Mark Scott – Why it really is the thought that counts and the commitment that seals the deal

Have you ever made a promise and failed to keep it? Of course you have, you’re human. That doesn’t make you a bad person, assuming it was not your intention to deliberately deceive the person or people to which you made the promise.

But sometimes in our zest to please others, we don’t always think through all the details before we open our mouths. We just push forward believing that we can make it happen. In the event that we can’t live up to the promise, we apologize and try to learn from our mistake.


Aligning commitment with a promise

Andrew Berlin makes a promise with every employee he hires at both Berlin Packaging and the South Bend Silver Hawks, the Class AA minor league baseball team he owns in South Bend, Ind. Berlin puts a great deal of thought and analysis into this promise to ensure it represents something he can live up to.

He promises to pay his employees top dollar for their efforts and to give them every opportunity to grow and advance in the company. He guarantees that they will have strong, supportive leadership and an organization that will be there for them when they run into personal challenges.

Regular training opportunities will also be offered and while he stops short of guaranteeing their job forever, he does promise that they won’t have to work in fear.

In return for making this promise, Berlin asks for a strong commitment from his employees. He expects profitability, productivity and innovation. Points are not awarded for working hard if there are no results to show for it. In these situations, Berlin advises employees to actively seek better ways to turn their energy into productivity. The stakes are high on both sides, but the results — a packaging company topping $800 million in revenue and a baseball team that offers its fans a great ballpark experience — offer proof that Berlin is on to something.


Think before you act

It’s OK to make promises to your employees if you’ve put thought into what they represent and concluded that you have the means to support them. These assurances can build confidence and trust and empower your people to give maximum effort in their work. You show them what their hard work can lead to, and they’ll go above and beyond to make it happen.

But a failed promise can do exactly the opposite to morale. It could be a raise or bonus that you can’t deliver on, or it could be something less tangible such as a more active role in shaping your product or service.

If you open the door to your people and encourage and empower them to put their creative thoughts and ideas on the table, and then you reject them in favor of your own plan, you’ll quickly lose their support.

Employees will probably understand if you have to break a promise due to circumstances you couldn’t foresee. But they will not be as forgiving if they believe they were deliberately deceived.

Berlin has found success by being upfront about expectations and making promises he can keep. All he asks is that his employees make the same commitment to him. When you have an organization that has such strong commitment at all levels, it’s hard not to find success.


Mark Scott is senior associate editor of Smart Business Chicago. If you have an interesting story to share about a person or business making a difference in Chicago, please send an email to [email protected].