The Lost Art of Keeping Your Word

Grandfatherly Advice or Not, It's Right to Do What You Say You're Going to Do

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Joe Hodas
Joe Hodas
I want to provide a caveat for what you are about to read: This sounds like advice your grandfather might give you on your college graduation day. There's a certain old-school feel to it. But the fact of the matter is, it is even more relevant today than it was 40 years ago.

I am approaching my one-year anniversary with Vladimir Jones, and it gave me a little pause. When I began talking to VJ about joining the agency, I was struck by one significant contrast between them and my now former company -- every person I dealt with throughout the organization was true to his or her word. There was never a canceled meeting. Never a promised response date that wasn't met. Never a contract that wasn't delivered exactly when they said it would be, containing exactly what they said it would. And while I wasn't completely sold on the idea of rejoining the agency world after several great years on the corporate side, it was the basic human decency and respect that was demonstrated (and demonstrated is a hell of a lot more important than stated), that gave me the inner peace of mind I needed to make the decision. To date, it has been one of the best decisions of my career.

I use that story not only because it never hurts to kiss a little company ass (you listening, VJ?), but also because it is a great example of the "art" of keeping your word, and the value it brings to any relationship. I said it is more relevant today than it was 40 years ago because there are so many more distractions today. It's easy to get caught up in e-mails and forget your appointment with your team members. It's not uncommon for us to triple-book our Outlook or Google calendars, knowing full well that we will have to cancel two of our appointments (if not three because a fourth comes in that trumps the others). It is almost accepted practice for job candidates to get zero response or to go through three rounds of interviews and then sit idle for two months, waiting to hear the response they were told would be made in a week. All of these examples, though, have a cumulative effect of breaking down relationships and quietly but effectively demonstrating a lack of respect for the people you interact with. Don't get me wrong -- they get it. They do it, too. Things come up. We're all busy. But I am here to tell you what that means: There is an opportunity for all of us to make a deep and lasting impression by simply keeping our word.

Of course, that's all well and good ... in theory. But it's unbelievably difficult to do at times. Many of us (not all of us) likely have the best intentions but because of the aforementioned distractions and the speed at which we currently live life (along with the myriad instantaneous inputs we get from e-mails, mobile devices, Facebook, Twitter), we often find ourselves in constant catch-up mode. It's hard to keep your word when you are always a few steps behind. Something, somewhere, will have to be compromised as you try to catch up.

The problem is, I'm not sure I have an answer. I'm as guilty as anyone. I cancel or move meetings with my team at the last minute. I tell my kids I'll be home by six, but then end up rolling in closer to seven. I set up an interview with a candidate and then proceed to reschedule it three times. However, I also know the powerful impact that keeping your word can have. I feel it deeply and passionately when I deal with people who are unwaveringly true to their word -- they are people I want to be around. They are a company I want to do business with. They are friendships I want to spend the time and effort to grow.

What's the answer? How would you rate yourself on a one to 10 scale when it comes to keeping your word? (I'm about a six right now, but I'm really striving to be an eight.) Do you have a good story about keeping your word that had an impact (big or small)? My guess it that we all have examples, good and bad, that might provide a reminder to each of us of the simple things we can do to increase that score.

So go on and make your grandpa proud.

Joe Hodas is the senior VP-brand communications at Vladimir Jones, a privately held, full-service agency in Colorado specializing in integrated marketing, advertising, communications and insight. Hodas formerly led communications for Consumer Capital Partners (Quiznos, Smashburger) and Frontier Airlines, where he worked on the team that launched the "a whole different animal" branding campaign. Contact him via Twitter at @VJbrandcomm or at [email protected].
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