How to achieve a flawless ‘Say - Do’ ratio?

Kerry Drake on-boarded his United Airlines flight. His mother, who was severely ill, was living her last minutes. He was on the way to see her. Unluckily, his first flight got postponed. Drake broke down. The flight attendants noticed his uncontrollable sobbing and helplessness. Within minutes, the flight's crew responded to this situation by delaying the connecting flight's departure to make sure he got on board and could see his mother. Drake wrote the staff a heartfelt thank-you letter expressing his immense gratitude for a team that was willing to do what it takes to assist him in any way they could.

If we draw a connect between this story and one of the key visions of United Airlines, (that is based upon putting customer needs first), how would you rate them on their customer commitment on a scale of 1 to 5?

In a contrasting story, Lily lost her patience trying to get a replacement of a damaged piece of furniture, purchased through an online portal. Vowing never to buy from them again, she ended up wasting her time and money on an experience with a company that advertised the experience as 'Priceless!'

Is your organization's 'say-do' ratio equal to 1? Do employees say what they mean and do what they say? Trust and honesty are keystones of organizational effectiveness. In the presence of these values, an organization can achieve superior levels of execution excellence and thrive amidst any setbacks. In teams where the say-do ratio is less than 1, ownership is demonstrated inconsistently and risk averse behavior may get developed. What people say and actually do, often doesn't match.

What causes this imbalance, and how can it be set right?

While many organizations aspire to stay committed to what they say, there are barriers that stop them from keeping their business promises. Some of these could be:

  • Inability to identify key stakeholders and the commitments made to them: Most organizations are likely to falter at the very primary levels of execution due to lack of focus on the stakeholders and their needs. Weaving stakeholder commitments and satisfaction at every step in the value chain often can, and does get missed.
  • Process/documentation failure: When an organization fails to clarify and align its process and delivery strategy according to the customers' need and convenience, customer loyalty gets affected and trust gets lost.
  • Overpromising: Being unrealistic and impulsive in making commitments that are based on weak internal structures, may lead to a fall in results.
  • Silence on commitments not met: When there is a complete silence or no communication about unmet commitments including next steps, it may lead to distrust on future projects.
  • Allowing mediocre performance: While every individual may have a unique style of evaluating performances at an organization level, approving mediocre performances may hinder actions that are taken on results committed.
  • Abundant or too little planning: Too much dependency on planning may reduce one's ability to think spontaneously and too little planning may not keep one prepared for structured thoughts. This could create a barrier in putting things into actions quickly.
  • Integrity demonstrated only for individual gain: Sometimes, organizations and teams act keeping individual agendas in mind. This can create a conflict between individual and organizational goals, leading to lack of integrity and failure of business objectives.

While being conscious about these barriers may or may not ensure a 100% 'Say - Do' Ratio, it at least gives a team or an organization a head start for self-evaluation.

Once there is a start in the process of identifying the barriers, the following behaviors can enable high ratio of business promises kept:

  1. Customizing strategic execution plans:
    In the nineteenth century, one one hand, corporations like DuPont and General Motors created their business units around their product and geographic distribution; on the other hand, many smaller corporations were able to adapt to local/market conditions, and quickly make changes in the execution plans to enjoy the benefits of keeping their commitments for their customers. Learning lessons from such experiences, most modern business corporates started attempting to unlock value by matching execution plans to the most recent strategies because the results are positive.
  2. Timely, crucial communication:
    Enron (an American energy, commodities, and services company based in Houston, Texas) collapsed because its Senior Managers failed to meet responsibilities such as, 'communicating appropriate values' and 'maintaining openness to signs of problems with their respective teams'. This led to the organization's collapse. Actions are misunderstood due to trivial communication gaps that lead to high impact on performance. These could be avoided in organizations by ensuring the right information given/shared at the right time to see progress in expected results. Hence, communicating crucial goals, plans and commitments at relevant times is a must.
  3. Non-negotiable ethics:
    While timely communication is imperative to enable high say-do ratio, strategies that are designed on high levels of ethics also play a vital role. Ethics involve perceptions like correct and incorrect, fair and unfair. Beliefs about what is ethical serve as a moral compass in guiding the actions and behaviors of individuals and organizations. When standards define processes, behaviors around them also change. Therefore, enabling high standard ethical behaviors to transition to habit is crucial to sustain the perfect 'say-do.'
  4. Nurture 'shifters' to drive results:
    Standards and processes aligned to each other may enable ethical behavior, but who needs to start? Recognize shifters in the organizations. Shifters are those, who role model positive changes in organizations. All of us are role models; however, we need to ask ourselves, are we good ones or otherwise? To see changes in behavior, one has to demonstrate it and practice it consistently oneself. Only then, one can exemplify high standard results. We know we are good role models when people around us acknowledge and imitate our positive behavior.
  5. Track progress and failures:
    Many organizations and their customers want to see speed in learning and quickly delivering. They constantly assess the ability to deliver more with less. Which means the environment is agile. In such an environment, measuring improvement and failures on regular frequencies helps organizations and teams be on track with commitments; therefore, high say-do ratio can be achieved.
  6. Celebrate & reflect on strengths and success:
    After difficult rides when an organization succeeds and business runs well, it is significant that the contributing teams are entitled to enjoy and celebrate their victory. To compliment this celebration, it is also important that teams take a pause, step back, reflect and realize what went well and not so well. This celebration and reflection refills voluntary commitments from the teams and gets them ready with refreshed power for the future.
  7. Encourage high commitment competence:
    Being responsive to minds that are curious to contribute and consistently show eagerness to do more increases probabilities of high 'say-do' ratio. These are minds that must be nurtured at the right time to ensure their high commitment levels remain untouched, as they are the pillars that drive the commitments an organization makes to the customers and the society as a whole.

There are many Kerry Drakes and Lilys in the world, waiting for great service that surpasses an organization's basic delivery capability and maintains their 'Say - Do' Ratio to 1.

To EXCEL, the factors that need focus are:
E - Energy that is positive
X - eXcellence in quality
C - Commitment to deliver
E - Empathy towards customers
L - Legacy that organizations want to leave behind

Being mindful of the barriers and enablers while organizations make promises to the outside world only improves the chances of earning higher trust and confidence among customers and stakeholders. It is likely to be the most foolproof formula for success in the volatile business times today!


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