Is Commitment to Action Killing Your Career?

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

Yeah… I will do that… How often have you said something like this when you haven’t been entirely committed to taking action? Quite often, I expect.

Our careers are built and grown on action… so does a lack of commitment to taking the actions we agree on put our career at risk?

I don’t write this with a halo above my head. I am guilty as charged.

One of the most important factors that shape the success or demise of our career is delivering on action.

Most of us are busy – so a lack of effort isn’t the problem. Effort does not always result in growth, increased salaries or promotion. But steadfastly completing tasks does. Our tendency to take on more and more work is, perhaps, our undoing. We agree to something in the hope we can find the time to do it. And some we do, some we don’t.

There are our personal commitments that we make to ourselves. We can plan to do something in order to increase our personal progress and gain. Failure in these commitments leads to personal disappointment and stress.

But it’s the commitments we make to other people that cause us the greatest pain. In business, our colleagues and customers rely on our commitment so they too can honor their commitments. It’s the breakdown in the chain of dependent actions that leads to business disaster. Any Project Manager worth their salt will tell you that. So when we fail to deliver, so do others…

And multiply that over the scale of an organization, even a small organization, and you can see the problem.

Our commitment to action is the glue in the value we deliver to our employers, customers and stakeholders.

Most business services are provided with a Service Level Agreement (SLA) – a contract between supplier and consumer. This forces commitment to action, or penalties can be levied. But many commitments between people are not formalised as such.

Perhaps they should be?

I am not suggesting that every interaction between people in your organization must be complemented with a legal contract. Heck, lawyers are rich enough already. But there is something called the Psychological Contract between people which can bind us to our committed actions and results. A Psychological Contract is the agreement of two parties in what their mutual obligations are towards each other.

One cause of a break in commitment is when we agree to something that we are not completely sure what it is. The outcome hasn’t been defined properly. But there is a simple way of validating a request so we can be assured that we have the best chance of achieving it. We will call it a S.M.A.R.T. action, where S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

S: The action is specific – enough to be unambiguous

M: The outcome of the action is measurable – you will know when the action has been achieved

A: The action is achievable – you can actually achieve it

R: The action is relevant – the action is relevant to what you’ve set out to achieve

T: The action is timebound – you know when it must be complete by

An action that does not pass the S.M.A.R.T. test is one we can’t be sure that we can complete, therefore we shouldn’t commit to it. And then, who knows, we might refuse to commit to something that we would blindly done so before, and failed?

Testing for commitment to action

Using the S.M.A.R.T. test above, we can test the commitment of other people’s actions:

  • Specific: Can you tell me specifically when you intend to achive?
  • Measurable: When will you know when you have achieved it?
  • Achievable: What makes you sure you can achieve it?
  • Relevant: What is the purpose of this action?
  • Timebound: When will you have completed this action?

Have these questions in your head for when you next ask somebody else to commit to an action, and put them to the test!

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