I can’t tell you the number of times people I’ve worked with over the years have said, “I’ll get it to you tomorrow,” and then don’t. Sometimes they take a few extra days. Sometimes, amazingly, they don’t get it to me at all.
Maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I’m one of a rare breed who thinks that tomorrow is a date and not a euphemism for “later” — which itself is all too often a euphemism for “never.”
But I do notice and I think other people do, too. In fact, probably the first and simplest sign that someone is in over their head is failing to hit tomorrow promises. Heck, if you can’t accurately say at 2 PM that you’ll get something done before the end of the day, how I can expect any accuracy on your estimates of a major project?
I’m not so anal that I track every interaction with people. But once I feel like a may have a “tomorrow” problem, I do start tracking. I’ll randomly file promises for tomorrow under my tomorrow tasks and for next week under my next week tasks.
When I see problems, I usually start our snarky: “somebody tell Garth that tomorrow never came.” Or, “hey Scarlet, are you going to get to that again tomorrow, which is another day.” Or, “yo, Annie, did the Sun come out yet because it is indeed tomorrow?” There is just too much great tomorrow-themed material to resist. “Say hi to George Clooney there in Tomorrowland.”
But unfortunately when you’re in this situation, it’s usually not funny. We can apply the same logic to broken promises as Malcolm Gladwell applies to broken windows: one the first one breaks, a bunch quickly follow.
So the moral of the story is simple. If you want to work in a culture of professionalism and proper expectations management, at a company that properly under-promises and over-delivers to its customers, then it all begins with you and the simple tomorrow promise. Don’t make it if you can’t deliver, and once you make it, deliver. If you find that you can’t, then reset expectations accordingly — but never, ever promise “tomorrow” and then go silent.
Just as you’d be shocked at how many don’t answer questions in business meetings, you’d be shocked at the number of times people say tomorrow and mean “later” — once you start paying attention.