By Francis Wade
Tuesday, September 8, 2015.
A few years
ago I coined a new term – the “promisphere.” It’s a simple place to start in
transforming a company’s culture.
If you suspect that there is something wrong with
your corporate culture here’s one way to start cleaning things up now, before
the situation worsens.
The “promisphere” in your company is defined as a
network consisting of every promise ever made. Each individual commitment
contributes to the overall promisphere, regardless of its current state.
Because a promise is a human invention of the mind, according to Promise Theory
by Bergstra and Burgess, it’s little more than a psychological object. However,
the promisphere is a powerful indicator of your company’s health as it limits
what can be accomplished, especially when it’s in bad shape.
Picture a fish-tank. The fish are like employees
and the water can be compared to the promisphere. Each time, when a fish poops,
it pollutes its own surroundings just a little. Over time, if nothing is done
to correct the situation, the water poisons and kills all its inhabitants.
In like manner, in your company, whenever someone
breaks, forgets or abandons a promise it pollutes the promisphere. Eventually,
the problem escalates if nothing is done to reverse the effect and getting even
simple things done becomes harder. As the bonds of trust fray, people are
forced to invest a greater effort to maintain the same level of productivity.
After a while, those who care the most get burned out and either stop trying
altogether, or circulate their resume in an attempt to abandon ship.
If this resonates with you at all don’t despair
yet. Every company has a promisphere and if a leader insists that his firm’s
promisphere is absolutely clear… don’t believe him. The reason is simple –
companies are staffed with imperfect human beings who make promises every day
and fail to keep them. In other words, the promisphere is continuously being
polluted, without exception. The danger is not taking urgent action to reverse
the decay. What can your organization do to make sure that it’s promisphere is
being cleaned up?
1. Prevent “Executitis”
Like pancreatitis, executitis is a slow, silent killer. It’s a condition in
which top managers lose touch with their people, including the state of the
promisphere. After some time, even well-meaning executives come to believe that
broken promises don’t matter very much. They trust that, at the end of the day,
staff will give them a big bligh, understand the pressures they are under and
just forget about past promises. It’s not an insane tactic. Working Jamaicans
trust their leaders far too much, leading to disillusionment when they see them
ignoring the promisphere.
They make it too easy for executives to ignore the
power and intelligence of the crowd – their staff. Leaders fail to notice that
even a brand new employee can recall a broken, unfulfilled promise made decades
ago. They don’t simply disappear.
On the flip-side, an executive who understands the
promisphere and how it’s being polluted every day, is hyper-aware of every
single promise he makes. It’s hard work to stay on top of all of them, but it
pays off in the trust it generates.
2. Develop Skills
An executive who is aware of the promises he makes also must become skillful at
cleaning things up when they are broken. Sometimes it requires a simple email,
for example, apologizing for arriving late at a meeting. At the other extreme,
I have seen executives write and read letters to their staff, taking
responsibility for failing to perform their duties.
These are the sort of actions that clean up a
company’s promisphere. Others include
– telling the truth openly
– seeking reconciliation
– asking for forgiveness
– making amends
– offering apologies.
In all cases, responsibility is taken wherever it has been lacking.
It’s heady, transformative stuff. I have written
letters like the ones I described and as gut-wrenching as they are, they often
do change everything. The first attempt can be stressful, but anyone can
deliberately strengthen their skills via intense practice sessions with a
3. Find Courage
Unfortunately, new awareness and skills aren’t enough. It’s challenging to have
a confronting conversation with a boss, colleague, direct report or other
stakeholder. Cleaning up the promisphere calls for a level of courage many
executives don’t possess.
People will do anything to avoid these tough
conversations indefinitely, trying hard to find plausible reasons to avoid them
altogether. If you doubt this assertion, bring to mind three people you don’t
believe you can effectively confront regarding a broken promise either of you
has made. (If you cannot find an example, just ask someone who knows you well.)
Courage can be developed with the support of your
colleagues. They can provide emotional cover.
Fortunately, the manager who avoids executitis, but
grows in skill and courage makes staff members feel respected as they clean up
the promisphere. They restore the capacity of their companies to perform.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect
Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary
of each of his past articles, send email to email@example.com