Communicate When You Can’t Deliver

We live in an imperfect world where problems are always abundant.  Things just don’t work out the way we envision.  There are always obstacles.  Software breaks.  People disappoint.  Systems fail.

I can accept the mishaps common in project work.  There are a lot of things that cannot be controlled, especially working with people and systems.  The art of getting things done and delivering takes leadership from everyone involved.  Ultimately, I am hired for my leadership to clarify the goal and how to get there.  Getting there in reality means overcoming continual obstacles.

When I am the customer, whether internally with my team, or with vendors, I have a major expectation that I believe is quite reasonable.  I expect communication.  If the schedule slips or there are problems, I need communication to help me make plans and adjust if I need to.

This is a problem today.  A lot of people check out.  Whether it is from a lack of character or courage, I truly don’t care.  It’s a lack of professionalism and courtesy to not communicate.  Communication is about respect.  You are thinking about the other person, not yourself.  You are thinking about their needs and helping them not only emotionally, but also make plans as well.

When you can’t deliver, you can always communicate.  This is as much of a service delivery product as any other part of the experience.  Here are some tips on how to communicate effectively when you can’t deliver:

  • Name The Problem.  The problems we face may be simple or highly technical.  Do the hard work of translating the issue into something meaningful and helping the customer understand what the problem is.  It shows you are deep into the issue and you understand it thoroughly.  It helps your customer take comfort that you know the issue and are pushing.
  • Say What You Have Done.  We relate to stories.  This is the middle part of a story.  You have a problem.  What have you done so far?  This frames context and allows your customer to appreciate the work put forth and that you care.
  • Present The Options.  Articulate what the choices for success are.  Should you continue?  Research?  Quit?  Help them understand the pros and cons of the options.  Do the homework.  Lead.
  • Set Direction.  Put some emotional skin  in the game and say, “If it were me, I would…”  Take a risk and put your stamp on it.  Or say that you are going to deliver by a certain date and communicate.  Set the next steps.
  • Apologize Sincerely.  If there was fault, admit it.  Speak plainly and say sorry.  Sincerity means you will make it right.  This can be a variety of ways.  Pay back in a way that makes sense.

I have used this approach multiple times because I take a lot of risk.  Take little risk and this is irrelevant.  Life is more controllable, but also small.

If you are going to go after things  and seek to delight customers, then your ability to communicate is just as important as your ability to deliver.  Develop this and watch your relationships and business grow.  The world is looking for what is real and authentic, not perfect.  Show you care and be professional.

How can this help you in your business?

Published by Don Dalrymple

I partner with founders and entrepreneurs in startup businesses. I write and consult on strategy, systems, team building and growing revenue.

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