“Say what you do and do what you say.” This was a popular line from almost everyone’s ISO 9000 presentations in the 1990’s.

Unfortunately people are smart and many interpreted that saying as an opportunity to describe their management systems in terms that were easy to show that they did what they said even though what they did was totally non-value adding.

The saying isn’t wrong, but the context in which it was described most certainly was. In developing your management system doing what you say is only valuable if you say the right things. In developing systems you must first determine what your customers want from you. This includes internal as well as external customers.

Then determine what you need to do in order to achieve those expectations on an ongoing basis. Then determine what controls (procedures, instructions, protocols etc.) are needed to ensure that these right things are done consistently. Then put in place a measurement that will effectively track the consistency in achieving that performance expectation and finally monitor that performance through management oversight. A lot more than do what you say, right.

Now let’s get back to our saying. Does it apply? Yes, but in a different context. When you tell someone that you will do something, then do it. It’s that easy. Let me describe a recent experience of mine to demonstrate what I mean.

Do what you say

Recently it became time to install my snow tires in preparation for the coming winter. Because of some problems that I had last year when snow and ice built up in the spokes of my styled wheels I decided to get my snow tires installed on a new set of plain black rims. I called the tire store and described what I wanted. The sales person was very accommodating and said. “If you bring your tires in on Tuesday we will mount them on your new wheels and have them ready. Then you can bring your car in on Friday morning and we can quickly swap the wheels and you will be on your way.”

This sounded good to me so I agreed and took the tires into the store. Friday morning I arrived with my car and after handing over the keys I sat in the waiting room. I had sat for what seemed like a fairly long time when I decided to stretch my legs and walked outside. I looked through the open door to the bay and there was the service technician mounting the tires on my new wheels. I went back inside. A few minutes later one of the service people came by and said “How are you today?” To which I answered, “Not so good actually.”

He asked what was wrong and I simply asked. “Why didn’t you do what you said you would do?” He asked what I meant and I explained. His answer, “Well we’ve been busy but you are getting your tires on.” In other words I should be happy that at least in the end the job got done never mind that it wasn’t as described or promised.

Some of you I am sure just said to yourself, “Well he didn’t promise.” Maybe he didn’t and maybe he did, but then maybe he did but he had his fingers crossed at the time so it doesn’t count as a promise. You see that is the point. In life, but specifically in business what you tell people you will do is important. It sets up an expectation that your organization is then measured against.

So here is the rule. Say what you actually will do and then do it. Not what you expect will happen barring any unexpected events, not what you would like to see happen, not what you are sure that others will do. And if you are not sure then either say that you are not sure or modify your offer to something that you are sure of.

Consider this scenario. An automotive service person tells a customer that their car will be ready at 1:00 PM. The customer arrives and the car isn’t ready. The customer waits and the longer she waits the more disenchanted with the dealer she becomes. The car is finally delivered at four PM. The dealer has created an unhappy customer who may not come back to that dealer.

Now consider that the service person had said that the car would be ready at 4:00 PM. Maybe the customer would have liked it earlier but the promise is 4:00 and she schedules her time accordingly. She turns up at 4:00 and her car is ready and waiting. Now the dealer has a happy customer.

Note that the car was ready at the same time in both scenarios yet the outcomes were very different. “Say what you will do and then do what you say.” Words to live by.