A while ago, during a marketing meeting for my company Constant Contact, some of our VPs gave their best pieces of business advice. Catherine Kniker, Chief Channel Officer and Vice President, International (an Irish expatriate who always has something fun up her sleeve), got up to podium and said, “Mine is going to come from someone with a sixth-grade education: my dad.” The room perked up a little at this. She put the slide up with the words: “Just do the thing you said you were gonna do.”
She went on to say 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 somewhat profound.
Think About Opportunity Cost
We live in a world that moves incredibly fast. We have high expectations — of ourselves, of our colleagues, of our partners and of our children. Sometimes it’s just easier to commit to what people want. It feels good to be able to say you will solve someone’s 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 maybe isn’t that important at the expense of something that is. And before you know it, you’re letting people down.
We need to remember that there is an opportunity cost to everything, and if we wish to be the type of people who can say that our word is our bond, we need to think long and hard about what we commit to and the expectations that we set.
Set Achievable Priorities
I like to put my life into three key 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 first try to make sure that it tracks to one of those overarching buckets in order to avoid any superfluous details or taskscreeping into my life. If we know ourselves and our capacity, we can more 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. Properly setting up a validation board saves a lot of cycles, money and headaches and allows us to focus on the 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 thoughtfully tested our way into it.
Pay Attention to the Little Things
There’s something to be said for paying attention to the little things, as they often they make the biggest difference. If you’ve set an expectation and something changes, are you communicating with all the right people? Are you closing the loop? Sometimes letting someone know where you are in the process goes a long way.
At work, 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 doing little things for someone special to remind them that you care. Little things — not necessarily moving mountains — make a big difference in how secure the person who makes the “ask” will feel in your ability to deliver, and it will 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 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.
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.
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