Today I was sitting in my office when one of my right-hand people came in and said "I'm going to lunch now." I replied, "Okay," but somewhat indifferently because normally people in my department do not check in with me before heading to lunch.
"I'm going to lunch because you did not get us pizza today," she continued. I was focusing my attention on something else, but this made me look up.
She went on, "You said yesterday that because we were short-staffed and had a deadline that we all pulled together on, that you might order pizzas and have a pizza party for lunch. So I planned on having a pizza party today and did not bring my lunch." Whoops, I did vaguely recalled saying that to her, but I had forgotten until now.
I quickly said, "I'm so sorry. I completely forgot. Let me buy you lunch. Who else knows?"
"I don't need lunch," she quickly replied. "Just wanted to let you know."
The experience was a reminder of this: when you are the boss you may not remember everything that you say, but your employees do.
So be careful when you speak or make promises. You may mean things as puffery, but there is no such thing in their minds.
I have a bad habit of doing this that often gets me into trouble. A few years ago we were at an office happy hour, and I had been enjoying myself just a little bit too much. The subject of Las Vegas came up as a general destination for travel. Soon thereafter we were discussing our company's ten-year anniversary. Well, one thing led to another and soon I announced that we would consider a Vegas trip for our ten-year anniversary for all employees. At the time we were a relatively small company. In the 18 months since that original proclamation we have quadrupled in size. And a simple alcohol-infused idea has become a reality, and in July the entire company will be heading to Las Vegas for our ten-year anniversary.
So I am reminded be mindful of what I say. When speaking to employees, always remember:
1. Think Before You Speak
Seems so easy, doesn't it? But every word that comes out of your mouth has meaning. And they will rely on it. So always make sure you think before you speak and you consider the ramifications of any promises or decisions before they are articulated.
2. Pull It Back Immediately
If you find yourself in a situation where you speak before you think and you extend a promise before considering the ramifications immediately act to pull back that promise. The longer you wait to say, "I have rethought this" or "We cannot do that" the more push back you will get from the persons who were to be the beneficiaries of the promise.
3. Keep Your Word
Assuming that you make a promise and do not pull it back immediately you must keep your word. You must satisfy the expectations of that promise. If not, it erodes the employer-employee relationship by infusing an element of distrust and lack of accountability.