When a promise really isn’t a promise

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.


  • James Dibben
    Posted at 13:02h, 02 August Reply

    I’ve tried to make sure I didn’t promise my daughters something I may not be able to deliver on.

    Thanks for a great reminder of the power of broken promises.

    • bonnie
      Posted at 13:18h, 02 August Reply

      Actually my dad was a great dad….I do still get teased by my siblings that I never got a horse however.

      • James Dibben
        Posted at 13:21h, 02 August Reply

        Hehe, of course!

  • A. Agustin
    Posted at 16:23h, 02 August Reply

    “Don’t make a promise until right before you deliver on that promise.”

    This statement really grabbed me for its accuracy. Too often, it’s really the timing that determines the outcome, as far as making promises and delivering them goes.

    In our line of work (business process outsourcing), if we promise to deliver quality work on time, then we must strive to deliver both of what we promised (quality work and meeting the deadline) and not sacrifice one to meet the other during crunch time.

    Our company’s work ethics stress the importance of delivering exactly what was promised, when it was promised. To us, partial fulfillment is just as bad as not delivering at all.

    Quality assurance and proper management planning are really at the core of customer satisfaction, and good timing is what strikes the balance.

    Thanks for your light-to-read but highly thought-provoking article.

  • Joseph
    Posted at 12:21h, 02 August Reply

    That’s very true. One of the quickest ways to develop a resentful workforce is to begin promising things you cannot deliver.

  • Rufus Dogg
    Posted at 13:29h, 02 August Reply

    I had this conversation with my son just a couple days ago discussing this LetsBlogOff. I promised him a trip to DisneyWorld when he was was 10, but things got a bit unheaved with life when he was 10… so we never got there. But it turns out that when he got to be 11, he never really wanted to go to DisneyWorld anyway.. but he did get to go to all sorts of other places he would have much rather gone, so things kinda worked out. But he still remembers and uses it to remind himself of what he things he wants, but ultimately can live without and never miss. Make sense?

  • ken griffey jr shoes
    Posted at 03:05h, 03 August Reply

    “Don’t make a promise until right before you deliver on that promise.”

  • Shilpa
    Posted at 23:43h, 02 August Reply

    “Don’t make a promise until right before you deliver on that promise.” That’s very true! Promises are made to be kept not to be broken.

  • Wedding Singer Los Angeles
    Posted at 07:00h, 03 August Reply

    Entrepreneurs were wrong thinking false promises can make people stay in the company or work harder. Truth is, it’ll only leave the people feeling hurt if the promises aren’t fulfilled. You will lose their trust and worse, their loyalty. So, follow what some good guy said “Never make promises you can’t keep”.

  • hifu specialist
    Posted at 04:30h, 05 October Reply

    Been there myself. I think it leaves a definite mark on us, especially when we were kids and those promises were made by our parents. That hurts the most. Surely doesn’t help us trust people more, I just wish people can actually stick to their words when they say.

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    Posted at 18:30h, 16 January Reply

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