/Christ@Work for six years and now serves as their worldwide ambassador, speaking, writing, and mentoring young leaders. He continues to be active in distribution, private equities, and real estate. Kent and his wife Davidene have written six books together. They have three children and eight grand-children.

One Response to Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

  1. Danna Humphreys says:

    Good word!! Thanks !

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