02 Aug When a promise really isn’t a promise
Like a lot of little girls, I was absolutely horse crazy starting at about the age of 6. I took horseback riding lessons, I loved burying my face in the nape of their neck and I even didn’t mind mucking out the stalls. My father was a doctor and so we had some means – I begged him for a horse. He promised me when I turned 16, he would buy me a horse. That’s the danger of a promise. People might remember that you made it.
I’ll bet you can guess what happened. By the time I was 16, my parents were divorcing and I don’t think I even got a birthday party. I did get my driver’s license, which meant I could escape to be with my friends and get into trouble. I asked my father one day what happened to my horse. He just laughed.
Years later, I worked for a group of entrepreneurs at a start-up firm. The president was very fond of making broad sweeping promises to the consultants on our staff, promises that often never got fulfilled. Once he offered Palm Pilots (this is when they were really cool and new) to every consultant at a branch…nearly 100 people in all. As the Branch Manager, I knew there wasn’t any money in the budget for those devices. The president left, and I was left to explain to these people why that promise meant nothing. Years later, I found out this person had told several staff they would get stock if we were acquired. That also never happened and many of these people feel resentment to this day. As their manager, some of it got directed at me.
Some entrepreneurs have a habit of making promises they can’t keep. I’m not sure if its their eternal optimism, or a need to look like the good guy or what. But many times those people who believe the promises end up feeling betrayed and hurt. I can’t say that I was terribly damaged by that promise of a horse. I can say, however, that lesson and those lessons from seeing entrepreneurs who freely “gift” things they don’t have, make me caution anyone with a small or growing business.
Don’t make a promise until right before you deliver on that promise. We remember those horses, and Palm Pilots and stock options.