Sunday, July 6, 2008

Every company is a dynamic network of promises

Promise-Based Management.
By: Sull, Donald N., Spinosa, Charles,
Harvard Business Review,
April 2007, Vol. 85, Issue 4

At its heart, every company is a dynamic network of promises. Employees up and down the corporate hierarchy make pledges to one another – the typical management by objectives. Employees also make commitments to colleagues in other divisions and to customers, outsourcing partners, and other stakeholders. Promises are the strands that weave together coordinated activity in organizations.

Promise-based management is cultivating and coordinating commitments in a systematic way.

The Five Characteristics of a Good Promise

Good promises are public

Good promises are active

Good promises are voluntary

Good promises are explicit

Good promises are mission based

Promises are the fundamental units of interaction in businesses. They coordinate organizational activity and stoke the passions of employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

Individuals' divergent worldviews and objectives tug constantly at the filaments of promises, and unexpected contingencies can tear precarious agreements. Leaders must therefore weave and manage their webs of promises with great care–encouraging iterative conversation to make sure commitments are fulfilled reliably. If they do, they can enhance coordination and cooperation among colleagues, build the agility required to seize new business opportunities, and tap employees' entrepreneurial energies.

Donald N. Sull ( is an associate professor of strategy and international management at London Business School in England. He has written or co-written six other HBR articles, including "Managing by Commitments" (June 2003).

Charles Spinosa ( is a group director at Vision Consulting, based in Dublin, Ireland.

No comments: